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What is social entrepreneurship?

By Samantha Garner | November 10, 2018

social entrepreneurship

According to David Bornstein and Susan Davis in their book Social Entrepreneurship: What Everyone Needs to Know, social entrepreneurship can be defined 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, in order to make life better for many.”

The most popular definition of social entrepreneurship was offered by Greg Dees, who is often referred to as the father of social entrepreneurship education. Dees draws on the thinking of economists Jean-Baptiste Say and Joseph Schumpeter, who argued that entrepreneurs improve the productive capacity of society and provide the “creative destruction” that propels economic change. Dees holds that social entrepreneurs do the same for social change, creating new combinations of people and resources that significantly improve society’s capacity to address problems. Social entrepreneurs, he explains, create public value, pursue new opportunities, innovate and adapt, act boldly, leverage resources they don’t control, and exhibit a strong sense of accountability.

Is social entrepreneurship new?

Social entrepreneurs have always existed. In the past, they were called visionaries, humanitarians, philanthropists, reformers, saints, or simply great leaders. Attention was paid to their courage, compassion, and vision, but rarely to the practical aspects of their accomplishments. People may know about the moral teachings of St. Francis, but not that the Franciscans became the fastest-growing religious order of its day. Children learn that Florence Nightingale ministered to wounded soldiers, but not that she built the first professional school for nurses and revolutionized hospital construction. Gandhi is remembered for demonstrations of nonviolent resistance, but not for building a decentralized political apparatus that helped India make a successful transition to self-rule.

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