Social Entrepreneurship ? A Relevant Concept for Business Schools?

By Margaret J. Naumes, Jill A. Kammermeyer, and William Naumes, Whittemore School of Business and Economics, University of New Hampshire, Durham, NH 03824

The concept of a social entrepreneur is relatively new in the academic literature. In the past, entrepreneurs were thought of as motivated strictly by economic concerns. Dees, Emerson and Economy (2001) note that Say and Schumpeter present a foundation for entrepreneurial ventures which is based on the redirection of resources to meet a higher economic return. Say refers to a person as an entrepreneur, from the French word “entreprendre,” as one who attempts “to undertake; to pursue opportunities; to fulfill needs and wants through innovation and starting a business.” (Burch, 1986). In Schumpeter’s view, this leads to a form of creative destruction for the economic good of the system as a whole. This Hegelian perspective leads to a constant turmoil in the economic system that provides innovative approaches to current problems. Essentially, entrepreneurs act as change agents in economic society.

By contrast, social activism has developed from a more sociological approach to human and environmental issues. Discussion of the approaches taken by social activists has more often followed a qualitative path that focuses on social impact, not necessarily economic well being.

Robert Theobald (1987) provides one of the earlier definitions of social entrepreneurs: “people who have the skills and are willing to take the risks involved in bringing new ideas to individuals, groups, and institutions”. Theobald also references Schumpeter, who in his words, “described entrepreneurs as being unafraid of the fact that very few things worth doing would be undertaken on a sober calculation of the odds.” (Theobald, 1987: 42-3) But society, he notes, does not yet effectively support social entrepreneurs.

Dees, in several pieces (1998, 2001), has refined the concept of a Social Entrepreneur. This concept involves a person with a set of social goals and objectives who operationalizes those objectives through the entrepreneurial activities defined by Say and Schumpeter. Dees’ definition (2001) describes social entrepreneurs as change agents, with a specific set of behaviors: adopting a mission to create and sustain social 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 to resources currently at hand

• “exhibiting a heightened sense of accountability to the constituencies served and for the outcomes created.”

Brinckerhoff (2000) also defines social entrepreneurship in terms of mission, but targets his discussion to nonprofits. His list of characteristics includes willingness “to take reasonable risk on behalf of the people that their organization serves” and an understanding that “all resource allocations are really stewardship investments.” (Brinckerhoff, 2000:12) Because his focus is on helping nonprofit entrepreneurs to be more effective, Brinckerhoff is also concerned with financial issues, primarily as they impact the ability to carry out mission.

This paper will further explore the concept of Social Entrepreneurship through a brief presentation and discussion of individual case studies of current social entrepreneurs that we have examined.

Focus on Business Ethics

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