What is a Social Entrepreneur?



Most people are aware of a business entrepreneur and many examples can be seen including television programmes such as ‘The Apprentice’. The business entrepreneur aims to achieve a lifestyle and ultimately profits based upon the acumen and expertise in the business world.

Entrepreneurs are “people who test limits and create new possibilities for organisational action by pushing and directing the innovation process.” Rosabeth Moss Kanter (1985)

For the ordinary entrepreneur the decisions about what they do with that profit is guided either by their share holders, the organisational objectives or sometimes the individual entrepreneur’s aim to reinvest into other income generating projects.

“While a business entrepreneur may thrive on competition and profit, a social entrepreneur has a different motivation: a commitment to leading through inclusiveness of all actors in society and a dedication to changing the systems and patterns of society
.”  Ashoka Fellows in India, April 2000.



It could be argued that Florence Nightingale was one of the first social entrepreneurs. Social Entrepreneur has a focus based on benefits to community social/health benefit but they do also have to have:

   Business ethos

   Sustainable project

   Profit – returned for

  • Profit but the income generated is used for community social/health benefit

  • Allocate a percentage of the Profit returned for community social/health benefit

  • Non-profit making but sustain marginal groups/services

  • Non profit making – funds used to campaign/raise awareness

A social entrepreneur has similar aims and objectives in the sense of developing a sustainable and well managed business but the business will use any profits for a social aim (rather than a purely profitable aim). In fact some social enterprise will aim not to achieve profit but ensure sustainability with the activity provided by the organisation being the target of the social cause for example.


That is a simplistic view and in many circumstances the social aims of a social enterprise can run through all aspects of their business and not just where their profits go. This could be only working for ‘green or fair trade organisations ‘to purchasing all their goods from co-operatives in third world suppliers using ethical principles.

So a social enterprise must have a robust managerial and organisational framework in the same way as any business. From a company point of view there are different contractual issues that need to be considered in setting up a social enterprise and often it is how a social enterprise project is described (for example a company limited by guarantee).

Social Entrepreneur is an innovative and exciting way of looking at the world of business and as yet is poorly understood. There are still plenty of challenges ahead, specifically for individuals wishing to set up a Social Enterprise with much scepticism and misunderstanding about the motive and benefits to the healthcare system with many perceiving Social Enterprise as only another destabilising factor in the changing world of the NHS.


If you would like to know more about Social Enterprise models - please look at these websites: 



Last updated October 2020


Susan Oliver Associates
Independent Nurse Consultancy

RN (1978) Independent Nurse Prescriber
Master of Science (MSc Healthcare & Professional Issues) Exeter University (1997)
Membership of City and Guilds Institute (2002) 
Royal College of Nursing Fellow, Past Chair of European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) Health professionals (2012-2016)

© Copyright Susan Oliver 2017