A Dragon’s Den for Social Entrepreneurs?

By Eibhlin Ni Ogain 26 August 2010 2 minute read

The Dragon’s Den is a BBC venture capitalist pitch contest. The programme, first aired in 2005, sees hopeful would-be entrepreneurs pitching their ideas to a panel of former industry tycoons and business moguls. Since 2005, the panel has invested in 110 different companies.

While the investments have had varying degrees of success, (some phenomenal like Reggae Reggae sauce which has gone from being sold out of a stall at the Notting Hill carnival to being stocked in most major supermarkets in the UK) their true reach goes far beyond mere profit: the programme has brought the basic tenets of enterprise to the common person on the street. Getting the idea that anyone can be an entrepreneur or try their hand at business into the public consciousness is, in itself, a huge achievement.

All this makes you wonder if the same could be done with a Dragon’s Den for Social Entrepreneurs? Of course, this is not an entirely new idea. Social Venture funds have been around for a good few years now, and terms like Philanthrocapitalism, Social Investment, and SROI (see NPC’s position paper) are becoming more and more frequently heard. I have even come across Dragon’s Den Social Enterprise competitions which are already being run here, and organisations like the Funding Network provide forums for funders to connect with catalyst charities, but as yet none have made their way into the mass media.

The problem is that for the most part the wider public remain completely unaware of these new developments in the charitable sector. And we all know that for real social change to happen, we need to mobilise the masses.

Although, in many ways, Social Entrepreneurship is just an alternative description of things people have been doing for centuries, it is also something quite new and pioneering. First of all, using new terms and phrases reinvigorates the way we deal with and look at different problems. Secondly, the movement provides us with innovative tools and alternative approaches for solving social problems. But right now I feel like this new way of thinking is still contained to too small a circle of people. Social entrepreneurship needs to be brought to a much wider audience.

Could a programme like the Dragon’s Den be a vehicle for doing this? In the same way that the traditional Dragon’s Den is changing our thinking around who can be a successful business person, a Dragon’s Den for social entrepreneurs might be an essential ingredient in getting more people involved in good deeds, in more innovative ways. A snappy TV programme along these lines could create the publicity, mild amount of controversy and healthy debate that is needed to get more people thinking about and involved in social entrepreneurship. Ultimately culminating in a tipping point for social revolution…..Any opinions?