A Google search of “social entrepreneurship definition” produces the following:
Social entrepreneurship is the work of a social entrepreneur. A social entrepreneur is someone who recognizes a social problem and uses entrepreneurial principles to organize, create, and manage a venture to make social change (source)
(Social Entrepreneur) “A non-profit manager with a background in social work, community development, or business who pursues a vision of economic empowerment through the creation of social purpose businesses intended to provide expanded opportunity for those on the margins.” (source)
(social entrepreneurs) Individuals who engage in social enterprise and draw upon the best thinking in both the business and nonprofit worlds in order to advance their social agenda. (source)
An entrepreneur who engages in business seeking both financial and social return. (source)
The formation of new enterprises or ventures with the purpose of addressing a social problem or causing social change, often, but not always, in the form of a nonprofit or citizens’ organization. (source)
Hmm…Usually when there is no agreed upon definition of a term, that term holds little value. Not having a concrete definition for a word or a set of words causes confusion, which can lead to some serious problems when the tasks at hand are quite important. (How many people actually understood what was being said around Wall Street in 2008?) So, it’s concerning to me that something as ubiquitous as “social entrepreneurship” can’t hold up to something as simple as a Google search.
I am constantly confronted by similar lackadaisical use of language on blogs, reports, interviews or articles related to social change. What may be one person’s “nonprofit” is another’s “community-based organization” or “foundation.” What is one’s “social enterprise” is another’s “for-profit social venture” or “business-minded not-for-profit.” “Social innovation” can summarize anything from a nonprofit creating a revenue stream to an investor’s concern about working conditions to a tech company developing an app that helps find out where your food came from.
On UnSectored, we aim to be as concise and clear in our language as possible. Jargon has its place, and can save time amongst people who agree on the commonly-held definitions, but it can also lead to confusion and distract from important inconsistencies about what is being talked about. To make things as clear as possible, I will lay out some common terms you’ll find on this blog, and their definitions as we see them. Laura expounded on the definition of infrapreneur yesterday, and today I’ll lay out some more. We will try to stick to these definitions as much as possible, but, as with anything, no meaning is set in stone.
- Nonprofit: Any organization that does not distribute surplus funds to its owners or shareholders, but uses funds to accomplish its goals in serving the public good, as defined by the US IRS Tax Code.. (For more information on nonprofits, read the Wikipedia entry on “US Charitable Organizations.”)
- For-profit: Any organization that distributes its surplus funds to its shareholders or owners.
- Social Enterprise: Any type of organization with a focus on solving societal problems. Interchangeable with Social Venture.
- Social Entrepreneurship: Social entrepreneurship is the work of a social entrepreneur. A social entrepreneur is someone who recognizes a social problem and uses best practices to effectively work to solve this problem sustainably and for the long-term.
- Impact Investment: A capital market comprised of investments focused on creating social as well as financial returns.
- Philanthropy: A capital market comprised of donated, tax-deductible funds, which are focused at solving long-term societal problems.
- Charity: A capital market comprised of donated, tax-deductible funds, which are focused at alleviating immediate societal needs.
- Social Change: The creation of positive developments in a society, or a sub-set of society, that makes life for a majority of individuals better, and leaves few worse off, or a plurality only slightly worse off.
- Social Innovation: (see innovation)
- Sustainability: The ability for an organization, community, or individual, to function indefinitely in an equilibrium-like state, without negatively affecting its surroundings. When applied to products, activities, or initiatives, this refers to the ability of that product, activity, or initiative to create a more sustainable organization, community, or individual.
- Unsectored: The process of moving past sectoral definitions to collaborate more effectively for social change….Or….Blending ideas from each sector to deal with social problems in innovative ways…Or…A “meta-sector” of sorts that encompasses all activity related to changing society and spurring progress. (Hmm…we might have some work to do to nail this one down. Will you help us?)
The “social change” sector is constantly evolving, as are the terms to describe it. The more we can talk about these definitions and formalize them, the better we will be at the work we do. What else do you think should be up there? Do you disagree with any of these definitions?
Photo credit: Howard Lake