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10 Social Entrepreneurship Organizations Tackling Real Challenges

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Published June 9, 2015 Reading Time: 6 minutes

In 2008, leaders of Root Cause Andrew Wolk and Kelley Kreitz wrote Business Planning for Enduring Social Impact.

The guide pinpointed three entrepreneurs–Wendy Kopp of Teach for America, Muhammad Yunus of Grameen Bank, and Jim Fructerman of Benetech–as social entrepreneurs that were demonstrating a unique way of responding to social problems. These individuals were blending for-profit best practices with nonprofit missions and results in a way that hadn’t been seen before.

To Wolk and Kreitz, social entrepreneurs had business planning acumen that could identify new opportunities within a particular social problem, develop innovations that lead to promising new approaches, demonstrate accountability by regularly measuring performance and impact, and then secure predictable revenue sources that achieve financial sustainability.

Bill Drayton, Ashoka’s Founder and CEO and a pioneer in the field of social entrepreneurship, said it best, “social entrepreneurs are not content just to give a fish, or teach how to fish. They will not rest until they have revolutionized the fishing industry.”

Today, social entrepreneurship is growing rapidly in size, scope and support. An unprecedented number of organizations are using entrepreneurship as a strategy to address social problems like poverty, at-risk youth, hunger, and even recidivism.

Here are 10 organizations founded in the last 15 years that have come up with creative applications to support and incubate entrepreneurship on a local and global scale.

The Adventure Project

Gives people the tools, education, and resources to become an entrepreneur so they can serve their own communities with improved health, decreased hunger, a safer environment, and clean water.

The Adventure Project works in developing countries seeking out partnerships with organizations like KickStart, LifeLine, Living Goods, Water for People, and WaterAid that are creating jobs for their communities. Partners are chosen based on their measurable social impact, a proven track record of success, and are ready to scale but may not have the resources to do so.

Funds are provided by the Adventure Project to invest in specialized job training, education and support to people living in poverty, ultimately teaching individuals how to become profitable entrepreneurs by selling products or services to their communities and earning commission. Since inception, the Adventure Project has empowered 798 people to find a job, including 254 well mechanics. The Adventure Project was a 2014 CLASSY Awards Finalist for Hunger & Poverty Relief.

Baltimore Corps

Recruits local and national professionals to become entrepreneurs within leading innovative nonprofits, government agencies and social enterprises in Baltimore, and then helps them scale their impact.

Fellows are typically 24-35 years old and hold advanced degrees in government, nonprofits, or social enterprises. Working with partners like the Casey Foundation, Echoing Green, and Goldseker Foundation, Baltimore Corps builds the human capital of each Fellow through training and ongoing professional development within cohorts. Partners and Fellows collaborate to innovate new solutions to address social problems in Baltimore.

Fellows in the first cohort are currently working across a range of issue areas including education, juvenile justice, healthcare, and workforce development. Baltimore Corps is looking to expand to five new cities, including Detroit, New Orleans, and Birmingham.


Guiding youth in under-resourced communities and equipping them for high school, college, and career success through entrepreneurship-based, experiential learning.

BUILD is a 4-step program that offers students a four-year entrepreneurship experience designed to reinforce the Common Core. The program instills skills like collaboration, communication, grit, innovation, problem solving, and self-management in students, who are then expected to plan and launch a small business. While exploring college and career options, students also participate in an expanded business and/or community internship to give them the experience of a career.

The core of the program is focused on the growth mindset, a concept researched by Stanford, that says talent, intelligence, and an array of capabilities can be cultivated through focused effort and continuous learning. BUILD has expanded from one city to five, partnering with 20 schools to incubate over 750 youth businesses. Since 2012, 98 percent of students completing the BUILD program graduate from high school and 98 percent are accepted to college.

Indego Africa

“Indego” combines three core facets of the organization’s model: independence, development, governance.

Indego Africa works to break intergenerational cycles of poverty by providing female artisans with the tools and support to become independent businesswomen and drive development in their communities. Indego partners with 18 cooperatives of female artisans and sells their handcrafted products through an e-commerce site, collaborations with designers and brands, and at boutiques worldwide. To develop their entrepreneurial skills, artisans are provided training in quality control, design, and product management. Indego currently employs over 600 women, 58 percent of whom make over $2 a day.

According to the World Bank, $2 a day marks the entry point into Africa’s growing middle class. Sixty-three percent of artisans started their business since partnering with Indego, and 93 percent of women who did not participate in a business outside their cooperative aspire to start one now. In 2014, Indego opened its first Leadership Academy in Kigali, Rwanda.


A leadership training program that selects and trains formerly incarcerated people to become advocates and entrepreneurs, reducing recidivism and increasing decarceration.

JustLeadershipUSA (JLUSA) wants to cut the US prison population in half by 2030 while reducing crime. The Leading with Conviction Training trains groups of 20 to 35 applicants working together to complete the 12-month program. The curriculum alternates between group-training sessions and online seminars that extend over a 10-month period. Participants receive individual executive coaching as well as develop and master their own capacity as leadership coaches. Further training focuses their development around community building, advocacy and communication/messaging, elements that JLUSA believes prepare the participants to lead and sustain initiatives.

JLUSA has partnered with Columbia Law School’s Center for Institutional and Social Change, Opportunity Agenda, and Legal Action Center. In addition to this program, JLUSA creates advocacy campaigns and engages with their membership community to raise awareness of incarceration.

Living Goods

A network of ‘Avon-like’ micro-entrepreneurs who go door-to-door teaching families how to improve their health and wealth while selling a broad assortment of products.

Living Goods is a social enterprise that franchises its brand and business model to women entrepreneurs who work as independent agents. To launch their franchise, agents receive a below-market inventory loan and a free “Business-in-a-Bag” that includes uniforms, signs, a locker, and basic health and business tools.

Working in networks of sales agents, women become micro-entrepreneurs and earn an income by going door-to-door and selling products like anti-malaria treatments, clean-burning cookstoves, fortified foods, and solar lamps. These products have been strategically identified by Living Goods to improve the health and wealth of agents’ communities.

Harnessing the mobile tech revolution in Africa, Living Goods is integrating mobile into their delivery system and building an end-to-end platform.

The organization has already seen how phones are empowering their agents to earn more and deliver targeted health messages, which is dramatically lowering their cost to market and monitor, as well as enabling real-time Salesforce management.

In four years, Living Goods has empowered 1,174 women to become entrepreneurs.

Mercado Global

A business education and leadership program for women business owners, including connections to large-scale sales opportunities.

Mercado believes that income alone can’t solve long-term problems, which is why they focus on both business education and leadership training so that artisans can address systemic problems within their communities.

The success of their model relies on connecting these artisan entrepreneurs with U.S. markets to ensure that they earn fair and sustainable incomes. To do so, Mercado creates sales relationships and assists in developing savings plans and accessing credit.

Artisans are given microloans, ideally to purchase equipment that allows them work more efficiently. Loans are paid back and then recycled to open the loan opportunity to another artisan.

Forty-four percent of Mercado entrepreneurs had a leadership position within their cooperatives in the last three years, 96 percent of them participate in the finances of their households and 77 percent of women voted in their last community election.

More like this: PCI Global, BeadForLife


An incubator that supports entrepreneurs launching innovative ideas that improve lives, make communities stronger, and create positive social change.

SEED SPOT runs two programs per year. Entrepreneurs receive access to mentorship and networks of media, investors, partners, corporations and customers, as well as experts that teach the core strategies of creating a successful venture.

SEED SPOT developed a social impact scale to determine if an entrepreneur is the right fit for the program, looking at aspects of market need, impact, innovation, sustainability, and value. SEED SPOT has graduated 43 ventures so far, working with 140 investors and 8,000 professionals.

More like this: Jolkona

Solar Sister

Addressing energy poverty by building a network of women entrepreneurs. Women are first given access to clean, renewable energy and then participate in a direct sales network to build sustainable businesses.

In villages that Solar Sister works in, energy poverty places a limit on the activities of an individual and on a community, including education, health, safety, and economic opportunity. Access to clean energy is at the core of Solar Sister’s strategy.

Evidence shows that the income of self-employed rural women with access to energy is over twice that of their counterparts without access to energy. For rural female wages/salary workers, access to energy is correlated with 59 percent higher wages.

Solar Sister is currently helping over 1,200 entrepreneurs and working in partnership with organizations like Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, Sustainable Energy for All, UN Women, and Women in Solar Energy.

United Prosperity

A Kiva-like peer-to-peer loaning system that allows anyone with spare cash to guarantee loans to entrepreneurs in need.

Lenders select the entrepreneur they want to support and lend any amount they wish. United Prosperity then consolidates the loan amount and passes it on to the entrepreneur through a local bank.

For every $1 given by the lender, the bank makes a loan of nearly $2 to the entrepreneur though a partner Microfinance Institution. Once a loan or a loan guarantee has been made, the entrepreneur’s progress is tracked online.

When loans are repaid, lenders get their money back and then have the opportunity to recycle it by lending or guaranteeing the loan to another entrepreneur.

These micro-loans are meant to help entrepreneurs, mostly women, grow their small businesses. United Prosperity has transferred more than $280,000 in loans to 1,300 entrepreneurs, and partner MFIs have built their credit history with local banking systems, encouraging more banks to lend to them.

Photo credit: The Adventure Project

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