4 key skills for a sustainable career in social enterprise

by Shannon Houde

Social entrepreneurship is big business these days, but what does it take to launch a successful start up?

I answered this question in my recent Agony Aunt column for, with a little help from some of the most dynamic society-conscious company Directors in the market.

If you want to use your skills to break out on your own and kick-start an innovative business that will make a difference to the world, then keep scrolling! This is essential reading for you.


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Social entrepreneurs are unique: they identify a problem and use entrepreneurial principles to organise, create and manage a venture in order to yield positive returns to both society and the balance sheet.

So what are the most important skills a social entrepreneur will need?

1) Vision

You’ll need a robust and diverse skillset that will enable you to switch between your marketing hat, your finance hat and your legal hat quickly and effortlessly. You may feel like a bit of a “mad hatter” at times, but this is also what makes a social entrepreneur tick.  What will get you through is your strong, clear vision – the message that you communicate to your partners, your team, your clients – what sets your company apart from other mainstream businesses in the same sector.

2) Commitment

A social entrepreneur is driven by passion and dedication to see a project through to the bitter end. You’ll need an intense focus on your goals and strategies if you’re to achieve your ambitions.  Nurture that fire in your belly!  Be ready for the long hours and the ups and downs that will challenge you.  Get a support network in place now so that you have champions to help you stay the course.

3) Be willing to learn

Your intuition is your friend in this game, but know when it’s telling you to gather evidence!  Acknowledging the gaps in your knowledge will increase your resilience, both in terms of your business and your capacity to solve the social problem you’ve identified. Be a sponge, absorb knowledge, ask questions!  And get help when you need it.  Your core competencies may not be able to “fix everything”.  So get a good network of colleagues to help you grow and learn in the journey.

4) Stay real

If your background is in journalism, don’t try to set up a restaurant. Diverting too far from the industry you know will put your social enterprise on shaky ground from the start. Rather, work from your strengths, keep your project real and your business model solid. You’ll be competing against conventional businesses and the consumer won’t compromise on quality for the sake of a social conscience. Be sure that your social agenda only adds value; don’t make it a substitute for a good product.

Good luck turning your passion for social change into reality!

Thank you to successful social entrepreneurs, Felipe Zalamea of and, Jamie Grainger-Smith of and to Maggie De Pree of for their personal insights and contributions to this blog.


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