What is Social Entrepreneurship?

Social entrepreneurship is the process of recognizing and relentlessly 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."

Peter Drucker introduced the term “social sector” in Post-Capitalist Society when he discussed the need for a sector in addition to the “private sector” of business and the “public sector” of government to satisfy social needs and provide a meaningful sense of citizenship and community. For our purposes, social sector organizations include any organization whose primary goal is to create value that cannot be reduced to economic wealth for owners or consumption benefits for customers, whether it is related to the promotion of good for human society, animals, or the natural environment.

For a more in-depth discussion of social entrepreneurship, please download Professor Greg Dees's paper, The Meaning of Social Entrepreneurship.

What Social Entrepreneurship is NOT

At the same time that social entrepreneurship is gaining in popularity, many business leaders, business schools, and MBA students are increasingly interested in issues surrounding "corporate social responsibility," "sustainable enterprise," 'business ethics," or "social impact management." While at times complementary, we see these topics as distinct from social entrepreneurship and do not focus on them as part of CASE's primary activities. For a thoughtful discussion of the relationship between social entrepreneurship and social impact management, see Mary Gentile's paper for the Aspen Institute's Initiative for Social Innovation through Business (ISIB): Social Impact Management and Social Enterprise: Two Sides of the Same Coin or a Totally Different Currency?

In the nonprofit sector, many people also consider social entrepreneurship, or social enterprise, to refer exclusively to income generating nonprofit activities, quite often in the form of nonprofit business ventures. While the adoption of earned income strategies is certainly a popular trend within the field of social entrepreneurship, and a tool used by many social entrepreneurs, CASE does not espouse this narrow definition of social entrepreneurship and rather focuses more broadly on innovative, resourceful, and opportunity-oriented responses to social issues, problems, and challenges. We see social entrepreneurship not as a specific tool, method or type of program, but rather as an approach to creating social value that embraces the fundamental principles of entrepreneurship.