Value creation, a sustainable firm or venture philanthropy?

What is social entrepreneurship? Definitions vary widely

A family pump a well for fresh water near their home in the Samburu National Reserve, Kenya

What is social entrepreneurship? The past decade has seen a growing interest in the subject and MBA programmes that include an element of social ntrepreneurship are on the rise. But what exactly constitutes a social entrepreneur? While some describe it as doing good while making a profit, others place it firmly in the not-for-profit sector.

● “Social entrepreneurship describes an activity which I would choose to call venture philanthropy – focusing on an issue to be solved using systematic, robust business practices to achieve measurable sustained results. This process also relies on research that both draws from and informs “on the ground” practice. Continuous feedback helps to bring about results.”

Robert King, founding donor, with Dorothy King, of the Stanford Institute for Innovation in Developing Economies and the Thrive Foundation for Youth

● “Social entrepreneurship is entrepreneurship carried out for societal benefit. Social entrepreneurs are every bit as innovative, disciplined and driven as business entrepreneurs, but their ventures focus on solving entrenched social problems: poverty, environmental degradation, lack of access to healthcare, inadequate education and more. Just as entrepreneurship helps advance economic progress, so social entrepreneurship moves humanity in the direction of a more peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world.”

Jeff Skoll, philanthropist, former president of eBay, social entrepreneur and founder and chairman of the Skoll Foundation

● “Social entrepreneurship is the process of pursuing sustainable and innovative solutions to neglected problems in society. Social entrepreneurs can adopt for-profit or non-profit models and create new ventures or work within existing organisations. What distinguishes social entrepreneurship from commercial entrepreneurship is that the goal of value creation is more important than the goal of value capture. This allows social entrepreneurs to tackle difficult issues, where markets have failed, and adopt open business models based on empowerment.”

Filipe Santos, director of the Rudolf and Valeria Maag Insead Centre for Entrepreneurship and academic director of the social entrepreneurship initiative

● “Society’s dilemmas provide ample social and commercial opportunities. Social entrepreneurs identify these dilemmas and come up with solutions through social and market-based businesses. Social entrepreneurs are the new designers of value in a market-based economy.”

Cheryl Kiser, executive director of the Lewis Institute & Babson Social Innovation Lab

● “Social entrepreneurship is the practice of harnessing innovative solutions, business skills and market disciplines to tackle pressing social challenges. It occurs in the public, private and non-profit sectors.”

Tony Sheldon, executive director of the Program on Social Enterprise, Yale School of Management

● “Social entrepreneurship is where social good meets innovation and the pragmatic visionary meets the idealist engineer. Social entrepreneurship is bold and risky, but hardly foolhardy. Systemic disruption at its best, social entrepreneurship upends assumptions to allow for breakthrough and sustainable impact.”

Kristin Lindsey, chief executive, The Global Fund for Children

● “A financially sustainable firm that generates public value: environmental, social or otherwise.”

Guy Pfeffermann, founder and chief executive of the Global Business School Network

● “Social entrepreneurship is the process of pursuing innovative approaches to social problems. More specifically, social entrepreneurs adopt a mission to create and sustain social value. They relentlessly pursue opportunities to serve this mission, while continuously adapting and learning. Social entrepreneurs act boldly, not constrained by resources currently in hand. They hold themselves accountable for achieving the social mission and use resources wisely. They draw upon the best thinking in both the business and non-profit worlds and operate in all kinds of organisations: large and small, new and old, religious and secular, non-profit, for-profit, and hybrid.”

Greg Dees, professor of the practice of social entrepreneurship, Fuqua School, Duke University

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