What Is Social Entrepreneurship? (And Why First Book Is Such a Good Example)

A social entrepreneur is someone who sees a social problem — like hunger, homelessness or lack of access to clean water — and looks for ways to solve it. Unlike more traditional business entrepreneurs, who are trying to generate profits, social entrepreneurs are trying to change society. Long-term change is important, not just solutions to the immediate problems.

At First Book, the problem we’ve been working on for twenty years is the unbelievable lack of books and other educational materials faced by children from low-income families. Books are painfully scarce for many of these kids; one study that never fails to shock showed that there is only one book available for every 300 children in some of the lowest-income neighborhoods in the country.

First Book works by giving the teachers, librarians and local program leaders that work with these kids ongoing access to the new, quality books they need to do their jobs. Giving a child a new book of their own is a powerful thing, but the real impact comes from making sure they have books throughout their lives, from before they enter kindergarten until they graduate — with honors — from high school.

So we were pleased to see ourselves listed as one of the five examples of nonprofits around the world providing “innovative yet pragmatic approaches to solving social problems” in a new report from the respected financial services company Credit Suisse.

The report, “Investing for Impact: How social entrepreneurship is redefining the meaning of return”, was just released at the World Economic Forum in Davos. You can learn more about it, and download a copy for yourself, online here.

In it, the Credit Suisse analysts have this to say:

[T]he potential of growing efforts to deliver entrepreneurial solutions to global problems is bigger than ever before – as are the opportunities to channel private capital toward social and environmental issues.

The report also quotes Mark Kramer, the co-founder and managing director of social impact consulting firm FSG:

Many investors and philanthropists are turning to impact investments as equally valid and in some cases even more effective vehicles for social change than pure charity. To complement this growing interest, a number of new innovations are emerging in the field, ranging from new financial tools to better metrics for social impact to new impact investing funds.

All that may sound a little dry, but it’s actually really exciting stuff. First Book, and groups like it around the world, are charting the way to better and more equitable societies.

But doing so requires support and funding on a large scale, so it’s a big deal that the international investment community is paying close attention to the work that we’re doing and the impact that we’re having.

Learn more about First Book and our work at firstbook.org, or sign up for monthly updates about ways you can get involved.