Collecting data on social entrepreneurs is problematic for a number of reasons. For instance, the nascency of the field means that there are relatively few (as compared with fields like commercial entrepreneurship or family firms) potential subjects for those wanting to study founders of social ventures. Moreover, due to the global nature of the field, social entrepreneurs tend to be a disbursed group. Add to this the fact that there is little government-mandated public information on most social enterprises (as is the case with publically-traded firms, for example), and one can understand why few empirical studies on social entrepreneurship have gone beyond case studies. This is evidenced by a recent study by Short, Moss & Lumpkin (2009) which found only 16 papers published on the topic which utilized quantitative methods and most of those employed only descriptive statistics (e.g. means, medians, ranges).
While theoretical pieces and case studies have added significantly to our understanding of social entrepreneurship, the dearth of quantitative research on the topic is extremely troubling. Without such research, our findings lack the generalizability needed to prescribe best practices to disparate social entrepreneurs. Additionally, the problems inherent in collecting data on social entrepreneurs and enterprises both discourages scholars from joining the field and limits the types of studies and publication outlets available to those that do. For these reasons, I believe that the lack of SocEnt data and quantitative studies are the biggest threats to the growth and impact of the field.
The aim of this page is to provide links to potential sources for social entrepreneurship data – both primary and secondary. It is an ongoing quest and I welcome any and all suggestions pertaining to the matter (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Secondary data is very attractive because users need not find social entrepreneurs or social enterprises, nor convince subjects to take surveys or provide information. The availability of secondary data via databases like the Kauffman Firm Survey, the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, and the Panel Study of Entrepreneurial Dynamics is one of the biggest reasons for the explosion of commercial entrepreneurship research over the last decade. While the SocEnt field lacks such databases, there are still secondary data options for SocEnt scholars.
1) The Panel Study of Entrepreneurial Dynamics II (PSED II) - The PSED is a longitudinal survey of individuals in the process of starting a business; labeled nascent entrepreneurs. 1,214 nascent entrepreneurs were identified based on a random digit dialing method of over 30,000 U.S. adults. While the PSED II project was not directed towards the study of social entrepreneurs, researchers have identified a way to parse out the potential social entrepreneurs in the sample. Namely, respondents were asked the following two questions: 1) “Why do you want to start this new business?” (question AA2), and 2) “What are the one or two main opportunities that prompted you to start this new business?” (question AA5); for which coders documented respondents’ first and second answer. Answers were classified based upon a large array of potential responses. Examples include “Income; to make money”, “High demand for products/business; satisfy need”, and “New technology/product/service”. Coders were given 44 potential responses for the first question, and 62 for the second. Two of the potential answers are: “help others; help community” or “aid in economy; economic development”, both having a very socially-oriented focus. One may thus argue that anyone who answered either of these options on either their first or second response (of which there are 94) is a social entrepreneur.
2) The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) – The GEM is the largest single study of entrepreneurial activity in the world. It provides a wealth of data at individual and national levels and has been the basis of many published entrepreneurship studies over the years. While the GEM is, like the PSED, primarily concerned with tradition commercial entrepreneurship, the study allows for some SocEnt research. Recent versions of the GEM individual-level datasets include the following question: “Are you, alone or with others, currently trying to start or currently owning and managing any kind of activity, organisation or initiative that has a particular social, environmental or community objective? This might include providing services or training to socially deprived or disabled persons, using profits for socially oriented purposes, organising self-help groups for community action, etc.” Those respondents that answer in the affirmative may be classified as social entrepreneurs and analysis may be conducted both within this sub-sample, or comparisons may be made with those that answered in the negative.
3) Depending on your definition of ‘social enterprise’ (See our definitions page), IRS 990 forms may be an excellent source of secondary. For instance, many consider social enterprise to be nonprofits using earned income strategies. 990s are the tax forms that nonprofit organizations must file each year. Among the things they must report are the sources of their income; i.e., how much did they get from donations, government grants, membership dues, sales of goods/services, etc. With this, one may argue, for example, that nonprofits with more earned income from sales of goods and services are more enterprising than those that rely on income from donations; I leave it up to you to determine and argue for cut-off points. The 990s must further include a wealth of other information including board members and how they spent their money. Perhaps one of the most powerful uses of the 990s is that the names and contact information for the organizations must be provided; thus scholars may combine this secondary data with a primary data collection initiative. The two most popular sources of 990 forms are GuideStar & the National Center for Charitable Statistics.
4) Under Construction
Of course, the chief limitation to secondary data is that researchers are confined to working with the information gathered by others. To collect new information, SocEnt scholars must first find social entrepreneurs/enterprises. The following are lists of different sorts which identify social entrepreneurs/enterprises. Few of them provide direct contact information for the list members, which means scholars need to take extra steps to gather such info. For instance, many lists provide websites for social enterprises and the websites often contain contact info. It should also be noted that membership inclusion criteria may be soft or non-existent. I leave the usefulness of the lists up to the users.
1) Social Enterprise Alliance - The SEA maintains a directory of what they call “sustainable nonprofits”. The linked page brings you to a page that allows you to limit your search to certain firm characteristics. If you just click “search” it will give the entire list. Contact is provided for each firm.
2) B Corps - “Certified B Corporations are a new type of corporation which uses the power of business to solve social and environmental problems.” The B Corp Lab maintains this directory of the more than 350 certified firms. Most of them have links to firm websites which have contact information of some sort
3) ClearlySo - “The ClearlySo social business directory is a growing resource of innovative and progressive companies that create social and environmental benefits through their commercial activities.” Most of the listed firms have links to the firms websites through which contact info may be gleaned.
4) Social Edge - “Find and connect with social entrepreneurs vetted by award programs including Coviv Ventures (sponsor of The Purpose Prize), The Draper Richards Foundation, PopTech, The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, and the Skoll Foundation.” Here you can simply click the “search” button without specifications to see them all; and you can follow profiles to individual or firms webpages for contact info.
5) iuMAP - “iuMAP is the world’s largest directory of BOP social enterprises. It is a product of Ayllu (pronounced ‘i-u’) launched in media partnership with Next Billion, to track all BOP social enterprises worldwide. While there is great variation among the social enterprises listed here, all use market methods to address a root cause of poverty in developing countries, or offering support to those who do.” This isn’t a search engine, but a series of links to follow to individual pages.
6) Social Venture Network - “SVN is a peer-to-peer network of nearly 500 CEOs, founders, nonprofit leaders, investors, and senior executives of some of the most socially and environmentally progressive companies in the world” This is a list of the organizations of their members—direct links to the company websites are provided.
7) L3Cs - “A low-profit limited liability company (L3C) is a legal form of business entity in the United States that was created to bridge the gap between non-profit and for-profit investing.” As of the time I wrote this page, there were 7 U.S. States that allowed L3C firms and over 250 firms that organized under this structure. I’m still working on finding a better list of these organizations that includes links, but at least this page provides the names of the existing L3Cs. One may also contact the individual Secretary of States for each of the 7 states for more info.
8) Global Social Benefit Incubator— The GSBI is a massive incubator project for socially oriented firms. Their members “address barriers to literacy, sanitation, safe drinking water, equitable access to global markets, and basic health care services in a systematic way.” This site provides links to the incubated firms from 2003-the present.
9) Community-Wealth - This is a smaller list of social enterprises identified by community-wealth. They provide direct links to the websites.
10) Community Interest Companies - “A CIC is a new type of company introduced by the United Kingdom government in 2005 under the Companies (Audit, Investigations and Community Enterprise) Act 2004, designed for social enterprises that want to use their profits and assets for the public good.” This is a good list of them, but doesn’t have links to contact info… I’ll work on finding one that does.
11) Social Enterprise East of England - This is a phenomenal directory of both SEEE members and their supporters.
12) Social Enterprise London - This is SEL’s extensive directory. Once again, just hit the “search” button without specifications to see them all. This site does provide contact info.
13) Social Enterprise Coalition - Another London-based organization; “The Social Enterprise Coalition represents a wide range of social enterprises, regional and national support networks and other related organisations.” This is their membership directory, along with links to the members’ pages.
14) UK Community Action Network - CAN is a UK-based org that “supports social entrepreneurs to scale up their social impact. [They] do this by providing award-winning high-quality flexible office space and leveraging social investment with strategic business support to the third sector.” This is their directory. As always, just hit the “search” button to see them all.
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