Surfacing Great Social Entrepreneurs

Last year I wrote about the Social Entrepreneurship API and how it could make it easier for donors to “follow the smart money”:

In financial markets there is “smart money” and “dumb money”. These rather crude phrases refer to the fact that certain types of investors tend to make good decisions and others tend to make bad decisions. The “smart money” usually goes against the crowd and makes investments in things that the “crowd” currently dislikes. “Dumb money” investors tend to be trend followers and pile into the hottest fade of the moment. When someone says “follow the smart money”, they are urging you to invest in the things that the “smart money” investors are currently buying.

Social Actions, in partnership with The Skoll Foundation, PopTech, ideablob, andCivic Ventures, announced a new resource that will let people interested in social entrepreneurs “follow the smart money.” The resource is called the Social Entrepreneur API:

From the Social Actions press release:

The Social Entrepreneur API (Application Programming Interface) will be the first open database of information about social entrepreneurs who have won fellowships and awards from social enterprise funders.

The tool will allow philanthropists, investors, press, and fellow entrepreneurs to find social entrepreneurs based on keyword, location, cause area, population served, and a variety of other factors.

Facing more than a million nonprofits and a vast field of social entrepreneurs, we need smart ways to create filters so that the great opportunities do not get lost in the fire hose of information.

Now, the Skoll Foundation is launching a Social Entrepreneur Search Widget:

The widget can be customized to include all or a selection of funders participating in the API. You can put the widget on your own website if you like by grabbing it here.

The main thing I like about the API and widget is that it surfaces a set of vetted social entrepreneurs. By creating a searchable set of social entrepreneurs that have gone through the due diligence process of well resourced funders, the API makes it easier for individual donors to piggyback on the research of others.

Let’s say that last year a donor read about the nonprofit OneWorld Health’s successful work with pharmaceutical giant Roche to develop a drug for a prevalent, but not profitable, disease. The story is compelling, but the donor wonders if the article is telling the whole story. A quick search of the Social Entrepreneurship API Widget would have revealed that the founder of OneWorld Health passed the due diligence of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurs. The info from the Schwab Foundation even includes detailed information about The Innovation, The Strategy and The Entrepreneur (not all funders have added this info to the API). While this doesn’t guarantee a thing, it still puts the donor way ahead of the game in terms of evaluating whether OneWorld Health is worth supporting.


  1. Jeff Mowatt says:

    When I first began networking on Skoll Social Edge around 2004, I had an idea for directing resources to help the victims of Beslan. We set up a database with the help of those on the ground with a needs based objective. to ensure that all families were included rather than than those who others had already focussed their attention on,

    As a database developer of some 30 years experience, I considered the real value of a database in helping discover what one doesn’t know.

    Clearly it will exclude for-profit social enterprise like ours which has been self funded for more than a decade.

    I just don’t seem to be able to get through when I try to convey that social capital markets just won’t work with this kind of exclusion.

  2. Sean, thanks so much for drawing attention to the Social Entrepreneur Search features on Social Edge. As you can imagine, we’re pretty excited about their capacity to attract all kinds of resources to the social entrepreneurs profiled in the Social Entrepreneur API database.

    Jeff, I’m not aware of any intention to exclude any particular enterprise model in this project. Its contents will continue to be an aggregation of social entrepreneurs as that term is defined by each participating organization. Those definitions and more details about the process for adding more sources to the Social Entrepreneur API are provided on the project’s FAQ page (

    That said, I share your concern for developing resources that “help one discover what one doesn’t know.” For those who wouldn’t otherwise discover the entrepreneurs included in this database, it serves that purpose. For information about social entrepreneurs who aren’t yet on any funders’ radar, we need additional aggregations. See the paragraph titled “Inclusion” in the launch announcement linked to above ( for some brainstorming on where that might lead.

  3. Jeff Mowatt says:

    Christine, Let me offer an illustration of my concerns which derive from our work and advocacy for inclusive capitalism, which founder Terry Hallman and I have both introduced in over 5 years networking on Social Edge.

    Here’s an article which promotes a conference I found out about after it had happened in which no mention of this as our IP is made. I added my comment with linksto original work.

    For the record, one of the Guardian media group newspapers is a customer who have failed to pay for our services under their support contract for 2 years and Belu Water arrived some months behind us in the UK announcing similar profit to social purpose aims.

    Belu as a much larger organisation has made significant losses and therefore no profit whereas we with a miniscule turnover can report some success in our social impact which none care to report.

    If that isn’t exclusion I don’t know what is.