Social Entrepreneurship

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Rose Spiegel
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5.7.13

Everyone describes social entrepreneurship differently. While many have been able to describe the traits and features of a social entrepreneur there doesn’t seem at all to be a consensus about the definition of what constitutes the field of social entrepreneurship. Susan Davis and David Bornstein in their book, Social Entrepreneurship: What Everyone Needs to Know define social entrepreneurship as “a process by which citizens build or transform institutions to advance solutions to social problems such as poverty, illness, illiteracy, environmental destruction, human rights abuses and corruption (1). The NYU Reynolds Program defines it differently saying “Social entrepreneurship is a form of leadership that maximizes the social return on efforts to change the world while fundamentally and permanently changing the way problems are addressed on a global scale” while the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at The University of Oxford defines social entrepreneurship as the “practice of combining innovation, resourcefulness and opportunity to address critical social and environmental challenges.” And the variation continues. Throughout the past six and a half semesters at Gallatin I have found that this wide array of definitions for the term “social entrepreneurship” while challenging in determining my course study, has allowed me to see the ways in which social entrepreneurship can be applied outside of its commonly accepted framework of mission driven for-profit organizations. The amorphous boundaries of the field of social entrepreneurship are not like those of the traditional public, private and citizen sector, which are more distinctly defined by purpose as well as legal structure. Social entrepreneurship can encompass organizations and work in all three of these domains. This leaves room for cross-sector cooperation, the sharing of resources (whether its human capital, social capital, financial capital etc.) and more flexibility all in the name of achieving a social good. This lack of clarity about where business, government, and non-profits stop and social entrepreneurship begins allows us to deem everyone from Mohammed Yunis to Florence Nightingale to be a social entrepreneur and their work, whether providing financial services to the poor or developing universally accepted nursing practices, to be social entrepreneurship. Unfortunately though, the undefined nature of social entrepreneurship may inhibit our ability to understand, monitor and learn from the field. In their piece “Social Entrepreneurship: The Case for a Definition,” Roger Martin and Sally Osberg say, “The field of social entrepreneurship has become so inclusive that it now has an immense tent into which all manner of socially benefitted activities fit” (30). They, like many others, argue that this immense tent obscures our ability to understand social entrepreneurship and what it is doing to achieve their social good. This lack of “rigorous” definition no doubt make it difficult to truly understand the reason why social entrepreneurship is being touted as a superior alternative to traditional social service models. Furthermore, the lack of a “rigorours” definition no doubt make it difficult to truly understand the reasons why social entrepreneurship is being touted as a superior alternative to traditional social service models. Furthermore, the lack of concrete and widely accepted definition prevents us from determining the true potential of social entrepreneurship to redefine the way we make social change. Martin and Oberg suggest that we narrow our criteria for what can be considered social entrepreneurship and many others agree. But this too poses a risk. The risk of defining social entrepreneurship too narrowly is that it too has the ability to obscure the fields’ value, but in a different way. If we choose to declare that only those organizations that are for-profit enterprises with social missions can qualify as...
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