Home » Defining Root Problems, Global Creativity, Social Entreprenurialism

What is Social Entrepreneurialism?

22 April 2009 One Comment

Imagine the zest, energy, creativity and business acumen of entrepreneurs applied to social issues.     Social Entrepreneurs seek to achieve positive change on a large- even global- scale.

But what exactly is social entrepreneurialism?

As the adage goes, “If you show a plumber a problem he will solve it with a wrench.  If you show a carpenter the same problem he will solve it with a hammer.”   Likewise, while sharing common excitement over the potential of “social entrepreneurialism,”  differing frames of reference have resulted in differing use of the term.

  • Entrepreneurs who wish to create and engage in new business models, but who also return a percentage of profit for a “greater good” describe their work as social entrepreneurialism.
  • Smaller nonprofit organizations that seek funding for their “nonprofit” good works use the term to describe secondary “for profit” business activities that develop funds to support the costs of achieving the nonprofit goals.
  • Technology-gurus-with-a-heart see visions of changing the way in which people work and communicate through innovations in technology.  Thus, they define their work and role within society as social entrepreneurialism
  • Large nonprofit organizations receiving significant government funding are often touted as social entrepreneurs, because they are making a great social difference, creatively.

An article by The Cohen Report on the Intersection of Nonprofits, Public Politics and Policy, “Social Entrepreneurialism at the Public Trough,” (February 13, 2009), notes that “Most small, local nonprofits understand  “social entrepreneurialism” to imply funding via income from business-related activities.  The report then examines the fact that some of the most celebrated and visible nonprofits receiving accolades as role models for social entrepreneurialism do in fact demonstrate part of their entrepreneurialism by success at the public trough.  According to The Cohen Report, “Organizations such as Teach for America, America’s Promise, City Year, Citizen Schools, and others have delivered lots of good for many communities and they have been extremely successful at raising government funds to do it. ”

According to Wikipedia,

“Social entrepreneurship is the work of a social entrepreneur. A social entrepreneur is someone who recognizes a social problem and uses entreprenurial principles to organize, create, and manage a venture to make social change.  Whereas a business entrepreneur typically measures performance in profit and return, a social entrepreneur assesses success in terms of the impact s/he has on society.  While social entrepreneurs often work through nonprofits and citizen groups, many work in the private and governmental sectors.

The main aim of a social entrepreneurship as well as social enterprise is to further social and environmental goals. Although social entrepreneurs are often non-profits, this need not be incompatible with making a profit. Social enterprises are for ‘more-than-profit,’ using blended value business models that combine a revenue-generating business with a social-value-generating structure or component.”

So are the web-gurus-with-a-heart and the large scale good yielding nonprofit organizations that thrive on public funding in fact, social entrepreneurs?  To be sure, we must find consensus on the following questions:

– Does the term “social entrepreneurialism” only define an organization that seeks to create a large positive social impact while simultaneously engaging in a business model that is financially self-sustainable?

-Is a financial “giving back” an essential definitive aspect of social entrepreneurialism?

– Is the simple act of using creativity to effect social change sufficient to constitute social entrepreneurialism?

Dispute over the meaning of “social entrepreneurialism” may seem trivial.  After all, each demonstration of the term contributes to a better world symphony.    Who cares if the web-gurus-with a heart and the government funded nonprofit organizations define themselves as social entrepreneurs, as long as they are achieving results?  Isn’t this all just semantics?

Differing understanding of the meaning of words is a much overlooked root cause of dissension in our world.   We can creep along ignoring our differences in use of language and perceived meaning with only minor irritations bubbling, but the inevitable result of differing interpretations of words and terms is a full scale eruption of dispute at an inopportune moment.

Cheers to all social entrepreneurs, in whatever context they define their mission!

One Comment »

  • What is Social Entrepreneurialism? Entrepreneurialism said:

    Posted a link to this article on Entreprenurialism site from Indonesia.

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