IF your conscience is as important to you as your cash, then maybe you should consider becoming one of the growing band of social entrepreneurs.


I don't know anybody who is an entrepreneur who said I am going to business school to get an MBA, challenges Dr Pamela Hartigan, Director of The Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University's Saïd Business School. You either are an entrepreneur or you are not, and, if you are, you just get on with it. The same holds for social entrepreneurs. The only difference is that they are focussed on creating a new product or a new way of doing things that is going to benefit the world.

If you are going to do a graduate degree, you should make sure it gives you some useful tools by pursuing subjects such as engineering, economics or healthcare. The best social entrepreneurs in the world are people who have focussed on a particular area. For example a disproportionate number of social entrepreneurs are engineers.

The engineer entrepreneur

The best social entrepreneurs in the world are people who have focussed on a particular area

One such engineer is Harish Hande, who was 26 when he founded Selco India, a company selling, installing and servicing solar lights for poor Indian households. After a decade and a half of struggle to find the right investment partners, Selco has recently received $1.4 million in equity finance from the Good Energies Foundation and other organizations.

The idea came while Hande was a graduate engineering student at the Centre for Sustainable Energy at the University of Massachusetts. While on a trip to the Dominican Republic he saw the potential for the technology to be used in his home country. I saw these very poor people using solar lighting, he says. Why couldn't we?

He linked up with a charity dedicated to the promotion of solar power in developing countries. But Hande soon realised that it wasn't just providing the lights that mattered; it was financing their purchase and servicing them, something a company could do better. The sticking point was the upfront cost, and it took him a long time to persuade local banks and cooperatives to create niche financial products that would enable individuals and families to purchase the lights.

Hande's key lesson is this. Irrespective of whether you want money, you should have control of the company, he says. Never take it from someone whose mission is not aligned with your own.

The humanitarian
A different type of social entrepreneurship story is told by Sasha Chanoff, Founder and Executive Director of Mapendo International, a not-for-profit organization which identifies and resettles those refugees who are in the most extreme danger.

Social entrepreneur is a term that is used quite a lot and I guess I do define myself as one, he says. When I started working with refugees I had a very specific job, however I was always trying to think of things I could do outside that job to help. Mapendo has become the solution to the problems I was thinking about.

Chanoff decided to return to full-time education to prepare him for the challenges of setting up his own organization. He chose a Masters in Humanitarian Assistance from the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and Friedman School of Nutrition, Science and Policy, a joint degree program through the Tufts Feinstein International Famine Centre.

I was attracted by the NGO management and social entrepreneurship degrees, and I finally decided on this program because it was one of the most cutting edge. It helped to give me a better l understanding of all the work I had done for the past decade. I got access to people who had created organizations themselves or who had led organizations such as Oxfam America, UNICEF or the Red Cross. On top of this I had access to all the colleagues on the program who had a great deal of experience.