One question I think about a lot is why social entrepreneurship has become increasingly prominent in the past decade. I do not have a definitive answer, but some of the growth can likely be ascribed to the tremendous role volunteerism plays among today’s youth. As Robert Putnam notes in his classic book Bowling Alone, volunteerism is much more popular among young people today than it was for the generation that came before it. These volunteer experiences probably increased the awareness of young people to certain social problems while equipping them with the skills to become social entrepreneurs as they grew older. It’s no surprise that people who came of age in the past two decades have started many of today’s most interesting social enterprises.
As economies around the world continue to struggle, the roles social entrepreneurship and volunteerism play in the recovery process cannot be understated. Volunteering provides people of all ages with meaningful opportunities to contribute to their communities using the assets they already have. In an economic climate in which resources are scarce and organizations have had to cut back, volunteers do critical work to serve our communities. Similarly, social entrepreneurs are building businesses to solve social problems as they create needed job opportunities.
What are the prospects for social entrepreneurship and volunteerism going forward? I predict that volunteer rates will increase over the next few decades. There is a culture of volunteerism among many young people, and I suspect that as Baby Boomers start to retire, they too will start volunteering more. Just as the wave of volunteerism among young people in the past 20 years has led many of them to become social entrepreneurs, some retirees who volunteer will also emerge as social entrepreneurs. This phenomenon will likely create a completely new group of experienced professionals who are pouring their energies into social entrepreneurship.
It’s very exciting to think that in the next few decades, the world will see social entrepreneurs of all ages. Some of these social innovators will be young people with great ambition, while others will be older individuals with tremendous experience. This expansion of social entrepreneurship has the potential to fundamentally change the way that many people think about both for-profit and not-for-profit companies. With the economy projected to grow only modestly for the next few years, people will start to look at the assets they already have in their community and will figure out ways to leverage those assets to create both jobs and social change. Thus, volunteerism can be a catalyst for potential social entrepreneurs to realize their skills and passions. Volunteering is a great way of making an immediate impact while also opening one’s eyes to the larger possibilities of how social entrepreneurship can be a transformative long-term force for social good.