One of the things that teaching Social Entrepreneurship has really brought to my attention is the challenge of defining the terms involved. In part this is the result of people being a little fast and loose with language, but I also believe that context is significantly responsible. When we used the term social entrepreneurship ten years ago, we probably did mean something different from what we mean today, and presumably it will be different ten years hence. There are any number of definitions for the term social entrepreneurship itself (I have included the list of different references and definitions that I shared with my class below), and when you throw in ‘social enterprise’, ‘systems change’ and ‘scale,’ while inspiring students’ eyes to roll back in their heads, you also realize how important it is to try and find some common understanding about what you’re actually discussing.
One of the ways I am trying to encourage my students to understand what social entrepreneurship means is by having them meet a wide assortment of social entrepreneurs sharing their (varied) experiences of actually being one. This past week Alexandra Bernadotte, the CEO and founder of Beyond 12, joined us via Zoom, sharing her journey to launching and leading Beyond 12, along with some powerful insights about what she sees as critical to achieving educational equity.
Alex talked about the role of technology in their work, and the importance of marrying technology to human interaction (“humans don’t scale, machines don’t analyze”). She shared the insight that the systems we are trying to “fix” are in fact not broken, but actually operating as designed to compound privilege and I was struck that this last statement did not seem to be even slightly controversial to my students. I unsuccessfully tried to spark a bit more of a conversation about the idea and couldn’t help but wonder if being a young adult in this moment has made questioning and deconstructing the system the default response.
Students did actively engage with questions about Beyond 12’s revenue breakdown and other operational issues, and they were also curious (and notably well-informed) about the tech-related challenges of data privacy and bias. Just as the definitions of our sector have and will change over time, the conversations about the path to scale and its challenges are grounded in the context of the moment.
After Alex’s remarks, we talked a bit about the readings – especially the Marshall Ganz piece arguing that social enterprise is not social change (and calling out Ashoka specifically) and the response from Michael Zakaras (from Ashoka) in SSIR. I noted the importance of language in the two pieces, with Marshall Ganz referring more broadly to social enterprise while Michael focused exclusively on social entrepreneurship, and of definitions, with Michael maintaining that social entrepreneurship is more defined by its commitment to systems-level change than its relationship to markets and revenue models. As I told my students, I do believe that is true now, but I don’t think that was necessarily true ten years ago.
The Ganz piece was also a great springboard for noting the impact of power and privilege on the sector, a theme I hope to reference throughout the course, and its connection – or lack of connection – to government and policy work as tools of systems change. This is an area of growing personal and professional interest for me and I am particularly excited to have included a class on the emerging field of democracy entrepreneurship as part of the course.
The group work focused on the students coming up with their own definitions of social entrepreneurship and preparing for their first group projects, ten minute presentations on a social entrepreneur of their choosing.
Dina Buchbinder from the Mexico-based Education for Sharing joins us this afternoon and the readings for this week are:
“Are Social Enterprises Different?” Jeff Skinner, London Business School
“Two Keys to Sustainable Social Enterprise” Osberg, Sally and Martin, Roger, HBR
“For Love or Lucre,” Fruchterman, SSIR
A sampling of descriptions and “definitions” of social entrepreneurship:
• Ashoka Social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. They are ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change.
• Austin, J., Stephenson, H. & Wei-Skillen, J. (2006) Social entrepreneurship is an innovative, social value-creating activity that can occur within or across the nonprofit, businesses or government sector.
• Bornstein, D. (2003) A path breaker 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.
• Dees, J.G. (2001) 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 in hand; and, Exhibiting heightened accountability to the constituencies served and for the outcomes created.
• Johnson (2000) Social entrepreneurship is emerging as an innovative approach for dealing with complex social needs. With its emphasis on problem solving and social innovation, socially entrepreneurial activities blur the traditional boundaries between the public, private and non-profit sector and emphasize hybrid model of for-profit and non-profit activities.
• Light (2006) A social entrepreneur is an individual, group, network, organization, or alliance of organizations that seeks sustainable, large-scale change through pattern-breaking ideas in what or how governments, nonprofits, and businesses do to address significant social problems.
• Mair, J. & Marti, I. (2006) Social entrepreneurship: Innovative models of providing products and services that caters to basic needs (rights) that remain unsatisfied by political or economic institutions.
• Martin, R.L. & Osberg, S. (2007) The social entrepreneur should be understood as someone who targets an unfortunate but stable equilibrium that causes the neglect, marginalization, or suffering of a segment of humanity; who brings to bear on this situation his or her inspiration, direct action, creativity, courage, and fortitude; and who aims for and ultimately affects the establishment of a new stable equilibrium that secures permanent benefit for the targeted group and society at large.
• Nichols , A. (2007) Social entrepreneurship entails innovations designed to explicitly improve societal well being, housed within entrepreneurial organizations which initiate, guide or contribute to change in society.
• PBS “The New Heroes” A social entrepreneur identifies and solves social problems on a large scale. Just as business entrepreneurs create and transform whole industries, social entrepreneurs act as the change agents for society, seizing opportunities others miss in order to improve systems, invent and disseminate new approaches and advance sustainable solutions that create social value.
• Schwab Foundation What is a Social Entrepreneur? A pragmatic visionary who achieves large scale, systemic and sustainable social change through a new invention, a different approach, a more rigorous application of known technologies or strategies, or a combination of these.
• Skoll Foundation The social entrepreneur as society’s change agent: a pioneer of innovation that benefits humanity. Social entrepreneurs are ambitious people with the qualities and behaviors we associate with the business entrepreneur but who operate in the community and are more concerned with caring and helping than “making money.”
mission driven, strategic, resourceful and results oriented.
People need meaning, the opportunity for mastery, and community to thrive. Creating opportunities for people to contribute, and to find their best selves is some of the most important work we can do.