Advice for Social Entrepreneurs

As part of Stanford’s “Social Entrepreneur Building Block Series,” Professor Dees recently gave advice to budding student social entrepreneurs.  He discussed the variety of ways to define social entrepreneurship, the core of which is finding innovative solutions to social problems, regardless of the business model used.

He also talked about lessons that the field has learned about being a social entrepreneur:

  • Complexity … Finding innovative solutions to social problems involves incredibly complex work, not quick fixes. Entrepreneurs need to take the time to learn and truly understand the complexity of the challenges that they are tackling.
  • Ecosystem Thinking … Social entrepreneurs must collaborate to solve problems because these problems are embedded in complex social networks and ecosystems.
  • Business Models … Social entrepreneurs need to be savvy about linking their solution to the correct underlying business model (nonprofit, for-profit, etc) that allows them to be sustainable and prepare for scale.
  • Listen and Learn … Social entrepreneurs need to listen and truly understand the communities that they are working with in order to find solutions that meet their needs.
  • Rigorous Measurement … There shouldn’t be any “free passes for people that have good intentions or tell a good story.”  If we are going to be effective and move society forward, we need to be rigorous in evaluation and resource allocation.
  • Failures … Social entrepreneurs must be willing to admit and discuss failure so that we can learn from these experiences as well as the successes.

Dees ended the talk by discussing what the current “hot topics” are in social entrepreneurship:  impact investing; the blending and blurring of business model types; and, social entrepreneurs as the learning labs where we can test innovative new solutions that can be taken to scale.

Want to hear more?  Watch the full talk here: