Does the Success of Social Entrepreneurs Matter?

Its been bothering me for sometime to pen down this post. Does the success of social entrepreneurs matter? I teach, train and consult companies and start ups on design thinking, management and leadership. Lately the engagement has been around social enterprises (SE). I jaw dropped to learn that SE in Malaysia is growing expansively and there are many social entrepreneurs around. It is a great news and I learn so much about their businesses and most importantly their causes.


I found most social entrepreneurs are driven by their volition to make change. They are change makers. They are the square peg in a round hole. They are the misfits where they can’t settle with seeing broken things, especially societies that are broken apart.

In the words of Otto Scharmer, Professor at MIT and Chairman of MIT Ideas, there are “Disconnects” all around us that are structural. These “Disconnects”, after sometimes somehow gone unsettled. The old way of dealing with change is over, we need to now anticipate change and take it by our hands. Two of the “Disconnects” captured my attention.

“Disconnect between the infinite growth imperative and the finite resources of the planet Earth. The overuse of scarce resources such as soil and water has led to of a third of agricultural land globally.”

“Disconnect between Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and well being. Research has shown that higher GDP and higher material consumption doesnt translate to well being.”

I found these “Disconnect” disturbing. There are other 4 which you can find in his book Theory U.


When I met these social entrepreneurs they usually shared their challenges, pain points, constraints, doubts, fears, problems and many more. Some of them even wonder why were they in social enterprises at the 1st place? My answer to them, “How would I know?” Social entrepreneurs are people that wake up every morning telling themselves that “I am going to make a difference in somebody’s life.” At some junction, they sometimes feel their life is more miserable than the people they serve through their enterprises. I listen attentively to most of their sharing. Why would the social entrepreneurs such hardship is their success doesn’t matter to anyone?

In one social enterprise I know, the lady founder has to tolerate with “fussy” homeless families. These families prefer not to join her re-skilling program because they find it hard to follow – “It is tiring” they said. In another social enterprise, the youth founders said they have trained 50 rural areas change agents but only 2 turned up to be change makers, the rest are just passive agents.


My question is, does the success of social entrepreneurs matter?

If it matters, why when they face so much challenges they only receive very little help? if it matters, why most corporate leaders are still oblivious to benefits gained? If it matters, how can we collectively ensure the success? If their social enterprises become successful, the impact to the target group is manifold. It makes the world a better place, perhaps.

However, if it doesn’t matter, what is all the buzz about social entrepreneurship? If it doesn’t matter who are going to address the “Disconnects” above? If it doesn’t matter, who is going to look after our future generation? The recent and current generations have used up a lot of the finite resources on Earth.

Now, if the success of social entrepreneurs matter, to whom does it matter? Taking the insights of using design thinking for social innovation, picking the right stakeholders and hit it hard is very important. Yes, we can have tonnes of ideas but if we missed the right target group, the impact is poor. While design thinking as the methodology can help unleash our creative potential, we need more social entrepreneurs to “do” things.


Leaders from big business and corporates Malaysia could reach out more to social entrepreneurs and extend hands to improve the success of social entrepreneurs. Don’t wait in the high office for the proposals to come to your desk. They might not because it is gated at your PA table.

If the success of social entrepreneurs matter, we need to humanize their experience and find ways so we can help them cross the “death bridge” successfully and sustainably. Otherwise, all of us need to find a new Earth to exploit, crash and burn.

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