“Buy one, give one!” “Buy from x company and we’ll donate a share of those profits to…” “These products are locally sourced and benefit our community.”


About 60% of social enterprises in the U.S. were founded over the past 8 years.[1] Traditional capitalism has seemingly been thrown to the backburner as social entrepreneurship proves not to be a fleeting trend, but an enduring business model. Universities, governments, philanthropies and companies alike are investing in the spread of social entrepreneurship. At the 7th annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES), which took place this past June in Silicon Valley, the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation announced the launch of its new fund of $65 million geared toward finding, funding and supporting 100 early-stage, high impact social enterprises.[2] Across the US, top MBA programs are seeing a growth in courses within topics of social enterprises due to the “soaring” interest in social entrepreneurship.[3] For instance, in Harvard’s business school, the number of students enrolled in social enterprise courses or independent projects has increased substantially over the years, going from 71 in the 1995 – 1996 academic year to 600 in the 2010 – 2011 academic year.[4] Our own Council Member Whitney Keyes has an MBA with Global Social Enterprise Leadership, and part of her work as CEO of WK Productions supports social entrepreneurs who use their businesses to help alleviate issues around the world.

With the advent of a globalized and connected world, people have gained the ability to make an impact in far reaching places that they may have never heard of only moments ago. This may be one reason companies like Toms are so appealing to the 21st century consumer. We all know there are problems in the world – if our purchases could help alleviate some of those problems, why not buy that product?

As echoed at the United State of Women Summit put on by the White House earlier this June, women are particularly aligned with social ventures and giving back. In fact, women entrepreneurs are more likely than men to “have higher levels of education and ventures in service industries” and to be motivated by “noneconomic goals.”[5] In the past year, the Council has hosted roundtables with the focus of social entrepreneurship to better understand the unique opportunities and challenges for women entrepreneurs.

Authors Terjesen, Bosma, and Stam adequately summarize in their 2015 article that social entrepreneurship is “the pursuit of social objectives with innovative methods, through the creation of products, organizations, and practices that yield and sustain social benefits.[6]” They also summarize key trends such as individuals with higher levels of education and employment or individuals with “student status” tend to be more likely to start social ventures. Although statistics show that men are still more likely to start a social venture than women, there is promising news in that the gap between genders within social entrepreneurship is not as high as typical entrepreneurial ventures[7]. Given that about 30.2% of women in the U.S. receive bachelor’s degrees as opposed to 29.9% of men, and that they are already more likely to pursue non-economic goals, it seems only natural that more women aspire to start social enterprises.[8]

Social entrepreneurship is still a young and growing field, yet some women have already made their marks. Here are just a few:

Anna Palmer and Christine Rizk co-founded the Fashion Project, which allows customers to shop for secondhand clothes while simultaneously donating to a cause they choose.[9]

Rebecca Smith founded Better Life Bags when she was in the last month of pregnancy, a business that creates custom diaper bags and sends 10% of each purchase as a microloan to low income entrepreneurs overseas.[10] Smith also centers her business on hiring women with barriers to employment in hopes of bettering her own community.

Miki Agrawal, one of the founders of Thinx, started her business with Radha Agrawal and Antonia Saint Dunbar. They sell “underwear for women with periods”, and for each tampon-pad replacing undergarment, a portion of sales goes to providing reusable menstrual pads to women in Uganda.[11]

These are simply a few women who exemplify social entrepreneurship.

Why social entrepreneurship? The bottom line is – any successful and savvy entrepreneur needs to keep in mind their consumer base. With millennials – who are socially inclined with their purchases[12] – estimated to spend $200 billion by 2017[13] and women composing about 80%[14] of all consumer choices and rapidly defining what has been labeled the “female economy,” entrepreneurial minds need to recognize the growing possibilities located in social enterprise.[15] From The White House to fortune 500 companies to global markets, the importance of social entrepreneurship is being recognized. Incubators and accelerators have even emerged for the sole purpose of encouraging social enterprises. Propeller – a group the NWBC hosted a round-table discussion with this past October – is a Louisiana-based non-profit that incubates social ventures.  Halcyon incubator and Unreasonable Institute accelerators are two other examples of organizations that encourage the growth of social enterprises, and there are many more.

There’s still a lot more to know about social venture founders and the opportunities and challenges faced by women. Stay tuned for the NWBC’s FY2016 research portfolio decision in the next few weeks…


Author: Tara Razjouyan is a Summer 2016  Research Fellow at the National Women’s Business Council and a master’s candidate of leadership and public policy at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy.


[1] Milway, Katie Smith. “How Social Entrepreneurs Can Have the Most Impact.” Harvard Business Review. N.p., 02 May 2014. Web. 12 July 2016.

[2] “FACT SHEET: Global Entrepreneurship Summit.Department of Commerce. 24 June 2016. Web. 06 July 2016.

[3] Milway, Kate Smith, and Christine Driscoll Goulay. “The Rise of Social Entrepreneurship in B-Schools in Three Charts.” Harvard Business Review. N.p., 28 Feb. 2013. Web. 07 July 2016.

[4] Milway, Kate Smith, and Christine Driscoll Goulay. “The Rise of Social Entrepreneurship in B-Schools in Three Charts.” Harvard Business Review. N.p., 28 Feb. 2013. Web. 07 July 2016.

[5] Terjesen, Siri. Bosma, Niels. Stam, Eri.  “Advancing Public Policy for High-Growth, Female, and Social Entrepreneurs.”  Public Administration Review. 76.2 (2016): 230-239. Web. 5 July 2016.

[6] ibid

[7] ibid

[8] Feeney, Nolan. “Women Are Now More Likely to Have College Degree Than Men.” Time. Time, 07 Oct. 2015. Web. 07 July 2016.

[9] Taylor, Nicole Fallan. “22 Great Examples of Socially Responsible Businesses.” Business News Daily. N.p., 01 July 2015. Web. 08 July 2016.

[10] “Our Mission.” BetterLifeBags. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 July 2016.

[11] Bellafante, Ginia. “The Bohemian Capitalist.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 27 Feb. 2016. Web. 08 July 2016.

[12] Swinand, Andrew. “Corporate Social Responsibility Is Millennials’ New Religion.” Crain’s Chicago Business. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 July 2016.

[13] Solomon, Micah. “The Millennial Customer Has $200 Billion To Spend (But Wants A New Style Of Customer Service).” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 21 Jan. 2015. Web. 08 July 2016.

[14] Brennan, Bridget. “Top 10 Things Everyone Should Know About Women Consumers”. Forbes. 21 January 2015. Web. 05 July 2016.

[15] Silverstein J, Michael. Sayre, Kate. “The Female Economy”. Harvard Business Review. September 2009. Web. 05 July 2016.