With the Ceremony for the SEIF Awards now over it is time for us to reflect on the data about social entrepreneurs that we gathered through the application process.
One thing I founded surprising was the age of the social entrepreneurs applying: this year the average team age was 34 years, and most CEOs and founders were born in 1990s. This has left me wondering if this is really a reflection of social entrepreneurship in general, and if the reasons behind the relatively young age of the social entrepreneurs are organizational and structural ones, or a mere coincidence.
Social entrepreneurship is a new way of understanding and doing business clearly differentiated from profit organisations, non-profits (NPO) and non-governmental organisations (NGO). It provides an opportunity to think differently about business models and financial management, about how to get a bigger and more effective social impact through an enterprise. Social entrepreneurs are interested in investing in social capital and in getting returns on their social goals. This new way of looking at business and at social problems is very attractive to young people.
Moreover, social entrepreneurs tend to have a freer and more flexible corporate organisation, they can work in niche areas where charities do not work or continue the work the government is no longer able to due to financial constraints. Also, social start-ups create (sometimes) a completely different atmosphere with enthusiastic colleagues and an innovation appeal. Young people can join open-minded teams where their voice and ideas will be discussed. I see here parallels between this way of working and young people’s attitude towards life, their vision and values.
In this sense, a whole generation grew up going to sport club, orchestras and other associations and unions. Social entrepreneurship looks like the natural next step of this participatory culture. But while in clubs you are looking for a group of people similar to you, social entrepreneurship is more: you are offering a service to other people, you work to make other’s lives better.
It is true that to work in a social enterprise you must have certain entrepreneurial qualities. It’s also true that you will develop soft and hard skills as the business develops. But you must also work very hard because, even if almost anyone can have an idea, building up a business is not easy, and social entrepreneurs are businesses, not associations or NGOs. You need to make money and turn your idea into a profitable business model. Here, in some cases, you need the expertise of older professionals who have gained know-how and experience in different sectors and that can truly help younger entrepreneurs taking their business to the next step.