← Unreasonable Institute  |  We accelerate ventures that will define progress in our time.

Starting Up, , , , — November 30, 2010 11:00 — 54 Comments

6 Characteristics of Successful Social Entrepreneurs

David Bornstein’s How to Change the World features one of my favorite syntheses of the traits social entrepreneurs require to achieve success. Bornstein conducted extensive research, surveying countless social entrepreneurs across the world to determine what sets apart good social entrepreneurs from “highly successful” social entrepreneurs. Here are the six characteristics that set excellent social entrepreneurs apart:

Willingness to Self-Correct. Elnor Rozenrot of Innosight Ventures told us in the very first interview for this blog that 90% of successful ventures start out with the wrong business plan. The ones that succeed, therefore, must alter course. “It takes a combination of hard-headedness, humility, and courage to stop and say, ‘This isn’t working’ or ‘Our assumptions were wrong,’ particularly when your funding is contingent on carrying out a preauthorized plan. However, the entrepreneur’s inclination to self-correct stems from the attachment to a goal rather than to a particular approach or plan” (p. 234).

Willingness to Share Credit. “There is no limit to what you can achieve if you don’t care who gets the credit,” explains Bornstein. One of the best examples I’ve heard comes from Ashoka Fellow of the Year David Kuria of Kenya, Founder of IkoToilet. Kuria built hygienic and affordable toilets for the 1 million slumdwellers of Kibera (a district of Nairobi, Kenya) but found that government regulations would make it difficult to expand his efforts. So he put the City Council of Nairobi’s logo on all Ikotoilets he constructed, which made people feel like the government was responding to their needs. The government was happy to take the credit and became very supportive of Kuria’s Ikotoilet, lifting barriers for expansion. In fact, to give my teammates here at the Unreasonable Institute an opportunity to be excellent, I routinely take credit for their work.

Willingness to Break Free of Established Structure. The word “entrepreneur” comes from French, originally meaning “to take into one’s own hands.” Excellent social entrepreneurs, therefore, do not depend on traditional avenues for creating social impact (e.g. government, religious institutions) and blaze their own paths for creating impact.

Willingness to Cross Disciplinary Boundaries. Highly successful social entrepreneurs not only escape established structures, they also combine thinking and resources from different disciplines to achieve their intended goal. “Indeed,” explains Bornstein, “one of the primary functions of the social entrepreneur is to serve as a kind of social alchemist: to create new social compounds; to gather people’s ideas, experiences, skills, and resources in configurations that society is not naturally aligned to produce” (p. 236).

Willingness to Work Quietly. Many social entrepreneurs are recognized only after working for years on their ideas in relative obscurity. Bornstein cites a a thought from Jean Monnet, who orchestrated the European Unification: there are those who want to “do something” and those who want to “be someone.” Those few who create deep impact more often fall into the former category.

Strong Ethical Impetus. Highly-successful Social entrepreneurs aren’t fueled by a drive to become famous or build a fortune, but a desire to restore justice in society, to address social problems. And this motivation comes down to a clear sense of what is right and what is wrong. This “ethical impetus” is not only evident in the work of successful social entrepreneurs, but also in how they live their lives.


  1. @renjie says:

    "In fact, to give my teammates here at the Unreasonable Institute an opportunity to be excellent, I routinely take credit for their work."

    Had me laughing with this line… excellent post, thanks for sharing!

  2. David Hu says:

    First off, I’d like to say that this post is remarkable. I have very little experience as a social entrepreneur, but both intuitively and logically, all of these traits seem absolutely essential. Regarding the 1st trait – wilingness to self-correct – I really like Randy Komisar’s words:

    “Plans are too often a straightjacket for innovation. They are built on dreams and assumptions. Without more, they are likely to fail…”

    I once sat in on a keynote speech by Leonard Schlesinger, President of Babson College (great school for entrepreneurship), and among the ideas I picked up was something along the lines of “fail fast, fail cheap, and learn from those failures.” Which is exactly what it means to course-correct. Failure is GOOD, if you learn from it and change.

    Regarding the 3rd trait, again I’m going to share some ideas I got from Mr. Schlesinger’s keynote speech. He said that entrepreneurs (social entrepreneurs are certainly entrepreneurs) not only find opportunity, but they MAKE opportunity. He spoke of the limits of the scientific method once you enter highly uncertain territory, and how at a certain point all you have left is YOU.

    That is, you must use what Emerson called “genius” – the ability to recognize that what is true for yourself is true for everyone This involves inductive reasoning – extrapolating from personal experience to craft a solution that will fit everyone’s needs. And that’s what breaking free from established structure is all about.

    I could definitely go on about the other traits, but I feel that they stand very strongly by themselves…

    Lastly, a little about me: I am a college dropout currently sleeping on a friend’s couch and working on a social venture with 3 students from Olin College and 1 from Babson. Our goal: help smart driven college students struggling with depression – the “motivated depressed” – overcome the debilitating adversity that is depression.

    To that end, I’ve started a depression blog (w/a very unique take), and in doing so invested half of my life savings to purchase the domain name:


    Check it out! If you like it, please help spread the word!

    I’m applying for the Unreasonable Institute too, so hopefully I’ll get to know some of you in person soon!


    • That's a phenomenal, thoughtful, and wonderful comment David! We are really looking forward to receiving your application – I can't wait to learn all about Never Say Never! I keep seeing incredible bits of wisdom from Randy Komisar and recently ordered his book "Getting to Plan B" recommended by Dennis Whittle, Global Giving Founder, an interview we did with him here a few weeks ago. Have you read it?

      Also, generally speaking, I love quotations and very deeply appreciate your integration of thoughts from a variety of scholarly gentlemen in your comment!

      • David Hu says:

        Thanks for the kind and encouraging words Teju! Appreciation is always appreciated! Especially when you're not in school and don't have grades, which serve a kind of silly function sometimes, but still validate you in a strangely egotistical way (hope I'm not stepping on any toes here)…

        I actually have not read Komisar's "Getting to Plan B." A friend of mine told me about it, and I immediately looked it up, jotted down some notes about it, and put it on my list. Unfortunately I'm a little short on spending money these days, and it's too new to have hit the library shelves. This may be for the best, though, since this way I won't get to do what I probably instinctively would have done – babbled all about it and spoiled it for you.

        I have read "The Monk and the Riddle" though, also by Randy Komisar, and that was fantastic! If you haven't read it, I definitely recommend you check it out! He talks about the limited use of business plans in that one too – he says they exist simply to show that the founders of a venture had the intelligence and foresight to think about the consequences of their actions – that they at least thought about what they were getting into. It seems to me that entrepreneurship is more about rolling up the sleeves and getting things done than talking about them and planning to get things done, right? (not to marginalize planning or being able to express your ideas, of course)

        I hope you enjoy "Getting to Plan B" when you get it! Let me know how it turns out!


  3. Tyler says:

    David – great reply my man! I love your thoughts.

    Also, I love this commercial of MIchael Jordan on failure… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45mMioJ5szc

    Tyler from the Unreasonable Institute.

  4. That's a phenomenal, thoughtful, and wonderful comment David! We are really looking forward to receiving your application – I can't wait to learn all about Never Say Never! I keep seeing incredible bits of wisdom from Randy Komisar and recently ordered his book "Getting to Plan B" recommended by Dennis Whittle, Global Giving Founder, an interview we did with him here a few weeks ago. Have you read it?

    Also, generally speaking, I love quotations and very deeply appreciate your integration of thoughts from a variety of scholarly gentlemen in yours!

  5. hafsat says:

    hello everyone, i am searching for a research topic on entrepreneurship. please i need a very interesting topic for my final year project.

  6. Continue with your hard work

  7. I think a visualized display can be better then only a simple text, if stuff are defined in images one can easily be familiar with these.

  8. Asuncion says:

    Delighted to see that this website is effective on my small i phone , everything I must do can be useful. Many thanks for preserving up up to now while using newest.

  9. Thanks for this post. I’m a long time of Squarespace user and also WordPress. But I love them both.

  10. love this content, I wish you are going to post more quality posts like this! bookmarked for future reference! =)

  11. malik says:

    Thats great

  12. Pretty! This was a really wonderful post. Thank you for providing this info.

  13. Every the moment inside a while we decide on blogs that we study. Listed beneath are the newest websites that we decide on

  14. Someone essentially help to make severely posts I’d state. This is the very first time I frequented your web page and up to now? I surprised with the research you made to create this actual post incredible. Great job!

  15. fiverr gigs says:

    I precisely had to thank you very much yet again. I’m not certain the things I might have sorted out in the absence of the pointers contributed by you over such a situation. It seemed to be the troublesome problem in my opinion, nevertheless spending time with the skilled style you treated it took me to leap with joy. I am happier for your guidance and even hope that you really know what a great job you have been providing training most people via your web blog. I know that you have never come across any of us.

  16. I anticipate this is a factual high article airman.Thanks Again. Really Major.

  17. I don’t comment, however after browsing through a few of the responses here 6 Characteristics of Successful Social Entrepreneurs — Unreasonable Blog. I actually do have 2 questions for you if it’s allright. Could it be just me or does it give the impression like some of these comments look like they are written by brain dead visitors? :-P And, if you are writing at additional social sites, I’d like to follow everything new you have to post. Could you make a list of every one of all your social community pages like your Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

  18. That you are truly a very good webmaster. The website packing tempo can be astounding. The item form of feels that you’re undertaking every distinctive trick. What’s more, The particular belongings are usually masterwork. you may have executed an excellent action for this topic!

  19. September 9th, 2008 at 9:21 pm

  20. Hmm it seems like your blog ate my first comment (it
    was extremely long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I wrote and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your
    blog. I as well am an aspiring blog writer but
    I’m still new to the whole thing. Do you have any points for beginner blog writers? I’d really appreciate it.

  21. seo adelaide says:

    Excellent post nevertheless , I was wanting to know in the event you could write a litte more on this topic? I’d be quite thankful if you could elaborate slightly bit further. Bless you!

  22. In 2013, complete Web-site assaults increased ~35%. Why do they do that? The solutions is straightforward, they assault your website to reduce your placement from search engines. If the web page is not reachable to search engine spiders, you can eliminate your rank on search engines.

  23. Would like to thank you for this amazing textual content. This really is kind of a factor I had been trying to find (Many thanks Yahoo

  24. There is definitely not a shortage of online business ideas,
    you just need some to help get your brain started on finding the best one for you to start.

    Sales Page Copy and Flow When you find sales pages written by people who know how to sell (these
    are often the big names in your market), swipe it. You simply use any of them to build a free website.

  25. But an online specialty retailer carries a wide variety of
    the most current designs and accessories all year
    round at reasonable prices. Somehow she was bringing a
    bit of So – Ho fashion to the west coast, as she was wearing a black top, pleated leather skirt, black lace stockings,
    lace-up black platform boots, a cardigan,
    and plenty of chunky jewelry highlighted by a
    giant gold cross. The entire purse is covered in smoky topaz Swarovski crystals.

  26. After several decades regarding increasingly wide-spread public
    awareness, a surprisingly numerous commentators in neuro-scientific social entrepreneurship always argue about the standard question
    of all: What is often a social venture, and what exactly isn’t?

  27. fiverr says:

    I’d like to say that i found your blog a few months ago and have been “catching up” by reading all of your older posts . I am completely inspired by your spirit and love, your creativity and your wit. There’s a lot of information out there about simple comforts. If area designed, you can think about promoting vector style on fiveer.com. These style are great in demands nowadays as web designers invariably buy these items online at inexpensive rates. Make sure that to make top great quality, flexible, useful vector style for your website and you will be developing a lot of money from fiverr, all autopilot!

  28. I’m pretty pleased to find this site. I need to to thank you for your time for
    this particularly fantastic read!! I definitely enjoyed every little bit of it and i also have you book marked to check out new information in your blog.

  29. I’m impressed, I have to admit. Rarely do I come across a blog that’s equally educative and entertaining, and
    without a doubt, you have hit the nail on the head.
    The issue is something that not enough folks are speaking intelligently about.
    Now i’m very happy I stumbled across this in my hunt for
    something regarding this.

    Look at my weblog – sit on kayak walmart

  30. I vvisited various websites however the audio featurre for audio songs present at this website is
    truly wonderful.

  31. Penny Eyrich says:

    Hi, i think this is a very nice post, i love music and entertainment, i will definetely keep up reading your works, thanks for your effort, thats what we need to share high quality contents.

  32. agen judi says:

    Eventually, at the first Wrestlemania, this feud came to a conclusive end as Andre defeated Studd in a body slam
    challenge, reinforcing the statement that most people already believed, that Andre The Giant was
    the greatest giant in wrestling, not only at that time, but better
    than any giants that had come before him. The head coach of the Georgia
    Bulldogs women’s softball team is Lu-Harris Champer–who has
    been with them for 10 seasons. However, the majority
    of a pitchers training must be dedicated towards
    developing better pitching mechanics.

  33. I drop a leave a response each time I appreciate a article on a site or if
    I have something to add to the conversation. It is triggered
    by the passion communicated in the article I read. And on this post 6 Characteristics of Successful Social Entrepreneurs – Unreasonable Blog.
    I was actually excited enough to post a commenta response :)
    I do have a few questions for you if it’s okay. Could it be only me or do a few of these responses come
    across like left by brain dead individuals?
    :-P And, if you are writing on additional sites, I’d like to
    keep up with everything new you have to post. Could
    you make a list the complete urls of all your communal sites like your
    Facebook page, twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

  34. Informative blog! I just got the best professional 40 page report that showed me precisely how to Search Engine Optimize (SEO) my site for JUST$5 here – SEO AUDIT

  35. I am in fact glad to read this webpage posts which carries tons of valuable facts, thanks for providing these information.

  36. entrepreneur says:

    Most protein shakes are loaded with sugar, fat, and other ingredients that aren’t even necessary for
    the body. What does this growing trend represent to the average person, and how does it relate to the
    current state of the economy. 7 million which was up $ 110 million compared to the year previous.

  37. Mario Auger says:

    Wonderful post! We aree linking to this particularly great content on our site. Keep up the reat writing.

  38. Hey very nice web site!! Man .. Excellent .. I will bookmark your web site and take the feeds also…I am happy to find a lot of useful info here in the post, we need develop more techniques in this regard, thanks for sharing. . . . . .

  39. Definitely, what a fantastic website and informative posts, I definitely will bookmark your blog.All the Best!

  40. Odis says:

    This is absolutely brilliant! Congratulations on trying to revitalize the written word no texting, no email, no whatever’s next! I don’t own a computer proud of being “computer free”. Maybe old fashioned, but receiving a hand written letter is likely to be so refreshing! Thank you for focusing on a rapidly declining art the hand written letter and/or note.Can’t wait to receive my first letter! Judy Robertson

  41. gel Nail says:

    Hi, after reading this awesome post i am too happy to share
    my knowledge here with friends.

  42. Are you saw latest trends? If no then go to http://latetrend.com

  43. how to make soap satisfactory rupture unobstructed remarkable motor boat lake stretchy distinguished locality.

  44. aapl news says:

    Hello, I can talk a lot about… very good theme

  45. I rented funny movies and read a lot of historical romantic dramas.
    You’ve got to get deeper into the relational experiences with
    other people or whatever it is you are giving your attention to.

    What we are actually doing is projecting anger from our own energy source onto Karen reinforcing her emotional state.

  46. Wilda Clopp says:

    I appreciate your wp design, wherever do you down load it from?

  47. Thanks for one’s marvelous posting! I genuinely enjoyed reading it, you may be a great author.I will be sure to bookmark your blog and will eventually come back later in life. I want to encourage you continue your great posts, have a nice day!

  48. Thank you for this, I was about to give up on my search when I came across this information. The other guides I found weren’t nearly as helpful as yours.

Leave a Reply

About the author

I want to live in a world where every human being can be the master of their own fate, unbound by the chains of poverty, oppression, or injustice.