Article Topics

This site was built according to strict accessibility standards so that all visitors may browse it easily.

| Valid HTML 4.01 Strict |Valid CSS

|Level Triple-A conformance W3C-WAI accessible web content |Section 508 Bobby-Approved accessible web content |



|Career Coaching

| Books

| Radio Show|


| About Marty| Blog | Twitter |Press

email iconsend this article to a friend

Social Entrepreneurship

By Marty Nemko

I have a number of clients who believe that capitalism is evil, so they only will consider working for a nonprofit or the government.

I often introduce them to another option that offers them a chance to make good money while honoring their nonprofit values. It’s called social entrepreneurship.

Kim (name changed) is one of my anti-capitalist clients. At age 36, despite a bachelor’s in history, a masters in journalism from Berkeley and a law degree, she has been earning less than $20,000 a year and living on the edge. When I asked her what issues she cares about, she replied, “I’d like a society with less individualism and more community.” She said she enjoyed hearing her grandparents’ stories of the Depression, during which a block’s residents looked out for each other. I then asked, “Why not write a book called “Community: Why We Lost it; How to Regain It.” Then, based on what you learn, develop a consulting business in which you help a block’s residents to interconnect. After a moment of revulsion at the thought of asking for money, she’s seriously considering it.

Joel Tranmer did more than think about it. Walking on a cold night, he noticed a homeless person sleeping in a doorway, using newspapers to keep warm. That gave Joel the idea of using recycled newspaper as building insulation—it’s less expensive and less damaging to the environment than fiberglass. Joel has since earned enough from that business to have taken early retirement. He now spends his time as President of the nonprofit Land Trust of Napa County.

The poster child, though, for social entrepreneurialism is Mimi Silbert, founder of Delancey Street, a Harvard for the nation’s bottom. There are no admission requirements. In fact, the average resident has 18 felony convictions. Yet, after just six months of Delancey U, where the “professors” are the reformed convicts and junkies, Silbert’s graduates have a marketable skill. Sounds like a non-profit? Delancey Street has never received a dime of government money and has never applied for a foundation grant. Nearly all the money comes from the businesses run by Delancey Street’s “graduates”: a moving van company, a San Francisco restaurant, and dozens of Christmas tree vendors. And Delancey Street’s “graduation rate:” 65 percent, is higher than that at most University of California campuses.

Craig Newmark started an online bulletin board on which, for free, you can find anything from a one-night stand to a permanent job. He made money only from employers placing job listings. That was enough for Craig’s List to have created jobs for 14 employees while helping millions of people in 50 cities around the US, with no environmental or other negative side effects.

An early social entrepreneur was Maria Montessori, an Italian physician, who in, 1907, opened her first Casa De Bambini, a private school for difficult-to-teach children. Her principles live on today in the still popular Montessori preschools.

The US’s two million Native Americans have the nation’s highest poverty and unemployment rates. That, despite owning land almost the size of California that’s rich in timber, grazing and crop lands plus containing significant percentages of the US’s oil, gas, and coal reserves. Rebecca Adamson founded the First Nations Development Institute to provide microloans to help Native Americans start small businesses that exploit their natural resources.

Here are a few social entrepreneurship ideas I’ve shared with my clients recently. I focus on simple ideas that don’t require a large investment.

· Adoptive parent finder: Contract with government agencies to find homes for hard-to-adopt children.

· Simplicity coach: Helping well-off people to downscale their lives, replace “stuff” with meaningful activities, and give charity wisely.

· Wellness coach: Helping people adopt healthy lifestyle practices: lose weight, eat healthy, drink less, exercise moderately, and reduce stress.

Finally, here’s my associate Libby Pannwitt’s favorite social entrepreneurship idea:

· Senior Advocate: Helping senior citizens to interpret their Medicare and hospital bills, and to advise them when to pay and when not to.

Want to learn more about social entrepreneurship? Visit,, or

Home | Articles | Career Coaching | Books | Radio Show | Appearances | About Marty | Blog |Press