Key practitioners’ definitions of social entrepr – ise/eneur/eneurship: confused or intruigued?

Posted on May 9, 2011


so•cial en•tre•pre•neur•ship

Below are some definitions of social entrepreneurship (socent), the social entrepreneur and social enterprise from different key players within the field. If you have had it with definitions you can jump straight to the end of the post and read an interesting article on ‘social entrepreneurship revisited.’



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. Rather than leaving societal needs to the government or business sectors, social entrepreneurs find what is not working and solve the problem by changing the system, spreading the solution, and persuading entire societies to take new leaps.



Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE), Duke University

so•cial en•tre•pre•neur•ship

n. 1. Recognizing and resourcefully pursuing opportunities to create social value
2. Crafting innovative approaches to addressing critical social needs

Social entrepreneurship is the process of recognizing and resourcefully pursuing opportunities to create social value.

Social entrepreneurs are innovative, resourceful, and results oriented. They draw upon the best thinking in both the business and nonprofit worlds to develop strategies that maximize their social impact. These entrepreneurial leaders operate in all kinds of organizations: large and small; new and old; religious and secular; nonprofit, for-profit, and hybrid. These organizations comprise the “social sector”.



Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship

Social entrepreneurship is:

1) About applying practical, innovative and sustainable approaches to benefit society in general, with an emphasis on those who are marginalized and poor.

2) A term that captures a unique approach to economic and social problems, an approach that cuts across sectors and disciplines, grounded in certain values and processes that are common to each social entrepreneur, independent of whether his/ her area of focus has been education, health, welfare reform, human rights, workers’ rights, environment, economic development, agriculture, etc., or whether the organizations they set up are non-profit or for-profit entities.

3) It is this approach that sets the social entrepreneur apart from the rest of the crowd of well-meaning people and organizations who dedicate their lives to social improvement.

Social entrepreneurs drive social innovation and transformation in various fields including education, health, environment and enterprise development. They pursue poverty alleviation goals with entrepreneurial zeal, business methods and the courage to innovate and overcome traditional practices. A social entrepreneur, similar to a business entrepreneur, builds strong and sustainable organizations, which are either set up as not-for-profit or for-profit companies.

A social entrepreneur is a leader or 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.
  • Focuses first and foremost on the social and/or ecological value creation and tries to optimize the financial value creation.
  • Innovates by finding a new product, a new service, or a new approach to a social problem.
  • Continuously refines and adapts approach in response to feedback.
  • Combines the characteristics represented by Richard Branson and Mother Teresa.



Skoll Foundation

Social entrepreneurs are society’s change agents, creators of innovations that disrupt the status quo and transform our world for the better.



Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship

Social Entrepreneurship is the product of individuals, organisations, and networks that challenge conventional structures causing inadequate provision or unequal distribution of social and environmental goods by addressing  these failures and identifying new opportunities for better alternatives.

Social entrepreneurship is about innovative, market-oriented approaches underpinned by a passion for social equity and environmental sustainability. Ultimately, social entrepreneurship is aimed at transformational systems change that tackles the root causes of poverty, marginalization, environmental deterioration and accompanying loss of human dignity. The key concepts of social entrepreneurship are innovation, market orientation and systems change.

Social entrepreneurs are drivers of change. Together with institutions, networks, and communities, social entrepreneurs create solutions that are efficient, sustainable, transparent, and have measurable impact.



Social Enterprise Coalition

Social enterprises are businesses trading for social and environmental purposes. Many commercial businesses would consider themselves to have social objectives, but social enterprises are distinctive because their social and/or environmental purpose is absolutely central to what they do – their profits are reinvested to sustain and further their mission for positive change.

(..) The government defines social enterprises as “businesses with primarily social objectives whose surpluses are principally reinvested for that purpose in the business or in the community, rather than being driven by the need to maximise profit for shareholders and owners.



As earlier discussed there are still many definitions on social entrepreneurship, the social entrepreneur, social enterprises and social businesses – and where the distinctions are between them seems very vague, to say it mildly. Nevertheless, I find it relevant and interesting to pay attention to the different definitions and the differences between them, also as an indicator of the trends within the field and perhaps a hint or two on which directions it is moving.

If these definitions leave you more confused than intrigued or inspired – or you simply can’t get enough and want to know more – you can also read this interesting article from Stanford Social Innovation Review on social entrepreneurship by Paul Light, addressing some of the elements which differentiates this field from traditional entrepreneurship and business:

Social Entrepreneurship Revisited (July 7, 2009) | Stanford Social Innovation Review.