Sunday, March 18, 2012

What is Social Entrepreneurship?

Social entrepreneurship, like smurf before it, runs the risk of meaning too much, of being thrown willy-nilly into sentences where more common words would do. So it’s understandable that those who care about these things would want to define it. Roger Martin and Sally Osberg do in their SSI Review article, and have rescued the term by distinguishing it from both social activism (the indirect things we do to improve or change the system) and social service (the ways we improve things through the system). What we end up with is a grandiose definition that would apply mostly to the titans of the nonprofit world. Simply put, social entrepreneurs are those who are successful at using direct action to create systemic, lasting change that results in the betterment of a lot of lives (think Muhammad Yunus, the guy who made microcredit a household word).

That’s a pretty high bar for Joe Nonprofit to jump over. So assuming our goals are a little more modest, what can we take from this? I think the concept might be helpful simply for orienting us towards entrepreneurship. By adopting the spirit and processes of entrepreneurship, we will be looking for opportunities to implement status quo-defying innovation, which, even if it fails to change the game, can help us find new ways to serve our constituents. And before we defy the status quo, we have to recognize it. So perhaps we can adopt a bit of that (social) entrepreneurial spirit just by stepping back, getting outside our bubbles, and seeing with fresh eyes the ways in which business as usual just isn’t cutting it. Once we’ve recognized those opportunities, we can smurf in ways that will genuinely impact our community.

Jonathan Wadley is the founder of America for Animals, an organization dedicated to making our communities more humane. He thinks that he is a social entrepreneur but isn’t entirely sure.

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