5 Important Qualities that Make a Successful Social Entrepreneur

a woman standing and observing a wall of charts, graphs and sticky notes

CLU’s Net Impact online chapter recently hosted Lorena Garcia Duran, Director for the Ashoka Support Network in the US, to speak with a group of invited guests from the Claremont Lincoln community, the Claremont Colleges, and the LA Professional Chapter of Net Impact. The reason for the gathering? To understand more about the movement of social entrepreneurship, what a successful social entrepreneur looks like, and the importance of the role of changemakers.

Ashoka is a global organization committed to finding and supporting social entrepreneurs and ensuring they accomplish what they set out to do. Over the past 37 years, Lorena shares, the organization has evolved and been able to study what qualities make a successful social entrepreneur. So, what are those critical qualities needed?

5 Important Qualities that Make a Successful Social Entrepreneur
Deep empathy.

Lorena makes it clear, “the solutions don’t come from those that haven’t suffered the problem. The solutions come from the problem.” Most social entrepreneurs understand the problem so well because they’ve lived it. Learn more about empathy from CLU Teaching Faculty Anita Nowak.


Studying the causes of a problem, and what has or hasn’t worked to solve it, creates space for an innovative approach to solving the root of a problem, rather than reacting in a crisis. Explore more about being an innovator in Dutch peace activist Willemijn Verloop’s Tedx Talk.

A Systemic View.

Successful social entrepreneurs seek change with permanence, which may mean changing mindsets, cultures, or policies adopted in a widespread way by the people.

A Sustainable Approach.

It’s not about the financial model (for-profit or non-profit) but about the plan in place to reach the goal.

Involving Changemakers.

The social entrepreneur’s vision only works when identifying and engaging local changemakers to solve a problem.

Who are these changemakers anyway? One great example Lorena shares, is that of Christina Fialho, an immigration attorney who seeks to change how the immigration detention system functions through her organization CIVIC End Isolation. Private detention centers are able to hold people detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement without allowing them access to a lawyer or even a phone, effectively preventing them from being able to contact people outside the center.

Changemakers also bring a great deal of influence to the mission and their participation is crucial to its success.

Christina’s organization mobilized a large network of unpaid volunteers, mostly retired white Evangelical women who wouldn’t rouse suspicion, to knock on the doors of local detention centers and request to visit a detainee using a random name allowing them to verify whether an individual by that name is being housed at the center. Lorena notes that this army of volunteers, “has created one of the most important and powerful underground databases, Gestapo-style, of who is detained.” This is one critical way Christina has leveraged a powerful community of changemakers to address the problem she is passionate about.

Lorena’s talk is timely and meaningful to all changemakers, new and experienced. At CLU we want students to be active participants in the process of redefining systems to benefit others in a meaningful way. If you’d like to hear more of Lorena’s talk, check out the recording on SoundCloud.

Ready to get started in making your own impact?
  • Research – Who is coming up with the best solutions to local problems, and what do those success stories look like? Students in CLU’s Social Impact program dive deep into social impact literacy.
  • Rethink – Why do I care so much about this issue? What is my personal story?
  • Collaborate – How are you going to make sure that there is an army of changemakers willing to fight this fight with you?

As Clair Baca, CLU Student Services Advisor, reinforces, “Lorena’s presentation really showed that while the role of the social entrepreneur is incredibly important, changemakers also bring a great deal of influence to the mission and their participation is crucial to its success.”