How Social Media Drives Social Entrepreneuring

Social entrepreneuring — the practice of creating a business with a mission to provide goods or services to people in need at a lower cost or with greater efficiency than any traditional company can — has never been as important in society as it is now.

In a world that is still struggling to recover from the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, and especially here in the U.S. where nearly 47 million Americans depend on food stamps to keep their families fed, social entrepreneuring has become society’s fourth pillar of support, supplementing the efforts of governments, philanthropies and corporate donations. In effect, social entrepreneurship has taken on a whole new dimension. It’s no longer just about doing good — it’s about recreating the purpose of capitalism.

Social entrepreneuring is actually a powerful demonstration of how we can begin transitioning many of the fundamental premises of our business world. In a new book, We First, social media expert Simon Mainwaring characterizes the need for such a change as a shift from what he calls “Me First” to “We First” thinking.

The current practices of capitalism cannot match the scale of problems and crises in the world because we are too focused on a narrow definition of self-interest that fails to take into account the obvious need for shared prosperity if capitalism is to succeed. We need to rethink how our current practices of capitalism are unsustainable on economic, social, moral, ethical, and environmental grounds, and that too much of our commerce is oriented towards profit without a purpose.

Social entrepreneurship is getting a boost from social media as global consumers voice their concerns about the problems of our world on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. It’s easy to predict that consumers will increasingly use social media to voice their frustrations with socially irresponsible companies, while at the same time leveraging their purchasing power to punish those that fail to accept greater responsibility. Entrepreneurial consumers will simply become impatient or start their own ventures to circumvent the traditional business world and create their own entirely new “social marketplace.”

Thus far, social entrepreneurship has been happening largely without the aid of social media, but its future role seems intuitive. There are already a wide range of social entrepreneuring networks such as iCAREweCARE, a non-profit venture founded by a17 year old social entrepreneur Priyanka Jain; and Kairos Society, a non-profit venture started by a 18 year old entrepreneur Ankur Jain when he was a sophomore at university of Pennsylvania. (For the purposes of full disclosure Ankur Jain is my son and Priyanka Jain is my daughter.) There are also crowdsourcing competitions looking for the best new social businesses to fund. It does seem true that social media is driving social entrepreneurship to new heights, and I have no doubt this will soon impact the capitalist marketplace in a significant way.

As with any competition, there will be many companies that find social entrepreneurship threatening to their own position. But there will also be some who recognize it as an incredible opportunity to help transform capitalism and turn it into a better, more sustainable economic system. Thanks to social entrepreneurship, we can begin to build a better world that is more responsive to the needs of the majority of inhabitants on the planet, creating more prosperity everywhere to drive a larger, richer, more global and diversified marketplace. Social entrepreneurs are helping us to quickly scale our projects up to greater levels and achieve our good intentions, and they are increasingly doing so by tapping into the vast networks and communities of people who are willing to promote their efforts through social media. This portends the enormous collusion that can soon exist between social technologies like Facebook and Twitter to make use of the energy and optimism of the Millennial generation and advance social entrepreneurship beyond where it has ever gone before.

For example, one social entrepreneurial idea that I found interesting is a concept called “contributory consumption.” This is the notion that every single commercial transaction — cash or credit card, retail, online, mobile, or the purchase of a virtual good in the social gaming world — incorporates a small percentage of every transaction as a contribution to a social cause. In his book We First, Simon Mainwaring proposes the idea of “Global Brand Initiative,” an association in which brands of all sizes cooperate and collaborate use the funds from contributory consumption to scale up their responses to the severe challenges we face in the world, such as poverty, malnutrition, disease, infant mortality, and illiteracy. What I find fascinating about this proposal is that the entire private sector — consumers and businesses alike — can leverage their combined ingenuity, research and development capacities to accomplish social change on a grand scale like we have never been able to do.

Whether or not such ideas become a reality remains to be seen. But it is clear to me that social media and social entrepreneuring has a big role to play in the overall evolution of capitalism — and we should support those who engage in it.