What Are Some Characteristics of Social Entrepreneurs?

Social entrepreneurs are individuals who start, lead, and manage impact companies on their own accounts and risks. Given that the social entrepreneur is the key person who initiates and manages impact companies, social entrepreneurs’ perceived career outcomes has critical implications for the sustainability of social ventures in delivering social value.

At Citrine, we actively support entrepreneurs by being a part of their journeys. As such, we try to understand them on a fundamental level to ensure both their self-sustainability and organisational sustainability. In this short post, we are sharing some characteristics we have observed thus far.

Positive Impact & Relationships

  • The drive to create positive impact is the foundation of the social entrepreneurship career. Social entrepreneurs try all ways possible to contribute towards their chosen social issues, and do not give up or consider alternate career options when encountering problems along the way.
  • Acceptance, appreciation and positive feedback by family, friends, colleagues, partners and local communities serve as important career success signpost for social entrepreneurs. They value meaningful support throughout the ups and downs in their journeys.
  • While some sacrifice other aspects of their lives to maximise energy and effort to make their social enterprises a success (work-life integration), some draw a clear boundary between work and non-work life (work-life balance). However, all are mindful about the risk of social enterprise intruding into the non-work spheres, leading to emotional exhaustion and burnout.

Responsibility & Adventure

  • Social entrepreneurs perceive an aspect of their career success as being able to balance their autonomy to shape their own impact companies with the positive impact they promise to deliver. It is not just about ownership, but also the responsibility to sustain it in safeguarding the targeted beneficiaries.
  • In many cases, they are also subjectively experiencing their careers as unsuccessful due to tensions, mission drift, legitimacy issues and other challenges. Indeed, they may evaluate their career in conflicting ways.
  • Most see their journeys as a learning opportunity. Some sign up for courses to increase their knowledge and skills, while some learn from different mentors and advisors for different purposes, guiding and supporting them in different areas in their journeys.

Financial Security & Achievement

  • Many social entrepreneurs funded their impact businesses with their personal savings at the beginning, with the possibility to sacrifice personal financial gain in the short term. However, they are mindful about individual financial security and organisational financial achievement in the long term.

There is essentially no wrong or right, no good or bad in each characteristic. Each individual has their personal characters and competencies, and at Citrine, we support individuals with genuine intentions and impressive capabilities.

The above highlights generic observations while working with social entrepreneurs across the years, in addition to research conducted.


Read more: Au, W.C., Drencheva, A., & Yew, J.L. (2021). Narrating career in social entrepreneurship: Experiences of social entrepreneurs. Journal of Social Entrepreneurship. Online First, DOI: 10.1080/19420676.2021.1890188.