The definition of a social entrepreneur

Always a thorny issue, this one…we’ve been amassing a few different definitions in SSE’s, so you can check out there for starters. The SSE expounds its version here, which includes the following:

"A social entrepreneur is someone who works in an entrepreneurial manner, but for public or social benefit, rather than to make money. Social entrepreneurs may work in ethical businesses, governmental or public bodies, quangos, or the voluntary and community sector.

entrepreneurs in the business sector identify untapped commercial markets, and gather together the resources to break into those markets for profit, social entrepreneurs use the same skills to different effect. For social
entrepreneurs, untapped markets are people or communities in need, who
   haven’t been reached by other initiatives.

while they may read from a different bottom line, social and business
entrepreneurs have a lot in common. They build something out of nothing.They are ambitious to achieve. They marshal resources – sometimes from
the unlikeliest places – to meet their needs. They are constantly creative. And they are not afraid to make mistakes.The most successful embody
a curious mixture of idealism and pragmatism – high-mindedness wedded
to hard-headedness."

An interesting facet of the UK world of social entrepreneurship is that "social enterprise" has come to be more about models, structures, and markets, whereas social entrepreneurs are actually least interested in this area; as Alliance magazine’s excellent article makes clear:

The organizations set up by social entrepreneurs defy pigeonholing.
They cannot be lumped easily into the non-profit or for-profit worlds
that we cling to. Increasingly, social entrepreneurs are setting up
their organizations as for-profit entities, though most are still
constituted as not-for-profits. The point is that the legal form chosen
for the entity is simply a strategic decision based on how best to
achieve the mission."

SSE certainly views entrepreneurialism as being as much about a mindset, an attitude, and a set of characteristics (driven, committed, engaged with comunity they are serving, innovative, prone to action, hard-headed and high-minded….) as it is about a business model. An unconstituted community group with no earned income can be as entrepreneurial as a community interest company with a public service delivery contract. A for-profit company with a clear social objective can make greater social change than a co-operative or a charity with a trading arm.

This is not to say that the processes aren’t important; having those structural and financing options means that social entrepreneurs can find the best fit for their organisation or initiative; and having the ear of government (and the opposition!) certainly does no harm. But we must shape the solutions to fit the problems, not decide on the shape first…Often there is an earned income / trading side to these solutions, but not necessarily.

My favourite definitions of a social entrepreneur?

– "The changers of minds and the breakers of rules" (Gordon Brown);

– "The entrepreneur always searches for change, responds to it, and
exploits it as an opportunity" (Peter Drucker; add social where applicable)

– "a mover and a shaker, the motor of social transformation" (from Alliance article)

– "What business entrepreneurs are to the economy, social entrepreneurs
are to social change. They are the driven, creative individuals who
question the status quo, exploit new opportunities, refuse to give up,
and remake the world for the better." (David Bornstein)

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Online leadership for sector CEOs

ACEVO, the erstwhile Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, have developed what they are calling a tailored learning programme, which is mostly online: the Advanced Leadership Development Process, developed in partnership with Ashridge Business School, aims to help chief execs who have been in post for a few years and need a ‘refresh’ amongst a network of peers. Or, as they put it:

"Ashridge and acevo have developed this new programme to help third
sector leaders develop the skills they need to meet the challenges
facing them at an individual and organisational level. The programme
allows each participant to draw directly on their own experiences in
the workplace and reflect their priorities for personal development."

7 month programme, with 6.5 days of face time. £2500….

Interesting overlaps between ACEVO and SSE: at what point does a social entrepreneur become a chief executive of their organisation? how much of the SSE programme is community/entrepreneurial leadership? etc….

As I recently pointed out in Third Sector magazine, our students (see the most recent cohort in London here, and the soon to be most recent additions to the Fellowship in Fife here) are the chief execs of tomorrow, bringing (hopefully) some much-needed dynamism, youth and diversity to the public, private, volutnary and social enterprise sectors….

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Campaigners are social entrepreneurs…

SSE had the honour of attending the inaugural Sheila McKechnie Awards at the end of March. The organisation was set up (in honour of Sheila McKechnie and her work) to "support the next generation of campaigners". One of the main parts of this is the awards, and you can see the nominees and winners here, who work in a whole range of different areas, from Zimbabwe’s future, to school dinners in Merton (and beyond). Awesome people and, undeniably, social entrepreneurs both in their personal characteristics (driven, persistent, committed, prone to action) and in the organisations/vehicles they use (whatever helps them reach the goal/outcome they are after…..).

It was an inspiring evening, and, despite a heavyweight guest list including Terry Waite, Gordon Brown, Lord Puttnam and Shami Chakrabati, there was no doubt that the award-winners and nominees were the true stars of the show.

[P.S. Good to note also that SSE Fellow Crissy Townsend was featured on the introductory video…more of Crissy another time….]


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The value of value…

…of value. A recurring theme at the recent Skoll forum was that, in order for funders from the more corporate philanthropy / (forward-thinking) asset management to invest, they need to see clear evidence, and understandable data, of value. Ultimately, the thinking is that we should judge social entrepreneur-led organisations by their quality (by their outcomes) rather than their business structure or model (their process).

Their follows an interesting debate about whether we can translate the terminology of the business world into the world of social entrepreneurship: so rather than financial return on investment, there is social return on investment; rather than profit-led organisations, there are non-profits, not-for-profits or, increasingly, ‘beyond profit’ or ‘more-than-profit’ organisations.

The value debate is of interest to SSE because our students, who range from 18 to 80 and are leading a whole range of different organisations with different aims in different areas, are increasingly realising the need to effectively measure and evaluate their work. Do these kinds of models have relevance for them, or do they overcomplicate and confuse? Similarly, for ourselves, how can we best measure what SSE contributes to helping individuals make social change.

Some interesting places to start in this world:

Blended Value
New Economics Foundation (SROI)
Roberts Enterprise Development Fund
Charities Evaluation Service

This is something we’ll revisit, as it is an area of increasing relevance to social entrepreneurs, cutting across sectors and, therefore, coming up against different sectors rules and demands.

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SSE enters the blogosphere

The School for Social Entrepreneurs makes its way into the blogosphere today with what should prove to be the indispensable place to find up-to-date, relevant posts about all things concerning social entrepreneurs….

The SSE runs learning programmes which provide tailored support and training to help individuals who are starting/running/leading new socially-beneficial organisation; to help develop themselves as social entrepreneurs (with business skills, knowledge + confidence, self-esteem, peer learning), and, as a result, develop and improve the effectiveness and impact of their project/initiative.

Find more on our main website (which is due for an overhaul….)

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