Always a thorny issue, this one…we’ve been amassing a few different definitions in SSE’s del.icio.us, 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
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)