ORIENTATION: Social entrepreneurship has been advocated as a way of overcoming poverty but many of the studies purporting to explain the intention to become a social entrepreneur have resulted in inconsistent and inconclusive results. RESEARCH PURPOSE: The purpose of this article was to examine the moderating influence of gender, family entrepreneurial background and culture (operationalised in this study as individualism or collectivism) on the antecedents to the formation of an intention to become a social entrepreneur in respect of financially disadvantaged students. MOTIVATION FOR THE STUDY: Educational institutions in Africa have not implemented programmes to encourage students to become social entrepreneurs. Research design, approach and method: A questionnaire survey was conducted using a convenience sampling method in which a sample of 200 students was selected from a South African university. The data were analysed using hierarchical regression analysis. MAIN FINDINGS: Results provide strong support for the proposition that students' gender and culture moderate the impact of the antecedents identified in this study (being close to the social problem and innovative) on the intention to become a social entrepreneur. PRACTICAL/MANAGERIAL IMPLICATIONS: There needs to be more collaboration and dialogue within and across all South African universities so that all educational programmes can be developed that embrace the challenges face by contemporary South African society. CONTRIBUTION/VALUE-ADD: This article demonstrates that current intention-based models are not adequate to explain the intention to become a social entrepreneur as they exclude extraneous personal and environmental factors.