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Top 10 Social Entrepreneurs

First of all, what is social entrepreneurship?


Social entrepreneurship is a business that is not just concern with the bottom line of profit, but also with social and environmental issues. This is known as the triple bottom line or the Three P’s– profit, people and planet. Unlike nonprofits, social enterprise still earns a profit. Unlike most businesses, the focus is on the social or environmental change made while earning that profit. To quote MeiMei Fox from her article in


Today’s young people are as concerned with making a positive impact on the world as they are with making money. A whopping 94% want to use their skills to benefit a cause. Meanwhile, only half of Americans have confidence in the free market system, down from 80% just 15 years ago.”

Given this desire to do good in the world, social enterprise has taken off as a new formula for success. There are actually limitations on being a not-for-profit that most people don’t realize, such as the requirement that half your funds come from grants and donations. For many businesses, this either wouldn’t work at all, or it would work for the disposition of the founders. Some people just don’t like the idea of writing grants and asking for handouts, and you can hardly blame them.

By being a self-funding, for-profit business you can use the money you make to tackle global issues such as alleviating hunger, improving education, and reversing climate change. The achieve this, companies might fund their own programs, partner with governments or not-for-profits, 0r follow a one-for-one model of sales (i.e. Buy a pair of shoes and we’ll give one away, as seen in the examples below).  Social entrepreneurs are often extremely enthusiastic about what they do for a living because it allows them to live their passion and embrace a career full of meaning. Here are 10 examples of massively successful social entrepreneurs.



1. Bill Drayton

Headshot of Bill Drayton, pioneering social entrepreneur


Bill Drayton isn’t just a great example of a social entrepreneur. He was the one who helped define and promote the term ‘social entrepreneur’ itself. Drayton founded “Ashoka: Innovators for the Public” in 1980, which takes a multifaceted approach to find and support social entrepreneurs globally. The Ashoka Foundation has sponsored over 2,100 fellows in 73 different countries. Some of these companies have gone on to develop social enterprises that have made a huge impact around the world.

Drayton also acts as a chairman at Community Greens, Youth Venture and Get America Working! In addition to that, The Ashoka Foundation has sponsored over 2,100 fellows in 73 different countries. Some of these companies have gone on to develop leading social businesses that have made a huge impact on communities around the world.



2. Rachel Brathen



Rachel Brathen wrote the New York Times best-selling book Yoga Girl. This is also the handle for her Instagram account, which reaches 2.1 million followers. In addition to sharing yoga poses and tips, Rachel aims to connect teachers with those who need healing. “What if social media could become a social mission?” asks Brathen. She has an online channel, which offers health, yoga, and meditation services. If that wasn’t enough, she also runs 109 World, a socially-conscious website that focuses on providing solutions to eight urgent global issues including food security, water pollution. and gender inequality. 



3. Shiza Shahid

Shiza Shirazad Smiling Headshot


Shiza Shahid is the co-founder of the Malala Fund, named after Malala Yousafzai, who is the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. The two were both born in Pakistan, and the two met when Shiza reached out to Yousafa to help organize a camp for her and other Pakistani girls in 2009. In 2012, Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban for promoting female education and survived, determined to continue her work. Shiza was inspired by her determination and passion and decided to help strategize her campaign, and after graduating from Stanford Shiza led the creation of the Malala Fund, whose goal is to advocating and spreading access to education for women and girls.



4. Blake Mycoskie

Blake Mycoskie, Founder of TOMS


Blake Mycoskie founder of the popular shoe company TOMS, which start after he visited Argentina and learned that many children get sick or injured because they do not have access to footwear. In his desire to help, Mycoskie invested $300,000 of his own money to start TOMS, pledging to donate one pair of shoes to people in need for every pair that is purchased. By 2018, the company has donated more than 70 million pairs of shoes and more than 335,000 weeks of safe water. In 2011, TOMS launched another campaign that gives away a pair of glass or eyesight surgery for every pair of glasses sold, which has now improved the vision of more than 600,000 without charge. How’s that for inspiring?



5.Scott Harrison

Scott Harrison, Founder of Charity:Water


Lack of access to clean drinking water is a huge issue that affects millions of people around the globe. After a life-changing visit to Liberia, Scott Harrison decided to devote his life to this issue and founded Charity: Water, a nonprofit that provides potable water in 26 countries worldwide. They give 100% of their profit to countries that need clean water. At the time of this writing (January 2020), the organization has completed over 44,000 projects in developing countries and to aid over 10 million people around the world.



6. Muhammad Yunus

Muhammad Yunis who wrote the book on social entrepreneurship


Muhammad Yunis is a huge name in the world of social entrepreneurship because he literally wrote the book on it. He has also popularized microfinance and microcredit, which are the foundational techniques of the Grameen Bank, which he started in 1983. This organization is based on the principles of trust and solidarity to empower villagers with the funds they need to develop financial self-sufficiency. The Grameen Bank claims a payback rate of their loans of 98%, which is a recovery rate higher than any traditional bank. For this pioneering work, Yunus was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2006, U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010.



7. Jeffrey Hollender

Jeffrey Hollender, Founder of Seventh Generation


Jeffery Hollender is the co-founder of Seventh Generation, a sustainably focused cleaning, paper, and personal care products company. The name comes from the American Indigenous people, which encourages one to think of how your actions will affect the world seven generations from now. In this spirit, the company offers products that reduce environmental impact, in part by avoiding the harsh chemicals that so common in most modern cleaning and personal care products. Though it is commonly thought that adherence to such stringent environmental considerations will reduce profits, but Hollender and his company have shown otherwise, bringing in $150 million in revenue in 2010. The company also donates 10% of its pre-tax profits to help fund other social enterprise companies. After being let go as CEO in 2010, he is now a sought after consultant, speaker, author and activist for corporate social responsibility. Hollender has written seven books including his best known “How to Make the World a Better Place.” He is co-founder & CEO of Hollender Sustainable Brands as well as co-founder of Sustain Condoms at Sustain, an arm of Hollender Sustainable Brands. He is also an adjunct professor at New York University and co-founder and board chair of the American Sustainable Business Council; and a board member of various other organizations, including Greenpeace USA, Health Care Without Harm, and workers’ rights organization Verité.



8. Xavier Helgesen, Christopher “Kreece” Fuchs & Jeff Kurtzman

Xavier Helgesen, Christopher “Kreece” Fuchs and Jeff Kurtzman, Founders of Better World Book


These are the co-founders of Better World Books, an online bookstore funding global literacy. They met at Notre Dame University, where they tutored the football team and began collecting unwanted books to sell on the internet. Helgesen is CEO and co-founder of Off-Grid Electric, which provides renewable energy to homes in the “off-grid world.” For a time, Kurzman held the CEO position at Aid Through Trade, a company that distributes handmade accessories from Nepal around the U.S. Here he was responsible for a 110% growth in sales, according to CrunchBase. He also co-founded the nonprofit Operation Incubation, which delivers low-cost, low-maintenance incubators to the developing world.



9. Mark Koska


Mark Koska re-designed medical tools, introducing a non-reusable, inexpensive syringe to be used in under-funded clinics. This innovation safeguards against the transmission of blood-borne diseases. Koska founded the SafePoint Trust in 2006, delivering 4 billion safe injections in 40 countries by Auto-Disable (AD) syringes. The Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneurs of the Year in 2015 lists Koska for his pioneering solution to world health issues. The World Health Organization announced a global policy on safe injections in February of 2015. (For more, watch Mark’s TED Talk: 1.3 Million Reasons to Re-invent the Syringe.)



10. Sanjit “Bunker” Roy

Founder of the Barefoot College, Sanjit


Sanjit “Bunker” Roy has helped thousands of people in Asia and Africa to learn core technical skills and help to bring solar power to remote villages. He founded the Barefoot College in 1972, a solar-powered college for the poor. Roy describes the Barefoot College as “the only college where the teacher is the learner and the learner is the teacher. The college specializes in training illiterate women from poor communities to become doctors, engineers, and architects. Pretty amazing, eh? If that wasn’t enough, as proof of the effectiveness of the methods, each college campus is solar-powered and many are built and designed by former students. The goal of the college is not to make a profit, but to help improve the economic production and quality of life of women throughout his native India. With women leading and running most of the Barefoot College’s operations, it’s clear that he’s been pretty successful in achieving that goal.


That’s our list of the top 10 most successful social entrepreneurs. We recognize that the majority of these people are white men.  Can you think of anyone else who should be on the list by bringing purpose and the planet into their business along with a focus on profit? Let us know below!

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