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Lost and Founder

A bake sale is a startup of sorts.

How social entrepreneurship is changing the world of do-gooders

“Social entrepreneur” runs second only to “maker of things” in the typical Twitter bio of a tech type these days. In fact, the term has become so ubiquitous, it even warrants its own category on the Forbes List. But what the hell does it mean?

In short, social entrepreneurs don’t just create businesses with a bottom line that’s all about money. Instead, they create innovative businesses with the goal of tackling a social problem in addition to functioning as a sustainable and successful business (i.e. making some money).

It’s a self-sustaining model that means the better the business works, the bigger the benefit to society they can provide. Combine that “do good” philosophy with the “anything is possible” world of tech and you’ve got a complete transformation in how the world can benefit.

We’re going to be looking at some new and innovative startups in the world of social entrepreneurship all this week. Let’s kick things off with a look at how major industries are being changed by this new class of businessperson.

Healthcare

Tech-minded social entrepreneurs have managed to break down the bureaucratic layers and mobilize health care workers in new and exciting ways. Medic Mobile, for example, is a mobile app that allows medical workers to track critical medical information such as disease and outbreaks, registering pregnancies and keeping stock of important medicines. VisionSpring is a social enterprise that helps low-income individuals get access to eyeglasses by creating a sustainable eyeglass distribution business model and SIRUM connects un-opened, un-expired medications to people in need.

Fundraising

The business of fundraising itself is also being re-imagined by tech-minded social entrepreneurs who have been using data to improve the process. Sites like WeDidIt are able to help non-profits raise money more effectively by efficiently and quickly analyzing large amounts of data to make fundraising solicitations more targeted and personal. By helping non-profits identify who is ready to give now, they claim to raise 20% more money over the average campaign.

Crowd-funding is of course also a popular vehicle for fundraising, even for non-profits and charities. But in addition to the more popular destinations like Kickstarter, there are also sites specifically for non-profits to fundraise, such as StartSomeGood.com. Change Heroes, is a social enterprise that empowers people to build schools in low-income countries by creating their own fundraising campaigns. They use technology to mobilize donors and create an entirely new layer of transparency in the fundraising process.

Fashion

31Bits employs artisans in Uganda to make fashion forward jewelry that provides an income for women to rise above poverty. Through their image-heavy website, users can experience the stories of artisans that they work with and understand the impact of their purchases. The Fashion Project provides free mailing labels to consumers who want to get rid of their old clothes. Once received, they sell the clothes online where they donate 55% of their net proceeds to support a charity. Cole and Parker sells colorful socks and uses the sale proceeds to finance loans for Kiva and once those loans are paid back, they are able to use the funds to finance another Kiva applicant, creating a continual cycle of re-investment.

Education

Education is no longer confined to the classroom thanks to the vision of social entrepreneurs and the lower barriers to entry that technology creates. Eneza Education provides students with a virtual tutor and teacher’s assistant on a low-cost mobile phone and Edmodo is a rapidly growing online platform with over 46 million users, mainly teachers, students and parents, who can compare lesson plans, homework and tests.

Finance

Investing in IRAs and mutual funds are only a couple of investment vehicles on the market these days. Ever heard of a SIB/DIB (social and development impact bonds)? These bonds tie results to social impact instead of financial returns and Instiglio is one of the big players in this space. Madeira Global is a NY based investment and advisory firm that helps clients align financial returns with sustainable social and environmental solutions.

In a demonstration of how powerful social enterprise has become, several banks have started to offer social enterprise accounts specifically for community interest companies that prioritize social or environmental impact.

No, commerce and care don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

Now go forth (and improve your world).

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