Social Entrepreneurship

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Social entrepreneurship involves either businesses serving social ends, or social programs run in the manner of businesses.


"Social entrepreneurship involves either businesses serving social ends, or social programs run in the manner of businesses. The idea is to leverage business' unparalleled ability to get things done in order to serve needs which have traditionally been addressed solely through charity and governmental entitlements. Critics charge that this blurring of the boundary between profit- and change-making enterprises leads many funders and investors to commit category errors when judging social enterprises, often demeaning the true goals (poverty reduction, public health, etc.) when those goals prove resistant to business-modeled fixes, but such approaches have also, quite clearly, worked in a number of cases." (


Critique of social entrepreneurship:

Michael Edwards:

“Some critics seemed to have missed my strong acknowledgment that philanthrocapitalism should be able to expand important markets for socially- and environmentally-useful goods and services, perhaps strengthening non-profit service providers in the process. But by themselves these successes would have little impact on the forces that drive social transformation - namely politics, government and social movements strong enough to achieve broad-based changes in the distribution of power, resources and opportunities.

"You don't put band-aids on sucking chest wounds" as "Retired Marine" put it on the Wall Street Journal's blog. "Social enterprises do best when they identify one concrete need and meet it well", said another; "they are much less effective in tackling complicated issues where people disagree on what to do, or when the problem simply isn't fixable in the conventional sense of the word."

Other respondents questioned whether the philanthrocapitalists had ever intended to achieve deep-rooted structural changes in society, so it was unfair to judge them by this criterion. To "expect them to fund the loss of their own power is almost tragi-comic," a leading Indian fundraiser wrote in a confidential email.

Should philanthropy make up for the shortfalls of a system that is basically sound, or change that system in ways that enable the majority of the population to share in the fruits of success and become philanthropists themselves? Are "larger crumbs from the rich man's table" the best we can hope for in these enervated times? Is philanthrocapitalism really just trickle-down economics in a new and friendlier disguise?

After all, if business and the super-rich are serious about their social responsibilities there is plenty of work to be done in changing the way that wealth is produced and distributed without the smokescreen of philanthropy. Taking the right steps on wages, working conditions, benefits, consumer standards, tax obligations, political lobbying, monopolies and competition at the heart of business would have a huge social impact. As Daniel Lubetzky (a leading social entrepreneur himself) put it: "what most resonates with me about the unexamined ‘noise' surrounding philanthrocapitalism is that it is often used to mask dishonest or noxious behavior from corporations." (

Key Books to Read

  • How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas (2004). David Bornstein

The book that helped launch “social entrepreneurship” into the mainstream, “How to Change the World” provides fundamental background on the evolution of the field by profiling a number of innovative social entrepreneurs and the organizations like Ashoka that support them.

  • The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets that Change the World (2008). Pamela Hartigan and John Elkington

In some ways a natural evolution from the earlier How to Change the World, this work focuses more on the way that social entrepreneurs are tapping into the financial potential of the worlds poorest to create both economic and social value.

  • The Blended Value Map: Tracking the Intersects and Opportunities of Economic, Social and Environmental Value Creation (2004). Jed Emerson and Sheila Bonini

This essential and indispensable work situates social entrepreneurship and enterprise in the larger context of a growing conversation and collaboration between the traditional for-profit and nonprofit sectors.

  • Just Another Emperor? The Myths and Realities of Philanthrocapitalism (2008). Michael Edwards

Even the most ardent supporters of social entrepreneurship shouldn’t be intimidated by critique, and Edwards’ work – particularly on the potential negative consequences of viewing social

List from:

More Information

  1. Video: PBS New Heroes series on Social Entrepreneurs
  2. and are online communities dedicated to social entrepreneurship with interactive discussions, written features, and more.
  • social enterprise/entrepreneurship organizations:

  • social enterprise/entrepreneurship resources:

See Also

Social Entrepreneurs