While politicians continue to dither and our government seems determined to remain stuck in a rut of its own making, luckily there’s a new type of entrepreneur stepping forward in this country and around the world, showing us that we CAN make a difference in big ways and in small.

Social entrepreneurism—where individuals and organizations identify opportunities and create solutions to various societal problems—is on the rise. Unlike traditional business entrepreneurs who focus mainly on generating profits, social entrepreneurs create “social value” by solving societal problems and inventing new ways of doing things and/or improving old.

At their most fundamental, social entrepreneurs identify a mission—something that needs fixing—and commit themselves to creating solutions for it that deliver positive returns to society. Politics is not their “raison d’etre”—improving the world is.

Each year, the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship (Switzerland, http://www.schwabfound.org) publishes its “Social Entrepreneurs of the Year” list. Some of the individuals and organizations recognized in 2013 include:

  • Jim Ayala, Hybrid Social Solutions Inc. (HSSi), Philippines, who pioneered an innovative program to provide tens of millions of rural Filipinos with access to solar and crank-powered technologies.
  • Frederick K.W. Day, Buffalo Bicycle Company, USA, who identified a need among rural Africans for reliable transportation to sources of water, food, education, and healthcare. To date, more than 100,000 of his specially-built Buffalo Bicycles have been made available in Africa, quintupling carrying capacity and quadrupling travel distance while saving time.
  • Janet Longmore, Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT), Canada, whose organization provides youth, women, and members of marginalized communities with motivation and market-relevant skills so they can find jobs and start businesses in the Middle East, Africa, and the Americas.
  • Anshu Gupta, Goonj, India, whose company collects thousands of tons of excess resources every year from urban households and delivers them to impoverished rural and disaster-prone areas through an extensive network of volunteers and partners across India.
  • Njideka U. Harry, Youth for Technology Foundation (YTF), Nigeria, whose company works in regions of Africa plagued by poverty and pervasive unemployment, especially among youth and women, providing them with life skills and resources to join the economic mainstream and improve their livelihoods.

At first, I hesitated to include these examples of social entrepreneurs because, while their goals and accomplishments are impressive, they can be little bit intimidating. Then I got to thinking—most of them are just regular people like you and me. Sure, every now and then, we’re bound to experience a more famous social entrepreneur such as Richard Branson, Bill Clinton, or Florence Nightingale, but for the most part these individuals are not billionaires, ex-presidents, or caregivers for the ages. They are simply people who saw a need and had the will and the determination to create a new product, a new service, or a new approach to overcome a challenge.

I believe there’s a little social entrepreneurial spirit in all of us, and while most of the public’s attention focusses on those who tackle large-scale problems, we all have to start somewhere. Perhaps there’s an issue in your town, your school system, your neighborhood—even your own backyard—that needs thoughtful, creative attention. Perhaps there’s a disadvantaged group or even an individual you can assist.

Look around you. Open your eyes. What is your mission? How can you help?

Undoubtedly, there are lots of ways you can help. There are lots of ways you can contribute and make a difference. Write a check if that’s your “thing” or, better yet, dedicate some time and effort to a cause.

If you know someone reeling from a life event (such as a divorce or the death of a spouse), or who is engaged in a career transition/job hunt (like moi!) take a moment to take a moment. How might you be able to assist? Do you have connections, resources, information, or expertise that can help?

Success is not all about profit and loss. While money is important, creating and sustaining social value is where the real winners hang out.

In the San Diego area, you can check out the San Diego Chapter of the American Marketing Association (http://sdama.org/). This education and networking-focused organization is for high-performing marketers serious about furthering their careers, establishing valuable connections, identifying available resources, and achieving personal development goals.

  • Their “Art of Marketing 2013” event is coming right up on November 7, and is a great way to get to know the San Diego business community. “Art of Marketing” is a one-day, interactive forum of speakers, panels, and one-to-one expert sessions designed to deliver real-world solutions in a lively forum, covering a variety of topics from best practices to cutting-edge trends.
  • Then, in March 2014, the SD AMA holds its annual “Cause Conference” for business leaders, nonprofit professionals, volunteers, and marketers to gather, make connections, and share information and resources on how various marketing approaches and tools can be used to forward the missions of nonprofits.

(For more information on either of these events, visit http://sdama.org/events/.)

Where are you on the social entrepreneurial spectrum? Are you engaged and active? Are you interested, but unsure? Or are you content to sit it out on the sidelines?

Don’t sell yourself short. Perhaps YOU can be the catalyst to initiate and sustain the transformation necessary to make a difference in the life of one or the lives of many.