Skip to main content
Expand AU Menu

Getting Started as a Social Entrepreneur


Social entrepreneurs are people who apply the techniques of business and innovation to solve social problems.

Social innovation is what they do, and social enterprises are what they create.

Social enterprises may be new, stand-alone, economically sustainable organizations, or they may involve change and innovation within existing structures. People skilled at leading change from within are social intrapreneurs.

Social infrapreneurs are the ones creating the ecosystem for social enterprises to thrive.

You’ve heard of social entrepreneurship, it sounds interesting, and you’d like to know more.

  • Look over a couple of the good introductions to the field. David Bornstein is the author who put it on the map. His latest book, Social Entrepreneurship: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford 2010), is a great place to start. He’s also written a classic book profiling a dozen or so social entrepreneurs, How to Change the World (Oxford, 2007).  For some of the latest thinking about how business, government, and social entrepreneurs are teaming up, see The Solution Revolution (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013).
  • Several other books are full of interesting stories and short case studies about people following this path. Wilford Welch focuses on those involved in international settings: The Tactics of Hope: How Social Entrepreneurs Are Changing the World (Earth Aware, 2008). John Elkington and Pamela Hartigan's: The Power of Unreasonable People (Harvard Business School Press, 2008) provides a conceptual roadmap illustrated with many examples.
  • Pick a favorite social entrepreneur. Google her or him. Look for books by or about these pioneers. There are several highlighting Noble Prize winner Muhammad Yunus. Ben & Jerry's: The Inside Scoop: How Two Real Guys Built a Business with a Social Conscience and a Sense of Humor (Three Rivers, 1995) may appeal. Or if yogurt is more your thing, check out Stirring It Up: How to Make Money and Save the World (Hyperion 2008), by Gary Hirshberg, C-E-Yo of Stoneyfield Farm. Yunus has also written a book laying out his views on a new kind of capitalism that can serve humanity's most pressing needs: Building Social Business (Public Affairs, 2010).
  • Learn about DC-area social entrepreneurs.  Seth Goldman, co-founder of Honest Tea in Bethesda MD, has written a graphic novel-style account of all he went through to launch and grow his company called Mission in a Bottle (Crown Business, 2013). For over 25 years the DC Central Kitchen has been the prototype of an innovative approach to hunger and homelessness. Its story is told in The Food Fighters by Alexander Moore(iUniverse, 2014).
  • If you're interested in how intrapreneurs can work for social good within large corporations, investigate the resources at the League of Intrapreneurs' website.
  • For some of the latest thinking about corporate social responsibility, use Google on the phrase "shared value."  Jason Saul's book, Social Innovation, Inc, describes ways business can find growth opportunities by addressing societal ills. Also, consider the flip side of this trend: Protest Inc. (Polity, 2014) describes what happens when activist NGOs try to become too much like corporations.
  • If you’re getting inspired, its time for some serious internet surfing. Check out these resource links and start exploring.


You’re hooked. This sounds like something you’d like to pursue. You want to learn more and meet others with similar interests.

  • Join the AU Social Enterprise Association and connect with like-minded grad and undergrad students across AU's schools.. Attend its events and get active planning its programs.

  • Sign up for the SE-L email list to keep updated about events, internships, jobs, and new ideas in social enterprise.

  • Then get thee to a conference. There are a host of excellent ones, many on the East Coast. Our students often attend the social enterprise conferences at Columbia and Harvard and, for those interested in corporate social responsibility, the national Net Impact Conference.


You are more than hooked; you’ve got an idea you want to develop. You need more skills and a network.

  • StartingBloc is a terrific starting point. They put on several Social Innovation Institutes annually at top campuses in several cities. Then join their large network of fellows, including the active DC-based group.
  • For freshmen, Compass Partners is another excellent starting point. Undergraduates can also take advantage of Ashoka’s Youth Venture programs.
  • Other off-campus resources are listed here.
  • Work with your advisor to plot out a sequence of courses, internships, research projects, practicums, and skill institutes in SIS and around AU. Use them to develop your venture. Get your professors to introduce you to outside resources.


You need a job and possibly some funding for your idea.


You have something good going; you need further support, and maybe some recognition.

  • It might be time to apply to some of the competitive fellowship programs.

Harvard Social Enterprise Conference

group of social enterprise students pose with their conference swag bags

Every year, the SE students have the opportunity to attend the Harvard Social Enterprise Conference, one of the world’s leading forums to explore the intersection of business and social impact.

Learn more