This post was created in an effort to have a single document that serves as a primer for social entrepreneurship. It can be used as both a top level overview of the sector as well as provide easy access to further in depth research.
What is Social Innovation?
Social innovation is a sustainable initiative, product or process which profoundly changes the basic routines, resource and authority flows or beliefs of any social system. Successful social innovations are therefore disruptive and have durability, impact and scale.
What is a Social Entrepreneur?
A social entrepreneur identifies and solves social problems on a large scale. Just as business entrepreneurs create and transform whole industries, social entrepreneurs act as the change agents for society, seizing opportunities others miss in order to improve systems, invent and disseminate new approaches and advance sustainable solutions that create social value.
The Skoll Foundation’s CEO Sally Osberg and the University of Toronto’s Roger Martin assert that social entrepreneurs:
- Address a pressing need relative to “the exclusion, marginalization, or suffering of a segment of humanity that lacks the financial means or political clout to achieve any transformative benefit on its own.”
- Identify an opportunity by “developing a social value proposition, and bringing to bear inspiration, creativity, direct action, courage, and fortitude.”.
- Create a new paradigm which “releases trapped potential or alleviates the suffering of the targeted group, and through imitation and the creation of a stable ecosystem ensure a better future for the targeted group and society at large.”
Social entrepreneurs are:
- Ambitious: Social entrepreneurs tackle major social issues, from increasing the college enrollment rate of low-income students to fighting poverty in developing countries. These entrepreneurial leaders operate in all kinds of organizations: innovative nonprofits, social purpose ventures such as for-profit community development banks, and hybrid organizations that mix elements of nonprofit and for-profit organizations.
- Mission driven: Generating social value-not wealth-is the central criterion of a successful social entrepreneur. While wealth creation may be part of the process, it is not an end in itself. Promoting systemic social change is the real objective.
- Strategic: Like business entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs see and act upon what others miss: opportunities to improve systems, create solutions and invent new approaches that create social value. And like the best business entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs are intensely focused and hard-driving-even relentless-in their pursuit of a social vision.
- Resourceful: Because social entrepreneurs operate within a social context rather than the business world, they have limited access to capital and traditional market support systems. As a result, social entrepreneurs must be exceptionally skilled at mustering and mobilizing human, financial and political resources.
- Results oriented: Ultimately, social entrepreneurs are driven to produce measurable returns. These results transform existing realities, open up new pathways for the marginalized and disadvantaged, and unlock society’s potential to effect social change.
What Do Social Entrepreneurs Do?
In an article published in the 2007 Nexus magazine, Global Social Benefit Incubator Director James L. Koch outlines key principles necessary to
break down barriers and make markets work for everyone.
- Address issues of injustice and inequality
- Overcome “civil engineering deficits”
- Enable access to capital for the poor
- Address barriers to internet access
- Solve distribution problems to make markets inclusive
- Overcome market inefficiency and failures
- Localize technology to seve marginalized population
- Address skill shortages as barriers to service delivery
- Address “non-consumption” through social marketing
- Develop Bottom of the Pyramid innovation ecologies
- Foster a vibrant civil society
Great examples of what social entrepreneurship looks like in practice.
ClearlySo maintains a thorough glossary of related terms for this sector
Below are a few resources that expound what constitutes as social entrepreneurship:
The Meaning of Social Entrepreneurship” by [Duke’s] CASE Faculty Director Greg Dees (academic (PDF) white paper long yet highly informative)3 years ago • 42 notes