Javier Monllor, University of Illinois at Chicago
Social entrepreneurship practice has progressed immensely in the last 30 years. Close to 80 million adults (Drucker 1989) work for nearly 2 million citizen sector organizations of which 70 percent were established in the last 30 years (Davis 2002). There has been a 40 percent increase in their number in the last decade (Johnson 2000), 5 percent more than new business formation (Austin et al. 2006). Sensing the need to educate this new wave of social entrepreneurs, programs catering to the education of social entrepreneurs have begun to emerge in major and elite universities such as Columbia, Harvard, Yale, Duke and others.
The growth and evolution of social entrepreneurship has created a new wave of hybrid organizations, termed social purpose business ventures (Hockerts 2006), that combine aspects of both non-profit and for-profit ventures. These hybrid organizations have a mission to create both economic and social value and are therefore no longer at opposite ends of a continuum. This in turn has made it difficult for researchers to catalogue social entrepreneurship and to find the defining characteristics that differentiate it from business entrepreneurship. To try and differentiate the two, some researchers have singled out entrepreneurial motives while others use the priority that is given to the created value (social or economic).
Opportunity recognition is widely recognized as a central and defining aspect of entrepreneurship (Shane and Venkataraman 2000; Zahra and Dess 2001) and although it has also been acknowledged as an important part of the social entrepreneurship process (Dees et al. 2002; Seelos and Mair 2005; Thompson 2002; Thompson et al. 2000) researchers in this area have largely ignored the opportunity recognition process of social entrepreneurs.
Embracing opportunity recognition opens the door for cross-fertilization between social and business entrepreneurship and provides researchers with a discernible roadmap to follow. Some questions that researchers should be asking are: How are social opportunities created, how do social entrepreneurs recognize opportunities, why do they recognize different opportunities from business entrepreneurs, how are these opportunities evaluated and exploited and what type of value is created from different opportunities?
In the following sections, this paper will analyze where social opportunities come from and how the concept and study of the discovery, evaluation and exploitation of social entrepreneurial opportunities can have a positive impact on the social entrepreneurship field. It is our hope that it will open the discussion of social opportunity recognition, initiate future research opportunities for the field and will attempt to establish social opportunity recognition as a differentiating characteristic between the two types of entrepreneurship.
Development of Social Entrepreneurship Research
Social entrepreneurship is not a new phenomenon and examples of early social entrepreneurship exist in the literature, including Florence Nightingale (pioneer of modern nursing), abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison (Drayton 2002) and the creation of Victorian private hospitals (Thompson et al. 2000). Still, there is no denying that compared to business entrepreneurship, it is still in its infancy. However, compelling evidence points to the fact that this development gap that separates the two types of entrepreneurship is closing. Just as in business, the social arena is now headed by “independent, competitive citizen created and citizen-run organizations”. (Drayton 2002).
Peter Drucker was one of the first to notice this transition from early bureaucratic and monopolistic to “entrepreneurial, competitive and innovative social organizations” (Drayton 2002). In an article...