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Social Entrepreneurship. What does it mean and how useful is the concept?. Idealisation.

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social entrepreneurship

Social Entrepreneurship

What does it mean and how useful is the concept?

  • ‘too few men and women here in Britain - a third less than the proportion in the US - have started or grown a business or become self-employed and so it is time to remove the financial, cultural and other barriers to enterprise so that in Britain starting a business becomes the ambition not just of an elite few but of many …the greatest constraint on the growth of Britain's productivity and prosperity today is now our failure to realise the educational and entrepreneurial potential of our own people’.
  • Gordon Brown, Mansion House speech 2002
and social entrepreneurs
And Social Entrepreneurs?
  • Social entrepreneurship is not a new phenomenon. Whilst it may represent a newly coined term, it is hardly a novel concept. Innovative individuals and enterprising groups have been addressing social issues for centuries, as is demonstrated by the activities of extraordinary public innovators such as Florence Nightingale, Susan B. Anthony, and Mahatma Gandhi, as well as the collective efforts of groups like the Rochdale Pioneers, the Tolpuddle Martyrs and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
a typical example of blurring
A typical example of blurring

In these examples, the individual or groups acted as catalysts challenging the status quo by identifying an apparently insoluble social problem and tackling it with tenacity and vision. Their outstanding leadership towards a social end and their ability to see opportunities where others saw only hurdles further single out these charismatic figures.

(Nicholls, 2005: 2).

what do people really think
What do people really think?

The entrepreneur as defined by British TV comedies: a study in semiotics and iconography: 'understanding the entrepreneur as socially constructed'.

Smith, R. (2006), ‘Towards a More Mature Entrepreneurial Iconology’, paper presented to the 29th ISBE conference in Cardiff, 31 Oct. to 2 Nov.

aren t they all crafty cockneys
Aren’t they all ‘crafty cockneys’?
  • What can we say about education and class?
  • Popular image is associated with London
  • Conflation between enterprise and criminality?
  • Link between the icon of the entrepreneur and the barrow boy
how useful is the management literature

How useful is the management literature?

Burns, P. (2001), Entrepreneurship and Small Business (Basingstoke: Palgrave)

Attribute Manifestation (mainstream economy)
  • Independence Individualism
  • Achievement Profitability and longevity of business; growth
  • Profit drive Maximum financial return
  • Risk-taking Borrowing money; moving into new


  • Opportunism Identifying new sectors
  • Innovation Exploring new technologies or

management techniques

  • Confidence Ability to ‘go it alone’ sometimes

against expert advice

  • Energy Willingness to work long hours, travel widely
  • Self-motivation Creating own job rather than seeking

work through application

  • Vision Forseeing future business


Attribute Manifestation (sustainable economy)
  • Independence Insulation of community against

destructive forces of globalisation

  • Achievement Sustainability
  • Profitability Sufficient surplus to ensure

continuation of business activity

  • Risk-taking Balancing job survival against


  • Opportunism Identifying new sectors
  • Innovation Exploring new forms of organization


  • Confidence Based on mutual support
  • Energy Willingness to work long hours
  • Self-motivation Based on mutual support
  • Vision Foreseeing and envisioning

environmental sustainability

Williams, C. C. (2006), The Hidden Enterprise Culture: Entrepreneurship in the Underground Economy (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar), chap. 2.
  • Three classic requirement of the entrepreneur are:
  • to prioritise the accumulation of money;
  • to spot opportunities;
  • to innovate.

The inadequacy of the standard view is demonstrated by the need to develop sub-categories.

defining social entrepreneurship
Defining social entrepreneurship
  • Entrepreneurs are ‘change agents in the economy. By serving new markets or creating new ways of doing things, they move the economy forward’ (Dees, 1998).
  • Social entrepreneurship reaches the parts of society other policy initiatives do not reach, that social entrepreneurs are unsung heroes and alchemists with magical qualities who can build things from nothing (Dees, 2004).
  • This is largely proselytising—and coming from US.
  • Issue of ownership and control ignored
us definition of dees
US definition of Dees
  • Focus of literature on individual characteristics of people involved in the social economy.
  • Begins with market-based entrepreneurs who “mobilize the resources of others to achieve their entrepreneurial objectives”.
  • The social entrepreneur can therefore be defined as someone who acts as a “change agent in the social sector” by:
    • Adopting a mission
    • Pursuing new opportunities to achieve that mission
    • Continually innovating, adapting and learning
    • Avoiding limitations of current resources
    • Being concerned with accountability to their clients and community
policy focus on development of social capital
Policy focus on development of social capital
  • Provision of work and through such activity empowering people to build up their ‘social capital’
  • Scottish Executive emphasises this role without exploring the definition or usage of the concept
  • Social economy and social enterprise strategies are directed at providing products, services and employment to deprived regions and areas
  • Supposed to assist in producing regional sustainability in ‘weak’ development terms relating to economic growth and ‘strong’ development terms in relation to social cohesion
is it an individual decision
Is it an individual decision?
  • A paper on the characteristics of the entrepreneurial personality (Littunen, 2000) that has, in its published electronic form, been downloaded more than any other in the Emerald system, begins by stating that ‘Starting up a new firm is very much an individual decision’, a conclusion which it is the central purpose of this paper to challenge
associative entrepreneurship
‘Associative entrepreneurship’?
  • Based on mutual values
  • Involves the sharing of skills by groups of individuals to achieve the best outcomes for those in their group and the wider community
  • Central role of ownership and control
  • Particularly relevant in areas that have historically been dominated by nationalized industries and/or single employers, or where there has been a strong radical tradition?
  • Prototypical example: co-operatively-owned coal-mine Tower Colliery in the South Wales Valleys.
do social entrepreneurs wish to be identified by this label
Do Social Entrepreneurs wish to be identified by this label?
  • What do you tell people you do?
  • Obviously, I’m a mother! [giggle] I don’t know really. Depends on my mood. I don’t mention that I’m married to a vet – ever! because then they want to pull in the favours. If I’m on my own, that’s the last thing I mention. I just say I work for the credit union, you know. I don’t like titles and things…
  • How do you feel about the term social entrepreneur?
  • No, I don’t see myself as an entrepreneur.
  • Why not?
  • I just don’t! [giggle] I don’t know, I’d have to think about that.
  • What springs to mind when you hear the term social entrepreneur?
  • um…making things up, making it a success, you know, out of nothing and then you make this big thing, and help people basically.

Howorth, C., Parkinson, C. and Coupland, C. (2006), ‘Resisting the Identity of Social Entrepreneur’, paper presented to the 29th ISBE conference in Cardiff, 31 Oct.

  • There was a great deal of resistance to the label of social entrepreneur. Overall, only two responded positively to the label and they treated their public acceptance of it with some caution. Some of the participants avoided the word ‘social’ in association with ‘entrepreneur’ as if the two did not go together. The vehement rejection of the term social entrepreneur by over half the participants is notable. Explanations might include a greater affinity with the community collective and seeing entrepreneurs as individuals; viewing entrepreneurs as heroic ‘other’ people; not associating with the popular myth of entrepreneurship. Alternative identities that emerged were around community activists, managers and caretakers.
questions to think about
Questions to think about
  • Is the label ‘entrepreneur’ attractive or unattractive?
  • Is the term ‘social entrepreneur’ helpful or unhelpful to those actually out there, doing it?
  • Is the icon and reputation of the entrepreneur limiting economic growth and/or social benefit?