Defining Social Entrepreneurship: What’s in and what’s out (but still good)

At the Social Entrepreneurship Summit held earlier this week, we used this definition as our starting point: “Social entrepreneurs are motivated by attacking an unmet social need through innovation that is sustainable and scalable” – and there was little debate about this, which is interesting for such a nascent field. How did we get inter-subjective agreement on what this term meant and why didn’t we get fixated on other denotations for this modification to the innovative spirit that makes a nation economically successful?

In management, defining specific outcomes improves the probability of managing successfully towards results. Part of this is having role and task clarity, but underlying these two is having a fundamental strategy or direction in place. For social entrepreneurs, they have a specific social mission that necessarily incorporates a sustainable set of business practices. One needs the other hence the double or triple bottom line.

One of the primary objectives of the summit, beyond engaging in a productive dialogue, was to dub and celebrate the Canadian Social Entrepreneur of the Year, sponsored by the Schwab Foundation in Geneva. I can tell you that the selection process was very rigorous and had specific decision criteria. And this is by necessity; with so many people doing great things in the world it becomes imperative to define the criteria for what makes a social entrepreneur versus a good citizen, or one who adopts socially responsible business practices. The trick is that these terms are not mutually exclusive and often complementary.

For deeper reading on the case for defining social entrepreneurship, I direct you to this great article from the Stanford Social Innovation Review: