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ENTREPRENEURSHIP EXTENDS ITS INFLUENCE— THE RISE OF THE SOCIAL ENTREPRENEUR

The notion of social entrepreneurship is an emerging academic discipline challenged by competing and conflicting definitions, conceptual frameworks, and limited empirical evidence. It is clear that the process of entrepreneurship can be applied to the creation of economic as well as social goals. Indeed, the late Peter Drucker suggested that the entrepreneur always looks for change, responds to change elements, and exploits change as opportunities.51 This is regardless of whether the opportunity has commercial or social motivations. Traditionally, the focus of institutional entrepreneurship has been on for-profit entities, whereas the term social entrepreneurship has been used to describe activities with social purposes. However, in recent years, social entrepreneurs increasingly have been seen as individuals pursuing entrepreneurial (i.e., for-profit) activities with embedded social purposes.

Over the past decade, the discussion on social entrepreneurship, especially in the popular media and in the business press, has focused on the successes of high-profile business entrepreneurs. In 2006, for instance, Bill Drayton, founder of Ashoka, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to promoting and supporting social entrepreneurs, publicly proclaimed that social entrepreneurship has the capacity to spark a worldwide productivity miracle. Drayton's ideas have since enticed influential business individuals including eBay founder Jeff Skoll, who launched the Skoll Foundation with its focus on promoting social entrepreneurship.

So what exactly motivates social entrepreneurs? The Skoll Foundation describes these social entrepreneurs as individuals who are motivated by altruism and a profound desire to promote the development and growth of equitable civil societies who pioneer innovative, effective, and sustainable approaches to meet the needs of the marginalized, the disadvantaged, and the disenfranchised. As such, social entrepreneurs are the wellspring of a better future.52

The response from the academic community on the emergence of this new phenomenon has been less enthusiastic. Although scholars have examined and conceptualized social entrepreneurship, the field has remained immature and lacks depth, richness, and prescription.53

How can a social entrepreneur be defined? 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.54 More pragmatically, a social entrepreneur is an individual who recognizes a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to create a business venture in order to generate social change. Although a traditional business entrepreneur typically measures the success of his or her efforts in terms of profitability and return on investment (ROI), the social entrepreneur is interested in furthering social and environmental goals.

A debate over the exact definition of social entrepreneurship persists, reinforcing the need for a more constrained definition.25 It appears that the current literature lacks empirical evidence of the successes, scalability, and sustainability of social improvements. It has even been reported that the proliferation of new social entrepreneurial activities may actually create competition and inefficiencies in an already highly fragmented social sector.56

Social entrepreneurship has been studied and analyzed from three distinct approaches. The first approach views not-for-profit organizational entities as social entrepreneurships. The second approach, in contrast, focuses on how social entrepreneurship can be successful through profit mechanisms, and a third approach emphasizes and focuses on the social-change aspects of social entrepreneurship.5 7 Unambiguously, the latter view is comparable with a Schumpeterian perspective in that entrepreneurs are essentially agents of change.

Social Entrepreneurs—Past and Present

Interestingly, although the formal study of social entrepreneurship is relatively new, it must be clear that the notion of the social entrepreneur has existed throughout human history. Indeed, socially minded, entrepreneurially driven individuals whose tireless work typifies the concept of social entrepreneurship have literally changed the world. Some of them include the following:

Vinoba Bhave—Founder of India's land-gift movement;

Akhtar Hameed Khan—Pakistani founder of the grassroots movement for rural communities (i.e., Comilla model) and the low-cost sanitation program for squatter settlements (i.e., Orangi pilot project);

Maria Montessori—Italian founder and developer of the Montessori approach to early childhood education;

Florence Nightingale—English founder of the first nursing school and creator of modern-day nursing practices;

Robert Owen—Welsh founder of the worldwide cooperative movement; and

Friedrich Wilhelm Raiffeisen—German principal founder of the credit union and cooperative bank sectors now forming a major segment of the European banking system.

The endeavors of some (if not all) of these individuals have brought about deep societal impact and lasting change on a global scale. Equally important, the list of contemporary social entrepreneurs shows a rich diversity of individuals who have aspired and continue to tackle society's most pressing problems using creative and innovative entrepreneurial solutions.

The following snapshot is a small, incomplete overview:

Ibrahim Abouleish—Egyptian founder of SEKEM, a biodynamic agricultural firm, alternative medicine, and educational center based in Cairo.

Ela Bhatt—Indian founder of SEWA (self-employed women's association) and SEWA Bank.

Bill Drayton—American founder of Shoka, Youth Venture, and Get America Working!

Marian Wright Edelman—American founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund (CDF) and strong advocate for disadvantaged American children.

Jamie Oliver—English TV chef who campaigns to improve children's diet at schools. He also trains young people to become chefs. He founded a social enterprise, Fifteen, which employs newly trained youngsters.

Muhammad Yunus—Bangladeshi founder of the Grameen Bank and inventor of the microcredit, which earned him the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize.

Willie Smits—Indonesian founder of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation and founder and chairperson of the Masarang Foundation.

There are various debates over who does and who does not count as a social entrepreneur. For instance, some have advocated restricting the term to founders of organizations that rely upon earned income generated directly from paying customers. This is in contrast to others who have extended this by including incomes earned by contracting with public authorities, and yet others include receiving grants and donations as part of the social entrepreneurship model. Most fundamentally, discussions continue regarding the delineation between business entrepreneurship, with its focus on wealth creation and economic development, and social entrepreneurship with its emphasis on generating social capital and "making the world a better place."58

 
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