How do I make the move to social entrepreneurship?

[Editor's note: Dear Shannon is a career advice column for sustainability professionals and wannabe professionals. If you have a question for Shannon, send it to her at Let us know your thoughts on the column in the comments section below.]

Dear Shannon,

I have been working in a global strategy consultancy for 10 years with many of the Fortune 500 companies as clients. I have just taken voluntary redundancy as part of a restructuring program, but will get a decent package due to my tenure. I now have the time and flexibility to do what I am passionate about and I want to start my own social enterprise focused on sustainability and innovation. Do you have any advice for someone wanting to make a difference in the world through entrepreneurship?

— Phillip, New York City

Hi Phillip,

After a decade working for a big company, breaking out on your own and doing what you love is liberating, but will certainly have its hurdles. As an entrepreneur myself, I think the trade-off you make between having a social impact and not being able to pay yourself a salary sometimes can be worth it. And if you love what you do, everyday challenges will even seem fun.

Social entrepreneurs are unique in that they identify a problem and use entrepreneurial principles to organize, create and manage a venture in order to yield positive returns to both society and the balance sheet. My favorite two mantras from some of the social entrepreneurs I have coached are “to give up is not an option” and “dream big to make a big difference.”

To answer your question, I’ll break down the most important skills and traits needed for an ambitious project like this and outline some of the key steps to the first phase of starting up.

Next page: Starting up