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Social Entrepreneurship and Generation Y – a Match made in Heaven?

December 21, 2012

A lot has been said and written lately about the rise of social entrepreneurship. Not only does the world suffer from an increasing number of challenges that need solutions, it also seems that more and more people feel drawn to a career as a social entrepreneur.

social enterprise

While there are continuing arguments over a precise definition of social entrepreneurs, it is probably fair to say that they recognize social problems and use entrepreneurial principles to organize, create and manage a social venture to achieve a desired change linked to social, cultural, and/or environmental goals. While a business entrepreneur typically measures performance in profit, a social entrepreneur also measures positive returns to society and the wider environment. Social entrepreneurship is commonly associated with the voluntary and not-for-profit sectors but it does not necessarily exclude for-profit business objectives. Common initiatives include community interest activities, social engagement and education, micro credits, cooperative farming, business development, supporting arts or vocational training. This blog has been written with GAIA Insights an organisation specialising in social entrepreneurs

A growing number of social entrepreneurs are members of the generational cohort known as the Millennials or Generation Y. Born between 1980 and 1995, this generation has embraced social entrepreneurship as a valid and desirable career track – seeing it less as a ‘career’ in the traditional sense and more as a purposeful path in life. Several colleges and universities have established programs that focus on educating social entrepreneurs and FORBES recently published their annual “30 under 30” listing of innovators and entrepreneurs for 2012. Social entrepreneurs were added as one of six new categories this year, ranging across 15 fields from Art & Style to Technology. FORBES editors and reporters worked with panels of expert judges to choose the brightest stars under the age of 30 in each field.

social-entrepreneurship-modelSimilar to the young disruptors selected by FORBES, countless Gen Y talents are impatient to change the world and social entrepreneurship offers them a great outlet to do so.  It simply resonates with some of the typical Gen Y values that characterize this generation: collaboration; accessibility; sustainability; globally networked; self-expression.

Let’s take a brief look at each:



Most social entrepreneurs work within teams and networks for change. Becoming part of an entire movement means to feel a sense of affiliation. People who share the same goals and principles energize each other and Gen Yers are natural human connectors, whose real-life friends and virtual followers quickly become part of their “family”.  They are natural networkers, making connections, sharing ideas and working in diverse groups.


Gen Yers accept and promote collaborative consumption since they see sharing as more important than having. In contrast to previous generations, Gen Y does not view ownership as an essential measure of personal success. Regardless of whether these Gen Yers have grown up in affluent Western societies or in emerging regions, giving is an inherently important part of receiving for them and so it becomes core to the business proposition.


Having grown up in an era when global warming, climate change, energy saving and natural disasters were part of dinner conversations and almost daily news features, it is no surprise that Gen Y is highly conscious of the planet’s state and the environmental issues they will inherit from their ancestors. Sustainable business, they find, goes hand-in-hand with social entrepreneurship, and their business activities offer them a direct way to contribute through helping rather than hurting society and the environment.

Globally Networked

Thanks to the infinite reach of multimedia channels and increasing mobility, Generation Y is the first truly global generation. Gen Yers have grown up with a global perspective that turns the world into an interconnected diverse community in which people are all valued equally and yet uniquely. Gender, race, religion, sexual orientation – Gen Y embraces diversity and finds meaning in contributing to social change which addresses discrimination against all aspects of humanity.  Some of the more pioneering social entrepreneurs can see beyond the ‘human bubble’ recognizing diversity and value across the rich tapestry of life – where all living beings form part of an interconnected community allowed to thrive. In fact, some of these ‘enlightened’ social entrepreneurs recognize that the ills of society are not human-centric but quite the opposite; these ills originate in an anthropocentric view of life, where only humans are seen to matter (leading to the destruction of life of which humanity is a part of).


Generation Y was raised to believe that anything is possible. “Just follow your purpose and live your dreams” is their mantra. No matter how insurmountable today’s social and environmental challenges may seem Gen Y believes they can take them on! In fact, Gen Y sees it as their birth-right to sort out the mess now so clearly apparent to them in all aspects of society and life through seeking meaningful experiences and careers that reward them not only financially but in ways that nourish their psyche and soul.


Apart from matching Gen Y values, the rise of social entrepreneurship amongst young people is also being enabled and accelerated by technological advancements. The internet and social networking websites have been pivotal resources for the success and collaboration of many social entrepreneurs. These media allow ideas to be heard by broader audiences, help networks and investors to develop globally, and achieve their goals with little or no start-up capital. Gen Yers have technological capability in their DNA. The challenge for some of them is recognizing how to balance this techno-sphere with reality, the computer screen with nature, engaging with people and wildness as well as digital interfaces. They understand the power of social networking to achieve what they want and they entrust online communities to influence decision making.

Going beyond standard CRS programs, how can commercial organizations and business managers leverage the popularity and appeal of social entrepreneurship when dealing with their own corporate Gen Y population?  The key here is for organizations to change their sense of purpose and therefore their corporate mission and in turn their culture.  While this may be daunting in the face of much adversity and volatility within business, it can be immensely liberating and exciting.  In fact, these transformational times offer exactly the right conditions for businesses to transform, just take a look at what Nike, Unilever, Puma, Interface, etc. are doing to transform their organizations showing how radical these shifts need to be.

Social-EntrepreneurshipYet, as Gen Yers know, the exciting radical stuff is happening on the fringes of big business with start-ups and niche players who have a sense of purpose 100% aligned to doing good in the world (from which profit can flow) rather than the current prevalent business mindset of focusing on profit and then perhaps using a small % of that profit for doing good (even though the good is far outweighed by the toxicity resulting from their business actions).  It is a big mind-set change for business, and Gen Yers are learning how to filter the wheat from the chaff when going about their business; how to spot the business partners who really ‘get it’ and are working with a truly positive mindset and those still infected with the old mindset of short term profit maximization for the benefit of the few at the expense of life itself.

Clearly, Gen Yers have noble ambitions and are hungry to change the world. Why not use their innate motivational drivers and build a business model aligned to that? After all, it seems that social entrepreneurship and Generation Y is indeed a match made in heaven.

Visit to find out more on the above.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. December 22, 2012 12:31 pm

    I am part of Generation X, but I would like to be counted amongst the newer batch of social entrepreneurs. The value that I most struggle with is accessibility – I really have trouble with giving up ownership of stuff. I am trying though – my next big “purchase” will actually be rental of an upgraded laptop and subscription to some software that I need for my business.

  2. December 29, 2012 8:19 pm

    Great post – like your viewpoint. I agree heavily that social entrepreneurs are on the rise with an ambitious hunger for change. As you discussed, the landscape is changing, which changes the next generation’s outlook on how the world ought to be. Interesting, and parallel to much of my thinking.

    There’s so much opportunity for innovative change – I’m eager to be part it and see what comes.

  3. July 22, 2013 11:46 am

    Truly….such a beneficial web-site.

  4. November 26, 2013 6:45 am

    Admiring the dedication you put into your website and detailed information you provide.
    It’s awesome to come across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same outdated rehashed information.
    Excellent read! I’ve saved your site and I’m adding your RSS
    feeds to my Google account.


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