11 min read

How to Become a Social Entrepreneur


With Madeleine Shaw

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If anyone has a say on the best route to becoming a social entrepreneur, it’s my friend Madeleine Shaw. 

Madeleine has been an entrepreneur focusing on impact and social change for over 25 years. At age 25, she founded what would become Lunapads (now rebranded as Aisle), a Certified B Corporation that “was one of the first brands in the world to champion natural menstrual care.” 

Since then, she’s founded other nonprofit and for-profit social impact ventures. Now, Madeleine has assembled a book on her experiences and lessons learned, The Greater Good: Social Entrepreneurship for Everyday People Who Want to Change the World

I had the pleasure of being an early reader for the book and welcoming Madeleine back to the podcast for a second time to dive deeper into the material I’ll cover in this post: How YOU Can Become a Social Entrepreneur.

[VIDEO INTERVIEW] – Check out the full-length interview with Madeleine Shaw on YouTube

Define: Who can be a Social Entrepreneur?

Before we dive into the how let’s first cover our what by defining social entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurs

In our conversation, Madeleine shared with me her definition of a social entrepreneur:

“An entrepreneur is somebody who undertakes something, an action, an initiative. It can be for-profit, it can be nonprofit, it doesn’t need to be incorporated at all. It could just be a project or something that you love. But the point is you are taking action. 

The social part, which precedes the word entrepreneur, importantly, comes first. Social is shorthand for some form of positive social or environmental impact…it’s the central purpose of why the undertaking is being undertaken.”

Madeleine’s definition is quite broad and quite expansive (she says so herself), but she believes it’s the most appropriate. Her whole mission with the book is “to encourage more people to see themselves in that kind of construct or profile.” 

In Madeleine’s perspective, we can’t afford to exclude anyone right now; there are too many crises happening. If you long to use your abilities for good, Madeleine wants you to feel empowered and supported to take the appropriate action for you and your vision. 

Although not everyone has the calling to be a social entrepreneur, Madeleine believes that no one should be discouraged. With that said, let’s get to the steps to help you become a social entrepreneur. 

For more: check out our post on examples of social entrepreneurs using business as a force for good.

Step 1. Understand YOU, Your Story, and Your Calling 

Madeleine recommends starting the journey of social entrepreneurship from a deeply introspective place. By first better understanding ourselves, we’ll be more equipped to bring our ideas into the world and turn those ideas into reality. 

Likewise, we’ll understand where our change-makin’ muscle is most needed. Do we see ourselves as founders or intrapreneurs? All pathways are viable. What’s most important is that we identify the path that’s best for us. 

The Skills and Traits You Need as a Social Entrepreneur

In her book, Madeleine describes the “soul traits” of social entrepreneurs, which she found most inspired people’s ideas to generate impact in the first place, and what ultimately motivated them to action. 

She shares this list as an opportunity for you to reflect. The list isn’t exhaustive (Madeleine shares more in her book), but here are a few that stuck with me: 

  • Coloring Outside the Lines – Social entrepreneurs out there in the world are creative, innovative, and often independent. 
  • True Grit – Social entrepreneurs are and must be persistent. Things never always go as planned, but the social entrepreneur must remain steadfast and committed to accomplishing their important goals.
  • Stronger Together – This is Madeleine’s “collaboration vs. competition” principle. Social entrepreneurs work towards improving the lives of others, collaborating, and rejecting the “ego-driven, individualistic, entrepreneurial persona” we traditionally know. 
  • Impact is the New Black – Social entrepreneurs don’t see generating impact as simply a nice outcome; they see it as a must. In fact, it’s their entire raison d’être or reason for being.

Again, these aren’t the only traits Madeleine identifies among social entrepreneurs, but they can be used for reflection. Do these traits/skills resonate with you? Are there others you think might fit? Are these traits that you already embody? If you’re curious whether social entrepreneurship is for you, are there traits that you imagine you’ll need to develop? That’s entirely possible as well. 

In my experience, each characteristic, skill, or trait is a muscle that we can choose to work out. The more we use these muscles, the more we develop these traits.

Finding Your Why: Identifying Your Personal Story and Values

Madeleine believes that our why, referring to why we want to undertake the venture, might come to us if we allow it.

From understanding how some social entrepreneurs look out in the world (they look a lot of different ways), Madeleine encourages us to look inward to see how we might look as a social entrepreneur out in the world. 

She claims we can do this by digging into our purpose and identifying our values. As Madeleine mentioned in our conversation,

“I think ideas in a way come through us. And so, making space for that to happen, whether that’s through meditation, or being in nature, or whatever that looks like for you, that is a wonderful place to start. Before you get to writing a plan, just drop into that inner space, into your intuitive space. 

Because I think for many of us, there’s often something that is literally waiting for us. We don’t need to fight for it or generate it or unearth it. If we come into a silent place, it’ll show itself to us.”

The recommendation here is to take the plunge and do it. Get your notebook out and find a quiet place—journal about what things seem important to you from past experiences, relationships, and actions. 

Reflect deeply on the things that you believe fire you up.

Determining Your Genius

Finally, with a sense of our values and purpose in mind, meditate on the skills and strengths that most reflect you. As we’ll mention more in the step on “building community,” it’s impossible to make your vision a reality alone. We are all good at some things (great even!), but we’re also bad at some things. 

Think about where you excel and be prepared to lean in more on those strengths.

Step 2. Articulate Your Vision 

With a sense of what matters to you established, Madeleine prescribes the next step as turning that understanding into a “vision.” 

In her book, Madeleine defined vision based on how people she interviewed “imagined a better world would look and feel.” To come up with that vision, as mentioned before, she recommends providing the space for it. 

She offers a list of exercises and prompts to work through what the vision might be for you. How do we do this? Madeleine encourages us to “come up with either something visual: a shortlist, poem, statement, or credo.” Some call this a mission statement. 

This might all feel daunting, but don’t worry, it’s a work in progress. Try creating your vision using the visual aids, but plan to learn more and continue building on your work over time.

Step 3. Build Your Community

Madeleine with Suzanne Siemens, co-founder & CEO of Aisle
Madeleine with Suzanne Siemens,
co-founder & CEO of Aisle
. Credit: Small Business BC

To get a social venture off the ground successfully, you can’t do it alone. In my interview with Madeline, she reiterated that “it’s wildly unrealistic for any one individual to feel like they have to do all the things that it requires to conceptualize, start, run, and launch an enterprise of any scale.”

This means you’ll need help. You’ll need support, which comes down to your community. We should continuously build our personal community. 

It’s people that make businesses run. You’ll most likely need staff or contractors and even advisors. Perhaps you may need investors, and you’ll definitely need customers! 

So how do you build community as a social entrepreneur? 

Madeleine first suggests nailing your story and then starts telling it. People don’t have anything to connect with if you don’t share your story (even a work in progress). 

In our conversation, Madeleine stressed that “you can’t build anything without it [your story]. If it’s inside you, then somebody else can’t hear it, they can’t know it, and they can’t attach. 

It’s when they hear that story…there’s a quality of emotional resonance that happens, there’s a light bulb that goes on for people… you’re going to have to tell your story.” 

Now, with your story in hand, start seeking out groups of like-minded, like-valued social entrepreneurs. Thankfully, there are more and more of these groups forming all the time. 

sheEO and Madeleine
One of Madeleine’s favorite communities, SheEO

Madeline and I came up with the following:

There are plenty more but start looking into a few of these and see how you can get involved. I discovered the Certified B Corporation community and volunteered at their annual conference, the Champions Retreat. This got me connected with many great people in this space. I learned tons and had a great experience.

Step 4. Build Your MVP

Your next step is to start “building your business.” Well, not exactly, but at least beginning to build your plan. This step involves taking concepts, ideas, and visions and putting pen to paper. 

Building our plan ensures that we start covering the essentials: funding, marketing strategy, products/services, and more. 

For this exercise, Madeleine recommends using the business canvas model (there are plenty of variations). Try Circular Canvas, a tool for designing regenerative business models. 

But be mindful that having a mission in mind can’t always solve everything. As Madeleine shared in our chat, 

“Mission doesn’t solve everything…people [think] ‘well, I have good intentions, I want to help, and therefore, everything I do to support that [mission] is good and makes sense.’ Not always. You really do need to have some rigor in terms of the operation.”

The exercise here is what’s most important. Yes, it would be best if you ultimately had answers to everything (how much money do you need, where will the money come from, what roles are needed to support your endeavor), but it’s okay to start with some gaps. The purpose of canvassing from the beginning is to find the holes that you need to fill.

Step 5. Details: Roles, Structuring, and Funding

After getting more serious about our concept, we can review some of the most critical logistics—roles, structuring, and funding. 

First on roles, or what Madeleine calls in her book, “integration.” 


Madeleine refers to integration as how your new venture or startup integrates into your current life. There are only so many hours in the day, and we need to earn so many dollars a day. So, how does all this fit into your life? 

The difficult answer: what makes the most sense for you? 

It’s extremely important to note that you don’t have to quit your job to start your social entrepreneurial venture. In fact, that might not be the best way (although perhaps it’s the first thought that comes to mind). If you have a current job that pays the bills, stick with it while you really understand what you want to do with your venture. 

If you jump ship on a career that’s paying rent quickly, you can put too much pressure to sustain your living early on, even if your venture is a really good idea. The pressure of making ends meet can push you to compromise on how you build and grow your business. 

Be patient. Think about what arrangement would make you most comfortable to do your best work and still enjoy life even if the plan is not the quickest. 


Do you start a nonprofit? For-profit? Benefit Corporation? All good questions that Madeleine addressed in the interview:

“There’s got to be alignment between the desired outcome…What is the shoe that will fit the foot? I think people are caught up in a sort of a false dichotomy believing that they can only achieve social impact through a nonprofit or charitable model, and I do not personally believe that at all. I think that you can achieve positive social and environmental impact in many, many ways. 

And the for-profit nonprofit part of it, it’s kind of a false distinction.” 

So, the short answer—it depends (frustrated yet?). However, we can gain crucial information and perspective on these questions from the people who are becoming part of our community (see step #3). 


Do you need investors? Where do you find those? Should you support your initiative out of pocket? 

Thankfully, there are more funds available now for the impact sector of business than ever before. Madeleine affirmed this in the interview and continues in great detail in the book. If you have a sharp, polished, and impactful concept, there can be money out there to help you launch. 

But don’t feel like you have to seek out money. This is another personal preference that should be decided upon patiently. 

Don’t just assume that you’ll need to gain funding. Our business Grow Ensemble, for example, has been completely bootstrapped with money coming out of our own pockets. Money also comes from our consulting work and training businesses in content marketing to support the growth of this very website you’re visiting. 

All this to say, there’s money if you need it and investors that can align with your impact goals. Don’t just assume you need money. However, if you think you need it, make sure there’s a good reason for it.

Step 6. Launching, Learning, and Adapting 

If you’ve made it this far, you’re off to the races! Well, sort of—the road to social entrepreneurship is a winding one. You should expect to face challenges and take those moments as opportunities to adapt, learn, and change for the better. 

As mentioned by Madeleine, the world is in an “all hands on deck” sort of situation, and the world needs you. Thankfully, there are resourced guides like Madeline to show you that you can do it.

Madeleine Shaw, Social Entrepreneur


Madeleine Shaw is a social entrepreneur hailing from the Coast Salish territories, unseated traditional ancestral lands on the west coast of Canada, British Columbia, near Vancouver, BC. She is best known as the founder of Aisle, formerly known as Lunapads. 

It was one of the first ventures in the entire world to commercialize reusable menstrual products. Madeleine also founded a G Day in 2014, a registered charity that produces rite of passage events for tween girls across Canada. She also launched Nestworks, a family-friendly co-working space. 

Madeleine’s served on numerous nonprofit boards and has been in the space of social entrepreneurship for over 30 years. Finally, she’s put her experiences and lessons learned into her book, The Greater Good: Social Entrepreneurship for Everyday People Who Want to Change the World.

Don’t be afraid, I would say to anybody who’s considering doing this; it’s kind of like baking something in your kitchen. You need the ingredients. I will give you the recipe for doing it. 

It’s about believing that you can and be willing to ask for help if you need it.— Madeleine Shaw

Additional Resources & Links Mentioned from the Episode: 


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Cory Ames

Co-Founder & CEO, Grow Ensemble

I’m Cory Ames. I’m a writer, podcaster, social entrepreneur, and the Founder of Grow Ensemble.

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