If there’s one silver lining to be taken from 2020, it’s that the year served as a “pulling back of the curtain” of so many challenges and issues that the world faces now and will face in the future. The pandemic exposed the flaws in our national health systems, the economic crisis exposed how drastically income inequality can affect lives and the rise in anti-racist activism laid bare how much progress must be made towards an equitable society. 

While many individuals have leaned into the public sector through nonprofit and governmental assistance during these difficult times, there is also the tremendous opportunity to fuse progress with business as we search for solutions. In fact, moving forward from the pandemic may require all of us to become acutely aware of the push towards social entrepreneurship. 

What is social entrepreneurship? The Fuqua Business School at Duke University defines social entrepreneurship as “the process of recognizing and resourcefully pursuing opportunities to create social value.” In more plain terms, social entrepreneurship takes a business approach to social problem solving, looking at things like market needs, supply and demand and innovation in service as ways to tackle social problems. 

To understand how social entrepreneurship might be the key to advancing past the pandemic, it’s useful to look at some past examples of social entrepreneurs who did good socially and did well financially. 

A classic example of social entrepreneurship is Warby Parker, whose founders’ decided that a mission of helping the world see more clearly not only guided the business of more accessible eyeglass sales in the United States but also recognized the need for vision-focused philanthropy around the world. Warby Parker’s “Buy a Pair, Give a Pair,” model not only allowed them to donate thousands of eyeglasses but also became a unique selling point for philanthropic American consumers. 

With an understanding of how social entrepreneurship has been utilized to advance social change in the past, we can try to anticipate how social entrepreneurship and business leadership may be the answer to pandemic-era problems. 

One trend we may see is an increase in pay-what-you-can restaurants. These unique businesses allow for customers to pay what they can for their own meals, donate to other customers’ bills and sometimes even volunteer for their meals. The restaurants still meet their profit margins, but also help provide healthy, dignified meals across communities. Coming out of a pandemic where a staggering number of Americans are wondering how to put food on the table, pay-what-you-can restaurants present a great business opportunity. 

Of course, business leadership towards social change doesn’t only have to come from social hybrid businesses. Business leaders that are involved in their communities can lead progress in other ways. For example, many community foundations have retired financial leaders that help manage funds and direct community investments. Additionally, the rise in corporate social responsibility has led to many community partnerships where businesses can provide funding, consulting and network connections to community leaders. 

It’s no coincidence that the hubs of social entrepreneurship will be places where business activity and social organization is alive and well. A new study from GCU shows that the city with the most MBA graduates is Washington, D.C., the center for America’s public sector work. Other hubs for MBA grads include Boston, MA, and Richmond, VA, both dense with social organizations that would be served well by an entrepreneurial and business-educated perspective. However, social entrepreneurship is all about finding solutions to a range of problems, so there is space for business led community involvement all over the world. 

In the end, the possibilities that social entrepreneurship presents are truly remarkable. The sheer number of MBA graduates who can apply their business acumen for good is an indicator that business solutions to the pandemic will come. Hopefully, this will advance business and society forward into an innovative future.