Civic engagement comes in many forms, like volunteering, donating, voting or using your voice. But have you heard of social entrepreneurs? These individuals get to the root of causes. They identify a need that has not been met by traditional structures and work to solve it, often through innovative means. 

This month, Points of Light is focusing on social entrepreneurship, one of the nine elements of Points of Light’s Civic Circle®, a framework that opens the door to social impact through volunteering as well as less traditional avenues, including using your purchase power, listening and learning, and more. 

What Does a Social Entrepreneur Do? 

Social entrepreneurs use creativity to think outside the box. Unlike socially-conscious business entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs are defined by their resourcefulness and relentless pursuit of innovative solutions to complex problems. Social entrepreneurs must raise funds to finance their initiatives, but their work centers on creating effective solutions to society’s most pressing issues above all else. 

Social Entrepreneur Examples

While many small business owners may be socially conscious, social entrepreneurs are on a particular mission to meet a need that hasn’t been met by governments, corporations or nonprofits. Then, they find an innovative way to go about meeting this need. 

For instance, Wangari Maathai was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize for founding the Green Belt Movement in 1977. This movement helped work toward a solution to the vicious cycle of environmental destruction and poverty in Kenya, as it allowed a sustainable alternative – planting trees to generate income. To date, the Green Belt Movement has planted over 51 million trees in Kenya alone, and over 30,000 women have been trained in trades like forestry, food processing and beekeeping.  

Celina de Sola, co-founder of Glasswing International, is forging partnerships among institutions and individuals to empower youth, mobilize action and build communal resilience as the organization works to address the root causes of poverty, violence and migration in Latin America and the Caribbean. Glasswing builds partnerships with institutions like public schools to achieve long-term change through youth-centered, trauma-informed programming. 

David Yeung is the co-founder of OmniFoods, an umbrella of brands offering a diversified and innovative social enterprise model – to promote shifting to a plant-based diet as a crucial means to tackle global warming and food insecurity. The company’s vision is to provide easy ways for people in Greater China and East Asia – as well as the rest of the globe – to reduce meat in their diets and therefore contribute to a more sustainable and eco-friendly way of eating. 

What the Research Says 

Did you know that more than half of the public agrees that small business owners should take a public stand on social issues, and that 67% of small business owners agree? Or that nearly three-quarters of the public makes donations at the point of sale? 

Research is critical to understanding the global population’s perspectives, opinions, habits and preferences – crucial elements for current or aspiring social entrepreneurs to have a pulse on. 

These Daily Point of Light honorees are social entrepreneurs who use their hearts, hands and minds to help strengthen communities and solve persistent problems. 

  • William Cabaniss – sells vanilla extract, donated 135,000 meals to East Tennessee. 
  • Sara and Mateo Molina – sells cookies benefitting most vulnerable people in Cali, Columbia. 
  • Darius Brown – started Beaux & Paws to sell his handmade bowties with proceeds supporting animal shelters. 
  • Kate Gilman Williams – supports wildlife conservation through her writing. 
  • Arushi Gupta – creates artisanal stickers and donates all proceeds to over 20 children’s hospitals across the U.S.

In support of Small Business Month, thanks to the generosity of Fiserv, Points of Light is excited to announce the release of a new research report, Leading Locally: Small Business and Social Change. This report explores the expectations, perceptions and ways in which small businesses are taking action to support social issues and their communities. 

While the report will be released on June 6, 2023, Points of Light will also host a special webinar on July 19 at 1 p.m. ET to explore the key findings and insights with the research team led by Derrick Feldmann, managing director of INFLUENCE|SG. You can register for the webinar to take a deep dive into emerging trends. 

How You Can Support Social Entrepreneurs 

Find social entrepreneurs who are working to solve issues you care about, and choose to back them with donations, direct purchases or promotion via your social networks. Uplift these individuals and organizations, and you’re contributing to the social entrepreneurship movement. 

You can also choose to support small businesses, especially those that include social responsibility programs or initiatives. For more ideas on how you can get involved with social entrepreneurship and lend your time, talents and resources to any cause area, check out the Points of Light Civic Circle

While this article focuses on social entrepreneurs and small businesses, larger socially-conscious organizations are needed in today’s world, too. This month, the honorees of The Civic 50 will be announced. This initiative of Points of Light recognizes the 50 most community-minded companies in the nation each year as determined by an annual survey administered by True Impact. The 2023 honorees will be announced on Tuesday, May 23. 

Want to explore more? Check out these additional resources: 

  • Civic Life Today: Social Entrepreneurs: This digital magazine explores how these innovators get to the root of causes by identifying a need that has not been met by traditional structures and working to solve it. This resource is free to download.
  • 50 Social Entrepreneurs Changing the World: This list from Grow Ensemble features 50 podcast episodes interviewing different social entrepreneurs on various issues.  
  • Reclaiming Social Entrepreneurship: This TED talk from social entrepreneur Daniela Papi Thornton explores the difference between being a social business founder and a system change leader. 
  • Social Entrepreneurship 101: This online course from Acumen Academy helps budding social entrepreneurs to chart their course for changemaking, tackling problems across public, private and nonprofit sectors.  


  • Diane Quest

    Interim President and CEO

    Points of Light

    Diane Quest is the chief operating officer at Points of Light and has served as an executive leader with the organization since 2016. An accomplished nonprofit executive, she brings 20 years of experience in management, strategy, and external affairs, including marketing and communications, event production and experience, and partnerships. In her tenure at Points of Light, she has served in a variety of roles as a member of the executive leadership team responsible for enterprise strategy, and most recently she served as chief external affairs officer, where she was responsible for brand strategy, the annual Points of Light Conference, The George H.W. Bush Points of Light Awards and Celebration, and The Daily Point of Light Award. Diane has an extensive background in strategic and crisis communications. In her previous role at MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership she successfully led a rebranding effort, a strategy that resulted in increased visibility in earned media and social media, and the doubling of registration at the organization’s annual national conference. Prior to MENTOR, she was a consultant with Camino Public Relations, a boutique firm with a focus on social justice nonprofit clients. She served at The Pew Charitable Trusts as the communications manager for a jointly sponsored advocacy project with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Prior to her work at Pew, Diane was the national media director at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She managed the development and implementation of media relations campaigns to advance the mission of the $1 billion reproductive health care and advocacy organization. In addition to her nonprofit work, Diane also has experience working within the federal government. She was the media and legislative affairs liaison for the inspector general at the U.S. Department of State. Before entering the field of communications and public relations, she was a television journalist. She has a Master of Arts in political science from American University in Washington, D.C., and a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.