Social entrepreneurship: what is it not?

Posted on May 22, 2011


So we have seen quite a few definitions on social entrepreneurship and its surrounding themes, but another way to approach it and attempt to make the concept more clear, is to ask: what is it not? Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship has written this piece of information on their website on what does not constitute social entrepreneurship, in their opinion of course. See for yourself where they, a leading organization within the field, set the boundaries to social entrepreneurship’s cousins: philanthropy, activism, and businesses with a foundation. 

What does not constitute social entrepreneurship?


  • A successful business man or woman who, upon retirement, has decided to help the less privileged in society and “give back”. To do so, s/he endows a foundation to support early childhood education and to set up hospitals in poor countries.
  • Such a person is a philanthropist who has set up a charity.
  • Philanthropists are critically important in society – and many of them support social entrepreneurial activities.  But don’t confuse philanthropic largesse with social entrepreneurship.


  • A passionate animal rights activist, who at an early age volunteered in an NGO to lobby the government to ban whale hunting. Subsequently, s/he worked to boycott garment companies using the fur of baby seals to make winter coats. As a young adult, s/he founded Bambi to raise money to lobby governments to protect the rights of laboratory animals.
  • This person an activist working to bring pressure on policy makers and the public to stop a specific practice. No alternative options are proposed.
  • We need activists – but they are not social entrepreneurs.

Companies with a Foundation

  • Foodmart is a global discount grocery & household products chain that has been rated by the International Better Business Bureau as one of the top companies to work for in the world. The World Health Organisation has designated Foodmart as a “Healthy Workplace” for worker safety and wellbeing. The company encourages its staff to engage in community activities and provides them with company time to do so.  The company established the Foodmart Foundation to support activities in maternal and child nutrition.
  • Foodmart is a socially responsible global business that has incorporated corporate citizenship and social responsibility into its core business practice.
  • We would love more companies like Foodmart – but their priority is to make money for their shareholders.   It is not an example of social entrepreneurship practice, which subsumed value appropriation at the service of transforming social and environmental conditions.