Social entrepreneurship plays an important role in local development in emerging economies, but scholars have paid little attention to this emerging phenomenon. Under the theory of moral sentiments, we posit that some entrepreneurs are altruistically motivated to promote a morally effective economic system by engaging in social entrepreneurial activities. Focusing on China's Guangcai (Glorious) Program, a social entrepreneurship program initiated by China's private entrepreneurs to combat poverty and contribute to regional development, we find that private entrepreneurs are motivated to participate in such programs if they have more past distressing experiences, including limited educational opportunities, unemployment experience, rural poverty experience, and startup location hardship. Their perceived social status further strengthens these relationships. Our study contributes to the social entrepreneurship literature by offering a moral sentiment perspective that explains why some entrepreneurs voluntarily join a social entrepreneurship program to mitigate poverty in society.