Unfortunately, defining social entrepreneurship is no mean feat.  Many very smart people are arguing about its definition at this very moment.  Should the definition be broadly encompassing, or more narrowly focused? Should firms be classified by their missions or their actions?  Does it take place in nonprofits, businesses, governments, or elsewhere? And so on...

Nevertheless, if you are going to publish a research paper on social entrepreneurship, it’s a good bet that reviewers will want you to define the construct.  Before you contribute to the growing problem of definitional proliferation, you should check the extant definitions to see if any suit your needs.  This will also help align your research with the giants on who’s shoulders you may be standing.

To aid in this endeavor we present summary tables from two papers that (both with the authors’ permission – *a special thanks to Sophie Bacq and Yolanda Sarason for this*) have focused on the definitional issues inherent in the field.

 

The first paper does a fantastic job of organizing and presenting extant definitions for three related and salient terms: ‘social entrepreneur’, ‘social entrepreneurship’ and ‘social entrepreneurship organization’.  For the full paper, please see: Bacq, S., and F. Janssen (Forthcoming 2011), “The Multiple Faces of Social Entrepreneurship: A Review of Definitional Issues Based on Geographical and Thematic Criteria”, Entrepreneurship and Regional Development, Special Issue on “Community-Based, Social & Societal Entrepreneurship".  The following tables are drawn from their paper:

 

 

Definitions of Social Entrepreneurship

List of Definitions of Social Entrepreneurship

to encourage and advance

social  enterprise research

 

SocEntResearch.org

Created and maintained by:

 

David Gras

List of Definitions of Social Entrepreneurship Organization

List of Definitions of Social Entrepreneur

List of Definitions of Social Entrepreneurship

The second paper was written by Lindsay Neenan, Tom Dean, and Yolanda Sarason at Colorado State and is also a fantastic resource for social entrepreneurship definitions.  Their forthcoming paper is titled “Common Core, Common Difference? A Categorical Schema of Definitions of Social Environmental and Sustainable Entrepreneurship.” (A full reference will be provided when available). The following table is drawn from their paper.

Authors

Year

Definition

Dees

1998

SE combines the passion of a social mission with an image of business-like discipline, innovation, and determination (pg. 1).

Fowler

2000

SE refers to situations in which economic activities are expressly designed to generate positive social outcomes, and where surplus generating activities simultaneously create social benefits, and ideally create horizontal, vertical, forward or backward economic linkages (p. 645)

Davis

2002

SE extends the definition of entrepreneurship by its emphasis on ethical integrity and maximizing social value rather than private value or for profit (pg. 7).

Mort, Weerawardena & Carnegie

2002

SE is a multidimensional construct, within the NFP sector, involving the expression of entrepreneurially virtuous behavior to achieve the social mission, a coherent unity of purpose and action in the face of moral complexity, the ability to recognize social value-creating opportunities and key decision-making characteristics on innovativeness, pro-activeness and risk-taking (pg.76).

Thompson

2002

SE is cause-driven community venture (pg. 427)

Kerlin

2005

SE is when nonprofits use commercial activities to finance their missions (pg.).

Seelos & Mair

2005

SE creates new models for the provision of products and services that center directly to basic human needs that remain unsatisfied by current economic or social institutions (pg. 243-244).

Mair & Marti

2006

SE is a process that catalyzes social change and addresses important social needs in a way that is not dominated by direct financial benefits for the entrepreneurs. SE is seen as differing from other forms of entrepreneurship in the relatively higher priority given to promoting social value and development versus capturing economic value (pg.1).

Weerawardena & Mort

2006

SE is a behavioral phenomenon expressed in a NFP organization context aimed at delivering social value through the exploitation of perceived opportunities (pg. 25).

Wolk

2007

SE is the practice of responding to market failures with transformative, financially sustainable innovations aimed at solving social problems (pg. 158).

Sharir & Lerner

2006

Essential to the founding and establishing of any social venture are the individuals and groups with the vision, drive and perseverance to provide answers to social problems and needs, whether educational, welfare, environmental or health related (pg. 7).

Peredo & McLean

2006

SE is exercised where some person or group aims either exclusively or in some prominent way to create social value of some kind, and pursue that goal through some combination of (1) recognizing and exploiting opportunities to create this value, (2) employing innovation, (3) tolerating risk, and (4) declining to accept limitations in available resources (pg.56).

Austin, Stevenson &  Wei-Skillern

2006

SE is an innovative, social value creating activity that can occur within or across the nonprofit, business, or government sectors. (pg.2).

Sharfman, Busenitz, Townsend & Harkins

2007

SE is the creation of ventures whose business model is designed for the individual appropriation of economic rents from strategic actions that generate economic value through the creation of public value (pg. 6).

Short, Moss & Lumpkin

2008

SE refers to the process, practices and decision-making activities that lead to the creation and sustainability of new ventures whose explicit mission involves societal problems.

Yujuico

2008

SE is the pursuit of enhanced social well-being akin to non-profit institutions achieved by creatively overcoming constraints characteristically encountered by for-profit institutions (pg. 493).

Murphy & Coombs

2008

SE is the creation and undertaking of a venture intended to promote a specific social purpose or cause in a context of mobilization. By social purpose or cause, we implicate an underlying range of basic values that are desirable and important in civilized society.

Neck, Brush & Allen

2009

The founding mission and sources of opportunity are the starting points for SE (pg.14).

Murphy & Coombs

2009

The recognition of a convergence of social, economic, and environmental resources allowing potential introductions of new goods, services, raw materials, markets, and/or means-ends relations as an organized venture intended to generate social, economic, and/or environmental value amidst circumstances of mobilization (pg. 4).

Authors

Year

Definition

Smallbone et al.

2001

Social enterprises offer a range of contributions to local economic development including providing goods and services which the market or public sector is unwilling or unable to provide, developing skills, creating employment (focusing particularly on the needs of socially excluded people), creating and managing workspace, providing low cost personal loans and enhancing civic involvement through the number of volunteers involved. The wider social contribution can also include encouraging environmentally friendly practices and offering work and educational experience to young people.

Thompson

2002

Enterprises set up for a social purpose but operating as businesses and in the voluntary or non-profit sector. However, according to him, the main world of the social entrepreneur is the voluntary (NFP) sector.

Dart

2004

Social enterprises enact hybrid non-profit and for-profit activities.

Mair and Martí

2004

Social entrepreneurship can be seen to take many different organizational forms: for-profit, non-profit, or hybrid.

Austin, Stevenson and Wei-Skillern

2006

Examples of social entrepreneurship can be found within or can span the nonprofit, business, or governmental sectors.

Dees and Battle Anderson

2006

A full range of business models available to social entrepreneurs, from purely philanthropic to purely commercial, with many variations in between.

Dorado

2006

Non-profit, for-profit or cross-sector Social Entrepreneurial Ventures are social because they aim to address a problem the private sector has not adequately addressed; they are entrepreneurial because their founders have qualities identified with entrepreneurs.

Robinson

2006

A process that includes: the identification of a specific social problem and a specific solution (or set of solutions) to address it; the evaluation of the social impact, the business model and the sustainability of the venture; and the creation of a socially-oriented for-profit or a business-oriented not-for-profit entity that pursues the double (or triple) bottom line.

Thompson and Doherty

2006

Social enterprises have a social purpose; assets and wealth are used to create community benefit; they pursue this with trade in a market place; profits and surpluses are not distributed to shareholders; “members” or employees have some role in decision making and/or governance; the enterprise is seen as accountable to both its members and a wider community; there is a double- or triple-bottom-line paradigm: the most effective social enterprises demonstrate healthy financial and social returns.

Weerawardena and Sullivan Mort

2006

Social entrepreneurial organizations must clearly address value-positioning strategies, and take a proactive posture as well as providing superior service maximizing social value creation.

Mair and Schoen

2007

A social venture is an initiative that addresses social needs and/or catalyzes social transformation […] a self-sustained organization creating social and economic value […] its primary objective is the creation of social value, while economic value creation represents a necessary but not sufficient condition.

Seelos and Mair

2007

Organizations that overcome significant hurdles in order to serve the poors and build resources and capabilities to achieve primarily social objectives.

Boschee

1995

The ventures started by social entrepreneurs typically fall into one of two categories: on the one hand, an ‘affirmative business’ is created to provide real jobs, competitive wages, and career opportunities and ownership for people who are disadvantaged, whether it be physically, mentally, economically, or educationally (the portion of employees who are disadvantaged is typically 60 percent or higher); on the other hand, a ‘direct-service business’ is kids, battered women, etc. […] almost all of them emerge in some way from the nonprofit sector.

Boschee and McClurg

2003

Nonprofits that emphasize earned income, sustainability and self-sufficiency instead of charitable contributions, government subsidies and eternal dependency.

Alter

2004

A social enterprise is any business venture created for a social purpose – mitigating/reducing a social problem or a market failure – and to generate social value while operating with the financial discipline, innovation and determination of a private sector business.

Haugh

2005

[…] a range of organizations that trade for a social purpose. They adopt one of a variety of different legal formats but have in common the principles of pursuing business-led solutions to achieve social aims, and the reinvestment of surplus for community benefit. Their objectives focus on socially desired, non-financial goals and their outcomes are the non-financial measures of the implied demand for and supply of services.

Cooney

2006

Organizations positioned in two different organizational fields – each necessitating different internal organizational technologies – to elucidate the structural tensions that can emerge inside these new hybrid models.

EMES Network

2006

Organizations with an explicit aim to benefit the community, initiated by a group of citizens and in which the material interest of capital investors is subject to limits.

Authors

Year

Definition

Bornstein (citing Drayton)

1998

Ashoka’s social entrepreneur is a pathbreaker with a powerful new idea, who combines visionary and real-world problem-solving creativity, who has a strong ethical fiber, and who is ‘totally possessed’ by his or her vision for change.

Catford

1998

Social entrepreneurs combine street activism with professional skills, visionary insights with pragmatism, and ethical fiber with tactical trust. They see opportunities where others only see empty buildings, unemployable people and unvalued resources.

Dees

1998

Social entrepreneurs play the role of change agents in the social sector, by: adopting a mission to create and sustain social value (not just private value); recognizing and relentlessly pursuing new opportunities to serve that mission; engaging in a process of continuous innovation, adaptation, and learning; acting boldly without being limited by resources currently at hand; and exhibiting heightened accountability to the constituencies served and for the outcomes created.

Schuyler

1998

Individuals who have a vision for social change and who have the financial resources to support their ideas […], exhibit all the skills of successful business people as well as a powerful desire for social change.

Schwab Foundation

1998

Someone who: identifies and applies practical solutions to social problems […]; innovates by finding a new product, service or approach […], focuses […] on social value creation […]; resists being trapped by the constraints of ideology and discipline; has a vision, but also a well-thought out roadmap as to how to attain the goal.

De Leeuw

1999

Rare individuals with the ability to analyze, to envision, to communicate, to empathize, to enthuse, to advocate, to mediate, to enable and to empower a wide range of disparate individuals and organizations.

Thompson, Alvy and Lees

2000

People who realize where there is an opportunity to satisfy some unmet need that the state welfare system will not or cannot meet, and who gather together the necessary resources (generally people, often volunteers, money and premises) and use these to “make a difference”.

Guclu, Dees and Battle Anderson

2002

Social entrepreneurs must be able to articulate a compelling social impact theory and a plausible business model.

Sullivan Mort, Weerawardena and Carnegie

2002

Social entrepreneurs are first driven by the social mission of creating better social value than their competitors which results in them exhibiting entrepreneurially virtuous behaviour. Secondly, they exhibit a balanced judgment, a coherent unity of purpose and action in the face of complexity. Thirdly, social entrepreneurs explore and recognize opportunities to create better social value for their clients. Finally, social entrepreneurs display innovativeness, proactiveness and risk-taking propensity in their key decision-making.

Dearlove (about the Skoll Foundation)

2004

At the Skoll Foundation we call social entrepreneurs “society’s change agents”: the pioneers of innovation for the social sector. Social entrepreneurs usually have a vision of something that they would like to solve in the social sector.

Roberts and Woods

2005

Visionary, passionately dedicated individuals.

Peredo and McLean

2006

Social entrepreneurship is exercised where some person or group aims either exclusively or in some prominent way to create social value of some kind, and pursue that goal through some combination of (1) recognizing and exploiting opportunities to create this value, (2) employing innovation, (3) tolerating risk, and (4) declining to accept limitations in available resources.

Sharir and Lerner

2006

The social entrepreneur is acting as a change agent to create and sustain social value without being limited to resources currently at hand.

Nicholls

2008

For social entrepreneurs there is always a ‘socio-moral motivation’ or social-mission focus to their entrepreneurial activity and ambition.

Boschee

1995

Non-profit executives who pay increased attention to market forces without losing sight of their underlying mission, to somehow balance moral imperatives and the profit motives – and that balancing act is the heart and soul of the movement.

Boschee and McClurg

2003

A social entrepreneur is any person, in any sector, who uses earned income strategies to pursue a social objective.

Tracey and Phillips

2007

Individuals who combine social and commercial objectives by developing economically sustainable solutions to social problems. It requires social entrepreneurs to identify and exploit market opportunities in order to develop products and services that achieve social ends, or to generate surpluses that can be reinvested in a social project.

Authors

Year

Definition

Leadbeater

1997

A vast array of economic, educational, research, welfare, social and spiritual activities engaged in by various organizations.

Alvord, Brown and Letts

2004

Social entrepreneurship creates innovative solutions to immediate social problems and mobilizes the ideas, capacities, resources, and social arrangements required for sustainable social transformations.

Mair and Martí

2004

A process consisting in the innovative use and combination of resources to explore and exploit opportunities, that aims at catalyzing social change by catering to basic human needs in a sustainable manner.

Roberts and Woods

2005

Social entrepreneurship encompasses the notions of “construction, evaluation and pursuit of opportunities” as means for a “social transformation” carried out by visionary, passionately dedicated individuals.

Seelos and Mair

2005

Social entrepreneurship creates new models for the provision of products and services that cater directly to basic human needs that remain unsatisfied by current economic or social institutions.

Austin, Stevenson and Wei-Skillern

2006

Innovative, social value creating activity that can occur within or across the non-profit, business, and/or public/government sectors (original emphasis).

Mair and Martí

2006

First, we view social entrepreneurship as a process of creating value by combining resources in new ways. Second, these resource combinations are intended primarily to explore and exploit opportunities to create social value by stimulating social change or meeting social needs. And third, when viewed as a process, social entrepreneurship involves the offering of services and products but can also refer to the creation of new organizations.

Mair and Noboa

2006

The innovative use of resource combinations to pursue opportunities aiming at the creation of organizations and/or practices that yield and sustain social benefits. We deliberately do not delimit the definition to initiatives in the nonprofit sector and imply a notion of helping behaviour.

Weerawardena and Sullivan Mort

2006

- A behavioural phenomenon expressed in a NFP organization context aimed at delivering social value through the exploitation of perceived opportunities.

- Social entrepreneurship is a bounded multidimensional construct that is deeply rooted in an organization’s social mission, its drive for sustainability and highly influenced and shaped by the environmental dynamics. Opportunity recognition is embedded in these three dimensions.

- Social entrepreneurship strives to achieve social value creation and this requires the display of innovativeness, proactiveness and risk management behaviour.

- Social entrepreneurs’ behaviour in regard to risk is highly constrained by their primary objective of building a sustainable organization and hence do not support Dees’ view that social entrepreneurs do not allow the lack of initial resources to limit their options.

- Finally, social entrepreneurs can indeed remain competitive whilst fulfilling their social mission.

Nicholls

2008

Social entrepreneurship is a set of innovative and effective activities that focus strategically on resolving social market failures and creating new opportunities to add social value systemically by using a range of resources and organizational formats to maximize social impact and bring about change. Simply put, social entrepreneurship is defined by its two constituent elements: a prime strategic focus on social impact and an innovative approach to achieving its mission.

Stryjan

2006

Social entrepreneurship is viewed as a category of entrepreneurship that primarily (a) is engaged in by collective actors, and (b) involves, in a central role in the undertaking’s resource mix, socially embedded resources […] and their conversion into (market-) convertible resources, and vice-versa.