The Past, Present and Future of Social Entrepreneurship

How delightful it is to forget that you’ve signed up to a newsletter, and then receive something hugely apposite and useful in your inbox.

Such was my experience this morning reading the latest e-correspondence from CASE (the Centre [or Center] for Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke University) in the States. Too much to mention in detail, but you can access the whole newsletter here.

Most interesting to me was the interview with Greg Dees, probably the longest-serving and most influential of those studying and researching social entrepreneurship in an academic sense. The interview, which is titled ‘The Past, Present and Future of Social Entrepreneurship’ inevitably has a US leaning, but is hugely relevant to UK matters as well. Take this, for example, on the issues of defining ‘social entrepreneur’:

"Well, we’re going to continue to encounter some disagreement, because the term “social entrepreneur” is relatively new and evolving, but disagreement is not the same
as confusion. People get frustrated because there is no uniform
and unanimous definition, but keep in mind that even the term “entrepreneur”
has no one definition that’s accepted by all the people who
study it. And it has been around for hundreds of years. Some people
think that anyone who starts a business is an entrepreneur. Others
who follow Joseph Schumpeter think you have to be an innovator who
is changing the patterns of production. Some focus only on high-growth, major-impact entrepreneurs; others focus on anyone who starts any
venture. This has not inhibited the growth of entrepreneurship in practice or as a field of study. As long as we understand the spirit
of the term, we can move forward constructively. And I say this
as someone who has tried to define the term in a way that would
appeal to a broad audience.


My own feeling is that “social entrepreneur” conveys
the idea of somebody who is highly energized and determined to achieve
impact; who perceives opportunities; who pursues them in an innovative
and resourceful way; who is not bound or stuck by sector boundaries
but willing to use whatever tools are likely to get the job done, including business tools. My feeling is that entrepreneurship lies
in behavior: how innovative and resourceful people are, their willingness
to do what it takes to have the impact, and their determination
to make it happen. This kind of behavior can happen in many venues
and on many levels, on a small or a large scale.

Some people seem to want to restrict the term “social entrepreneur” to those who meet the strict criteria that their organizations use to decide on some major award, fellowship, or grant. To me, this
is like restricting the term “author” to people who
get a major literary prize. I think it would be great for this movement
to embrace social entrepreneurship in neighborhoods, communities, and schools, not just on a national or international scale. A couple
of weeks ago, I spoke with some high school kids in Louisville who
were exhibiting all the behaviors I associate with social entrepreneurship,
but focused on recycling in the local community. They would not
get an Ashoka fellowship, a Skoll Foundation award, membership in
the Schwab Foundation network, or funding from New Profit, but I still see them as social entrepreneurs. I think our movement is
enriched, not diluted, by opening the doors. We should embrace and
encourage social entrepreneurship of different forms, degrees, and

Excuse the length of quotation, but it struck me as so resonant and relevant both to our work and the social entrepreneurship (and social enterprise) sector in the UK, that it was warranted. Read the original piece for more nuggets of wisdom….

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