Defining Social Entrepreneurship

“You’re studying marketing, huh? So what do you want to do with that?” says a nice girl sitting next to me in the HFAC atrium.

I pause for a moment, trying to gauge the sincerity of her question, the number of pages she has left to read before work, and the time I have before class. Should I give the “elevator pitch” version and politely let her continue her work, or should I launch into a more thorough explanation in the hopes that she will get excited about it and want to get involved?

It’s the beginning of a new semester, and every day I have to make these decisions as I wade through the first-time introductions and get-to-know-you activities that always accompany this time of year.

Every day I give a different answer:

“I want to be a marketer for a social entrepreneur.”

“I want to do marketing in the social innovation space.”

“I want to do marketing in the nonprofit sector.”

“I want to save the world, using my writing, communications, and marketing skills.”

Every day the answers are slightly different, but none of them fully convey what I really want to do or how exciting this work is.

For the sake of explaining my future plans and for the advancement of the field (because people rarely want to get involved with something they don’t understand), I think it is necessary to have one solid definition of social entrepreneurship—something like “social problem-solving in an innovative, systematic, and revolutionary way.”

On the other hand, part of what is so exciting about the social entrepreneurship space is that there isn’t one definition—multiple definitions and explanations means that the field is still evolving and innovating. It’s still exciting, and there is room to grow. I think as long as the definitions are similar and get people excited about the field, multiple definitions can continue.

In the meantime, I’ll continue practicing my “elevator pitches” and my 5-minute isn’t-this-the-most-exciting-work-you’ve-ever-heard-of!?! explanations. Although every once in a while it would be nice to say what I really want to do and have people understand me:

“I want to get into tech marketing and branding, and then use the skills I learn to be a marketer for a social entrepreneur and then start my own marketing agency catered to social entrepreneurs.”