Social Business vs Social Entrepreneurship: Unpacking Their Impact & Value

Social Business vs Social Entrepreneurship Unpacking Their Impact & Value

Social Business and Social Entrepreneurship are two innovative approaches aimed at addressing societal challenges through sustainable business models and creative solutions. This article delves into the nuances of each, highlighting their distinct features, benefits, and the scenarios where one might be more advantageous than the other, offering a comprehensive understanding for those interested in the intersection of business and social impact.

Table of Contents

What is the Main Difference Between Social Business and Social Entrepreneurship?

The main difference between Social Business and Social Entrepreneurship is that social business focuses on creating companies that are designed to address social issues directly through their business operations and profits, while social entrepreneurship involves individuals or groups creating innovative solutions, often through various types of organizations, to address social problems, not limited to profit-making ventures.

What is Social Business and What is Social Entrepreneurship?

Social Business is a concept where a company is set up with the primary goal of solving a social issue. Unlike traditional businesses, the primary aim is not to maximize profit but to address a social problem. The profits generated are reinvested into the business or the community, not distributed to shareholders or owners. This model was popularized by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus.

On the other hand, Social Entrepreneurship refers to the practice of individuals, groups, start-ups, or entrepreneurs developing, funding, and implementing solutions to social, cultural, or environmental issues. This concept encompasses a wide range of organizations that vary in size, aims, and beliefs, not confined to the structure of a business.

Key Differences between Social Business and Social Entrepreneurship

  1. Focus: Social businesses primarily aim to address social issues through their business model, whereas social entrepreneurs might use various organizational forms to tackle these problems.
  2. Profit Distribution: In social businesses, profits are usually reinvested to further the social mission, whereas social entrepreneurs may use profits in various ways depending on their organizational structure.
  3. Organizational Structure: Social businesses operate like traditional companies but with a social mission, while social entrepreneurship can occur in non-profits, for-profits, or hybrid models.
  4. Scale and Scope: Social businesses often focus on scalable and sustainable business models, whereas social entrepreneurs might work on smaller, project-based initiatives.
  5. Innovation: Social entrepreneurship is often associated with innovative solutions to social problems, while social businesses may or may not focus on innovation in their business practices.
  6. Funding Sources: Social businesses are typically funded like any other business, through sales and investments, while social entrepreneurs might rely on grants, donations, or investment.
  7. Objective Measurement: The success of a social business is measured against its social impact and sustainability, while social entrepreneurship success can be broader, including impact, innovation, and sustainability.
  8. Legal Structure: Social businesses have a specific legal structure in some countries, distinguishing them from other business types, while social entrepreneurship doesn’t have a specific legal form.

Key Similarities between Social Business and Social Entrepreneurship

  1. Social Impact: Both aim to create a positive impact on society, addressing social issues through their work.
  2. Sustainability: Both approaches strive for sustainability, not just in financial terms but also in maintaining and scaling their social impact.
  3. Innovation: Innovation is key in both, whether in developing new business models or finding novel solutions to social problems.
  4. Commitment: Individuals in both fields are committed to their cause, often driven by a passion to make a difference in society.
  5. Challenges: Both face unique challenges, including funding, impact measurement, and balancing social goals with financial viability.
  6. Community Focus: Both approaches often emphasize community involvement and solutions that are rooted in local needs and resources.

Features of Social Business vs Features of Social Entrepreneurship

  1. Profit Reinvestment: Social businesses typically reinvest profits back into the business or the cause, contrasting with social entrepreneurship, where profit usage can be more varied.
  2. Legal Structure: Social businesses often have specific legal formats that define their operation, whereas social entrepreneurship can encompass a variety of legal structures.
  3. Funding Sources: Social businesses usually rely on revenue and investments, while social entrepreneurs can tap into a wider range of funding options, including donations and grants.
  4. Impact Measurement: The impact in social businesses is often measured through business metrics aligned with social goals, while social entrepreneurship might use diverse, sometimes less quantifiable, impact measures.
  5. Market Engagement: Social businesses engage with the market as part of their core operation, unlike social entrepreneurship, where market engagement can vary significantly.
  6. Innovation Approach: Innovation in social businesses is often driven by market needs and sustainability, whereas in social entrepreneurship, it’s more about creative solutions to social problems, regardless of market dynamics.
  7. Organizational Structure: Social businesses typically follow a structured organizational model similar to traditional businesses, while social entrepreneurship can exhibit a wide range of organizational structures, from informal groups to structured entities.

Advantages of Social Business over Social Entrepreneurship

  1. Financial Stability: Social businesses often have more predictable and stable revenue streams compared to social entrepreneurial ventures, which might rely heavily on donations or grants.
  2. Impact Measurement: Social businesses can more easily measure their impact through business metrics linked to social goals, providing clear indicators of their success.
  3. Sustainability: Due to their business model, social businesses can potentially be more sustainable in the long term, as they don’t rely solely on external funding.
  4. Market Discipline: Operating in competitive markets, social businesses are often forced to innovate and improve efficiency, enhancing their impact and sustainability.
  5. Employee Engagement: Employees in social businesses are typically more engaged and motivated, knowing their work directly contributes to social good.
  6. Legal Clarity: In some jurisdictions, social businesses have a clear legal framework, which can aid in governance and operational clarity.

Disadvantages of Social Business compared to Social Entrepreneurship

  1. Flexibility: Social businesses might have less flexibility compared to social entrepreneurs, as they need to adhere to more structured business operations.
  2. Innovation: While innovation is present in social businesses, social entrepreneurs often operate in a wider range of innovative environments and can adopt new solutions more quickly.
  3. Scope of Impact: Social entrepreneurs can potentially address a broader range of social issues, as they are not confined to the constraints of a business model.
  4. Resource Allocation: Social businesses need to balance profitability with social impact, which can sometimes limit the resources available for their social missions.
  5. Growth and Scaling: Scaling a social business can be more challenging than scaling a social entrepreneurial venture, as it requires maintaining profitability and social impact simultaneously.
  6. Community Engagement: Social entrepreneurs might engage more directly with communities and stakeholders, fostering a deeper understanding and connection to the issues they address.

Advantages of Social Entrepreneurship over Social Business

  1. Innovative Freedom: Social entrepreneurs enjoy a broader scope for innovation, as they are not restricted by the need to generate profit.
  2. Agility: Without the constraints of a traditional business model, social entrepreneurs can quickly adapt to changes and needs in their target communities.
  3. Diverse Funding: Social entrepreneurs can access a variety of funding sources, including grants, donations, and investments, which may not be available to social businesses.
  4. Variety of Models: Social entrepreneurship allows for a multitude of organizational models, offering flexibility in how objectives are achieved.
  5. Engagement: Social entrepreneurs often have a closer connection to the communities they serve, leading to more tailored and effective solutions.
  6. Impact Focus: Without the pressure to generate profits, social entrepreneurs can focus purely on maximizing social impact.

Disadvantages of Social Entrepreneurship compared to Social Business

  1. Financial Sustainability: Without a structured business model, social entrepreneurs might face challenges in achieving long-term financial sustainability.
  2. Impact Measurement: Measuring the impact of social entrepreneurial ventures can be complex due to their diverse models and objectives.
  3. Market Constraints: Without a market-driven approach, social entrepreneurs may miss out on efficiencies and innovations driven by market competition.
  4. Resource Limitations: Relying on external funding can lead to resource constraints, affecting the scalability and sustainability of social entrepreneurial initiatives.
  5. Professional Support: Social entrepreneurs might have less access to business advice and professional support compared to social businesses, which operate in more traditional markets.
  6. Legal and Structural Clarity: The varied nature of social entrepreneurship can sometimes result in less clarity around legal structures and operational models, potentially hindering growth and effectiveness.

Situations When Social Business is Preferable to Social Entrepreneurship

  1. Long-term Sustainability: When the primary goal is to ensure long-term financial and operational sustainability, a social business model is often more effective.
  2. Market Solutions: In scenarios where market-driven solutions can effectively address social issues, social businesses tend to excel.
  3. Investor Appeal: If attracting investors is crucial, social businesses may have an advantage due to their profit-generating potential.
  4. Scalability: When the goal is to scale the solution across different regions or demographics, social businesses often have more structured frameworks to facilitate this.
  5. Employee Recruitment: For attracting talent that seeks the stability of a traditional employment structure with the added value of social impact, social businesses are more appealing.
  6. Legal Framework: In environments with clear legal frameworks for social businesses, these entities can operate more effectively compared to social entrepreneurial ventures.

Situations When Social Entrepreneurship is Preferable to Social Business

  1. Innovation: In contexts where innovation and rapid iteration are key to addressing social issues, social entrepreneurship is often more effective.
  2. Flexibility: When flexibility in structure and approach is necessary to adapt to changing circumstances or needs, social entrepreneurship offers an advantage.
  3. Diverse Funding: In scenarios where access to diverse funding sources, including grants and donations, is crucial, social entrepreneurship is more suitable.
  4. Community Engagement: When deep community engagement and grassroots involvement are vital for the initiative’s success, social entrepreneurs tend to be more effective.
  5. Broad Impact: For initiatives aiming to address a wide range of issues without the constraint of a business model, social entrepreneurship offers a better framework.
  6. Pilot Projects: When testing new concepts or pilot projects that require a non-traditional approach, social entrepreneurship provides the necessary flexibility and innovation.

The Impact and Reach of Social Business

Before delving deeper into the nuances of social business, it’s crucial to comprehend its broader implications. Social businesses not only transform markets but also set new benchmarks for success in the business world.

The Global Reach of Social Business

Social businesses are making a significant mark globally, not just in developed nations but also in emerging economies. By addressing local issues with sustainable business models, they contribute to a global movement towards more responsible capitalism. This global presence underscores the adaptability and relevance of the social business model across different cultural and economic landscapes.

Social Business Success Stories

Examining successful social businesses provides valuable insights into their potential. These enterprises, from microfinance institutions to companies providing affordable healthcare, demonstrate the viability and impact of combining social missions with business principles. Their successes challenge traditional business norms and inspire a new generation of entrepreneurs.

The Evolving Landscape of Social Business

As the concept of social business matures, it’s evolving to incorporate new technologies and innovative approaches. This evolution is critical for staying relevant and impactful. By embracing change, social businesses can continue to address pressing social issues effectively while remaining financially viable.

The Role of Social Entrepreneurship in Driving Innovation

Social entrepreneurship is a testament to the power of innovative thinking in addressing societal challenges. It’s a space where creativity meets purpose, leading to groundbreaking solutions that often reshape how we approach social issues.

Innovation and Creativity in Social Entrepreneurship

At its core, social entrepreneurship is about innovation. Entrepreneurs in this space are not afraid to think outside the box and develop new approaches to old problems. This creativity is not just about products or services but also about creating new business models and strategies to achieve social impact.

Collaboration and Community in Social Entrepreneurship

Social entrepreneurs recognize the importance of collaboration and community. They often work closely with the people they are trying to help, ensuring that solutions are grounded in real-world needs. This community-focused approach helps create more sustainable and impactful solutions, fostering a sense of ownership and involvement among stakeholders.

The Future of Social Entrepreneurship

Looking forward, the field of social entrepreneurship is poised for continued growth and innovation. As more individuals are drawn to making a meaningful impact through their careers, we can expect to see a proliferation of new ideas and enterprises in this space. This trend is not just promising for those directly involved but also for society at large, as it signals a shift towards more conscientious and purpose-driven business practices.


How can social businesses attract and retain talent?

Social businesses attract and retain talent by emphasizing their mission and impact, offering employees a sense of purpose and fulfillment. They provide a work environment where employees feel they are contributing to a greater good, which is a significant motivator and retention tool. Additionally, offering competitive salaries, career development opportunities, and a positive organizational culture are key strategies.

What are the common challenges faced by social entrepreneurs?

Social entrepreneurs often face challenges such as securing sustainable funding, measuring impact effectively, and balancing social goals with business needs. Overcoming these challenges requires innovative thinking, strong leadership, and a deep understanding of the social and business landscapes they operate within.

How can social businesses measure their impact effectively?

Social businesses can measure their impact by setting clear, quantifiable goals and using metrics that align with their social mission. This could include social return on investment (SROI) calculations, impact assessments, and regular reporting on social outcomes to stakeholders.

How do social entrepreneurs identify new opportunities for impact?

Social entrepreneurs identify new opportunities by staying closely connected to their communities, understanding their needs, and being attuned to changes in the social, economic, and environmental landscapes. They also foster a culture of innovation within their organizations to adapt and respond to emerging challenges and opportunities.

Can social businesses be profitable?

Yes, social businesses can be profitable. While their primary goal is to address a social issue, generating profit is crucial for sustainability. The key is balancing profitability with the social mission, ensuring that business success contributes to social impact.

How do social entrepreneurs secure funding?

Social entrepreneurs secure funding through various sources, including grants, angel investors, venture capitalists interested in social impact, crowdfunding, and social impact bonds. Building strong networks and effectively communicating their impact and business model are crucial in attracting funding.

What role do partnerships play in social entrepreneurship?

Partnerships are vital in social entrepreneurship, offering access to resources, expertise, and networks that can enhance impact and scalability. Collaborating with governments, NGOs, corporations, and other stakeholders can provide social entrepreneurs with the support needed to achieve their goals.

How do social businesses compete with traditional businesses?

Social businesses compete with traditional businesses by offering unique value propositions centered on social impact, appealing to consumers who prioritize ethical and sustainable practices. They also leverage their social mission to differentiate themselves in the market and build a loyal customer base.

Social Business and Social Entrepreneurship Summary

This discussion has illuminated the distinct yet interconnected realms of Social Business and Social Entrepreneurship. We’ve explored their unique characteristics, the contexts in which one might be preferable over the other, and the various challenges and opportunities they face. Both paradigms exemplify how business acumen and entrepreneurial spirit can be harnessed to drive significant social change, underscoring the potential for sustainable impact in the business world. As these models continue to evolve, they offer promising pathways for future innovators and leaders committed to making a difference in society through their professional endeavors.

FeatureSocial BusinessSocial Entrepreneurship
FocusAddresses social issues through business operations and profitsUses innovative solutions to tackle social problems through various organizational forms
Profit DistributionReinvests profits to further the social missionMay use profits in various ways depending on the organizational structure
Organizational StructureOperates like traditional companies but with a social missionCan occur in non-profits, for-profits, or hybrid models
InnovationMay focus on business practices innovationOften associated with innovative solutions to social problems
Funding SourcesTypically funded like any other business, through sales and investmentsMight rely on grants, donations, or investments
Objective MeasurementSuccess measured against social impact and sustainabilityBroader success criteria including impact, innovation, and sustainability
Legal StructureSpecific legal structure in some countriesNo specific legal form
Situational PreferenceBetter when long-term financial and operational sustainability is the goalPreferred in contexts where flexibility and innovation are crucial
Market EngagementEngages directly with the market as part of core operationsMarket engagement can vary significantly
Financial SustainabilityCan be profitable while balancing social missionFaces challenges in achieving long-term financial sustainability
Social Business and Social Entrepreneurship Summary

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top


Enter your contact details and I will get in touch!


Send a Message. I will respond quickly!

Try QuickBooks free for 30 days

Get started with QuickBooks in 30 minutes*.

*Based on a survey of small businesses using QuickBook Online conducted September 2018.