What is the history of social entrepreneurship? Where did it begin? How did it all begin?

In this article, we will go from the beginning of what social entrepreneurship is. The history and its timeline to what social entrepreneurship is today.

For more insights from experienced entrepreneurs on social entrepreneurship and much more, sign up for our EWOR Platform to gain access to over 17 courses and a plethora of resources.

What is Social Entrepreneurship?

If we were to define what social entrepreneurship is. In its simplest form, you could describe it as; “A business for which creates a cause to improve the lives of people”.
Whether this is a low-key or a large scale issue. That should, in the end, solve the problem and thus creates a positive change.

They make use of the latest technologies and creations. That in return could help our everyday lives and the environment.

There are 4 types of Social Entrepreneurship, and they are;

  1. The Community Social Entrepreneur: An entrepreneur that looks to help the social needs of a community.
  2. The Non-Profit Social Entrepreneur: More focused on the social aspect. They prioritise social well-being over the traditional business needs. They reinvest any profits to ease for further expansions of services.
  3. The Transformational Social Entrepreneur: Focusing more on creating a business that can meet the social needs. That either the government or other business aren’t meeting.
  4. The Global Social Entrepreneur: Look to completely change the social system. They meet the major social needs of a global range. These are often big companies. They begin to make a change, a cause, rather than making profit. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is one example of a global social entrepreneur.

Our blog post, An Introduction to Social Entrepreneurship. Goes through the types of Social Entrepreneurship in more detail. It is very informative about what Social Entrepreneurship is.

The beginning of Social Entrepreneurship – 1900s to 1980s

In the early 1900s, it was first viewed as 2 separate, complementary areas. It wasn’t until the 1970s that social entrepreneurship was only a thought. Or a more administrative skill than a process for what we know it now as of today.

In literature, the terms “social entrepreneur” and “social entrepreneurship” were first mentioned in 1953. By H. Bowen in his book; Social Responsibilities of the Businessman.

Joseph Banks had also mentioned “social entrepreneurship” in his book Sociology of Social Movements, published in 1972. Banks used the term Social entrepreneurship as a way to illustrate administrative skills. Of which, he used it as a solution to solve many social problems.

Social entrepreneurship became more recognised as a business practice in the 1980. Advancing further in the 1990s.

How has the History of Social Entrepreneurship changed?

From the 1990s, it became viewed as a way to create social wealth by non-profit organisations. Social Entrepreneurship only became a term in the mid 1990s. Before it was called Public Entrepreneur. The first article written or mentioned social entrepreneurship emerged in 1991.

In the years 2000, social entrepreneurship became known as a separate part of academic research. Thus gaining wide recognition through its practice. Many enterprises started to offer solutions in various countries about the concerns of the current social problems.

In the 2010s, there has been more research done to develop these theories.

Who was the First Social Entrepreneur?

If you were to search; “who is the first social entrepreneur?” or, “who is the pioneer of social entrepreneurship?” The first person who will come up in the results is; Bill Drayton.
He was one of the first people to use the term Social Entrepreneurship in the 1980s. Drayton is also considered the father of social entrepreneurship.

Bill Drayton is the founder and CEO of Ashoka. Ashoka is a network, founded in 1980. That addresses the world’s most prominent problems. By identify and stabilizing state-of-the-art social innovations. Whether these are in a social entrepreneurship, education or business. They have partners from over 95 countries and over 300 employees.

Drayton has an undergraduate degree at Harvard and a master’s at Oxford. To then obtaining a law degree at Yale. He taught at Stanford, Harvard and served as an Assistant Administrator of the EPA.

Drayton then states at the time that the world was “three decades past the end of the colonial era”. As mentioned in the article by Forbes, Father of Social Entrepreneurship Says ‘Society is At A Profound Turning Point. Thus, more independent countries around the world were in their prime to see their potential. He then created Ashoka to sponsor those around the world.

How is The Future of Social Entrepreneurship?

With the ever-changing world and our environment, with the current trend of environmental friendly products. As you now see, a lot of companies have been making this change. Whether this is only having paper straws over the plastic ones or the banning of plastic bags. Opting for more ways to re-use what we have and what we can, to better our health and our world.

The environment isn’t the only issue that social entrepreneurs want to challenge. Other areas include; education, energy, healthcare, poverty and jobs, as well as community development.

Social entrepreneurship is growing fast around the world. With many possibilities and opportunities that have opened up in the last decade.


The history of Social Entrepreneur wasn’t an overnight process. It developed over time and became more widely used and known after the 1990s. At first, it was only an idea, until what we have and know it as today.

There are many books writing about social entrepreneurship. We have on our blog Social Entrepreneur Books Including Fiction and 2022 Bestsellers, be sure to check that out.

About the author

EWOR is a school conceived by Europe’s top professors, entrepreneurs, and industry leaders. We educate and mentor young innovators to launch successful businesses.

Sign up to our Newsletter