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Social entrepreneurs: why recognising their achievements is crucial for society

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The news last week that Theo Paphitis of Dragons’ Den fame has been picked to serve on a Conservative party task force dealing with social mobility has already garnered a lot of press attention. (Click here to read my blog on Paphitis becoming a new social entrepreneur.)

While his involvement in the task force will help to raise the profile of social entrepreneurship in this country, there is no doubt that his “celebrity status” as a Dragon is a large reason behind the interest. Interestingly, my Google search for news of the selection of fellow entrepreneur Anwar Pervez into the task force did not return a single article in which Paphitis was not the main focus.

Which is why it’s refreshing that today’s social entrepreneurs are increasingly being celebrated in their own right.

In light of an increasing recognition of the value of social entrepreneurship to advancing society, in 2006 the professional services firm Ernst and Young added the Social Entrepreneur of the Year category award to its existing Entrepreneur of the Year awards program, which had already been going since 1986.

Then last year the Guardian teamed up with UnLtd, the foundation for social entrepreneurs, to host its first awards for social entrepreneurs. One hundred and eighteen projects dedicated to social change were awarded with cash prizes (up to £500,000), as well as individually tailored support.

Similarly, The Independent collaborated with The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship and the Boston Consulting Group in 2007 to scour the land and find those organisations that showcased the UK’s best practices in social entrepreneurship. Six finalists were selected: Belu Water, MEND, The Hub, Community Food Enterprise, The Eden Project and Cosmos Ignite Innovations. Read The Independent’s profiles on each one here.

The winner – Belu Water – was announced in a ceremony held at the British Museum earlier this month on 14 January.

When discussing the criteria used in choosing the winner, Pamela Hartigan, MD of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship commented: “We want to pick an organisation that has changed systems.”

That, Belu Water has certainly done – the bottled water mineral company invests 100 per cent of its profits in funding clean water projects around the world in the hope that it can create a sustainable balance between people and the planet. In accepting the award, Reed Paget who launched the company in 2002, commented: “It is time that the social entrepreneurship society was no longer on the sidelines.”

While there are many approaches to social change, such awards are crucial to highlighting the fact that social entrepreneurs are in the vanguard of this shift.Social entrepreneurship is a key means of addressing social problems in an innovative and effective manner but, furthermore, it has the capacity to transform society in a way that resonates at a grassroots level.

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