Has there been too much air in the social entrepreneurship balloon?

Posted on September 28, 2011


“Has the social entrepreneurship field come through the trough of disillusionment”, Nathaniel Whittemore asks in a blog post at change.org.

There certainly has been the hype, where the concept of social entrepreneurship was the buzz of the time. There was perhaps a little too much air in the social entrepreneurship balloon at some point, and too little evidence that this phenomenon was becoming as widespread as the discourse would suggest. In the light of the immense expectations, some disillusionment seems to have followed. Making it as a social entrepreneur is not easy, and many struggle with the financial model behind the venue, forcing them to stay in income generating jobs on the side or cut down on social projects. In some societies the social entrepreneurs even face tremendous risk and threats. The framework conditions for starting a social enterprise aren’t exactly ideal; for example investment firms and the business world in general have far from all joined the social entrepreneurship hype-party. They have by and large not been convinced that this is a party for them take part in.

Yet, as Whittemore writes, “the good news is what comes after the trough of disillusionment. It is the “slope of enlightenment,” when the new technology begins to have figured out enough about how it intersects with the real world — outside the hype cycle —  to actually get traction and change things in a meaningful way.

It is as if there are two sides to the social entrepreneurship field – the hyped part of talk and buzz, definitions, debates, tweets and chats; and then the people out in the field, just doing their stuff. I am certain that there are many social entrepreneurs out there doing great work, far from the bubble of hype, probably wondering what all the buzz is about. The buzz is not in vain though, it served a purpose – it gathered people, unified people, gave rise to debate, discussions, research, innovative problem-solving and agenda-setting, and continue to do so. It is hard to say exactly where we are at the slope of the hype cycle of emerging technology, but it seems that the two worlds of social entrepreneurship not only are approaching each other, but they have also enhanced one another.

Whittemore concludes: “ I’m not sure whether we’re through the trough of disillusionment or not. This field feels like its starting to get past its own hype, there’s more and more doing (although also still a lot of talking) and I think that’s positive. Only time will tell where we go next, but if there is something of a diminished hype, I think it’s a positive and necessary step toward a field fully unleashed”.

Through the disillusionment or not, the most relevant question is, where will it go next? And what is in the highest good for our societies? I wonder in whose court the ball is in.

Read his full blog post here.