As we’re all aware, our world is a dynamic place. It’s constantly a-changing, becoming ever-more fast-paced and complex by the day. This will come as no surprise to LSE students from every discipline. After all, our university is dedicated to the study of social and political science – sciences which investigate how and why socio-economic realities have changed over time. The changes we’ve experienced in the last two decades alone have been huge. We like to think of these changes as part of wider movements or as abstract patterns but sometimes fail to recognise how individuals with bold ideas have impacted, and to some extent, caused these changes. Tim Berners-Lee invented the internet, revolutionising our economies and daily realities. Shiva Ayyadurai invented emails, Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis invented Skype, and Mark Zuckerberg invented Facebook. These are tools which allow us to contact relatives or friends half way across the world in milliseconds (which would have been unthinkable a mere half-century ago).

In summary, entrepreneurs impact society and transform it beyond recognition through innovation, dedication and passion. Next to technological and purely commercially-driven entrepreneurialism there is also another side to innovation that shapes and changes society for the better. We are very proud to support LSE students to become social entrepreneurs over the years, offering the world their passion, dedication, and knowledge. Unlike charities or big business, social enterprises operate in a unique way. Rather than using profit to do good, our LSE social entrepreneurs make profit by doing good, and then even re-invest that profit into doing more good.

So we thought you might like to hear some LSE entrepreneurs’ amazing stories (for we truly think their work is amazing!) which make us feel privileged to have been part of their journey so far. You might even consider becoming a social entrepreneur upon reading about their exciting adventures!

Jaron Soh

Jaron Soh is a third year BSc Management student. Jaron leads Artisan & Fox, an online marketplace for extraordinary and ethical craftsmanship from developing nations. The social enterprise bridges artisans in countries including Afghanistan, Nepal, Kenya, Guatemala and Mexico to the global market through its e-commerce platform.

How did you start your social enterprise?

jaron-soh-croppedJaron: When I was a child, I had the privilege to travel with my family frequently, and on these family trips I’ve always enjoyed discovering things that are handmade by locals to remember the trip by. However, growing up, I started to realise the stark realities that many makers face across the developing world. The global crafts and fashion industry is the second largest employer in developing nations, yet the current status quo is shockingly lacking in transparency and ethical standards. Artisan & Fox’s mission is to transform the global crafts and fashion industry into a sustainable, ethical and transparent sector. We do this by providing fair prices for our partner artisans and helping local artisan communities access the global market through our e-commerce platform. We’re also pioneering transparency standards by letting consumers know the full cost breakdowns of their purchases, letting them how much does their makers actually earn.

What advice do you have for aspiring social entrepreneurs?

Jaron: My piece of first advice is to apprentice with your problem first. You have to build up your understanding of the problem you are trying to solve. Take an example of a group of students, who may want to ‘build an app for farmers in Africa’. Building an app for African farmers sounds cool and aspirational on first impression. But once you take a step back, it sounds silly if you have neither farmed, or if you have never been to Africa (which part of Africa?) How can you build something for people you don’t know? And how can you tackle problems that you haven’t lived? With Artisan & Fox, we’ve found it tremendously helpful to approach the problem from an anthropological standpoint. By living with the artisans we’re working with, having direct conversations and conducting needs assessments we have developed a better understanding of the problems they are facing. So it is ok if you wish to build a venture for people outside of your direct community. But before you set out to build your social venture – test your assumptions, so you don’t risk building a solution that nobody needs.

My second piece of advice is to stop aspiring to become a social entrepreneur as your end-goal. Social entrepreneurship is a means to an end. The ‘end’ is solving an injustice you are trying to solve. So dig a little deeper. Find a problem you empathise with, and go from there. Social ventures should be built because there is a problem to be solved – not because the founder(s) wanted to start an ethical company. If your primary goal is to build a successful ethical company, you may find that your goal is not aligned with the needs of the people you seek to help.

What do you find the most rewarding?

Jaron: The knowledge that our team is working on something bigger than we are. We want to inspire the human connection between buyers and artisans. This mindfulness is lacking in today’s world. If we can get people to not just consider the retail cost of their purchase, but also think of the human makers behind what we consume everyday – that in itself is rewarding for us.

The artisan Prem

The artisan Prem, from the ancient city of Bhaktapur in Nepal, one of the first makers Artisan & Fox began collaborating with

Would you recommend becoming a social entrepreneur to LSE students?

Jaron: Yes, if you have a problem you care deeply about, and are willing to take the time and effort to understand it!

Bonnie Chiu

Bonnie is the co-founder and CEO of Lensational, which aims to empower marginalised women by equipping them with cameras and photography training. Since launching in 2013, the organisation – which has expanded to a team of 60 volunteers – has taught photography to 400 women across 12 developing countries. She is also the Managing Director of The Social Investment Consultancy, an international consulting firm that helps charities and businesses maximise their social impact. She holds an MSc International Relations from LSE, and has just been awarded Young Achiever of the Asian Women of Achievement Awards.

What got you interested in social entrepreneurship?

bonnie-chiuBonnie: I was doing my undergraduate degree in business, and when I was in the US for my semester abroad, I got to work on a consulting project for a social entrepreneur. It was such a fulfilling project and I didn’t realise that it actually makes perfect sense to utilise business tools to solve social issues. I never looked back. Why did you decide to work in social entrepreneurship rather than in a purely profit-driven sector? I feel that I have been given so much by my family and society that I have no excuse but to give back to society. In social entrepreneurship, I can apply my business skills to effect change on social issues that I care deeply about. With the level of inequalities we see in the world, we can’t have business as usual anymore.

What do you find are the challenges for you as a social entrepreneur?

Bonnie: Access to capital for scaling up is still a challenge. It was easy for me to find seed funding but scaling up ventures is incredibly difficult. I know a lot of social entrepreneurs including myself who have two jobs or take no salary for themselves.

What do you find the most rewarding?

Bonnie:  Seeing the impact that I make every day.

Would you recommend becoming a social entrepreneur to LSE students?

Bonnie: Find what you are passionate about, and think about how you can make a difference. Then just be very resilient and don’t give up!

Right! So these are the stories of just two of LSE’s social entrepreneurs. Both are using the knowledge and skills learned here in order to address two of the numerous problems we are faced with today. By deploying their entrepreneurial potential, Jaron and Bonnie really are making an impact on people’s lives and our global society. Do you have an issue you feel strongly about? Do you feel like social entrepreneurship might be for you? Then get in contact with LSE Generate!