Research on social entrepreneurship

Book: The Search for Social Entrepreneurship. Paul C. Light, Brookings Institution Press 2008

The author of a new book investigating the successes and failures of social enterpreneurship is interviewed by the Cause Global blog.

Excerpt with the first two questions:

Why did you write this book?

I’ve been monitoring management reform in nonprofits and government for some years now and the concept of social entrepreneurship is pretty visible through organizations such as Ashoka and Echoing Green; more and more of our students at the Wagner School are interested in starting their own nonprofits and solving big problems rather than ameliorating them. I wrote an article for the Stanford Social Innovation Review in 2006 that said there appeared to be a cult of personality surrounding the concept of social entrepreneurship; we have become fascinated with these individual heroes and we have been putting the focus on finding these sparkly charismatic leaders and funding them to pursue pattern-breaking change. I wrote that it’s not the hero we should be focused on. I said that social entrepreneurship can come from existing organizations and big old organizations as well as fresh startups. It provoked a pretty instant response from the field. I then continued to do research and then wrote this book to summarize what I was seeing.

What did you find?

The more I read, the more was I able to unpack the underlying broad assumptions that define social entrepreneurship as an effort to solve a tough social problem through innovative or pattern-breaking ideas. I have come to agree that there is something different about the social entrepreneur. But I also found plenty of examples suggesting that social entrepreneurship is not a singular—but a plural. By that I mean that many organizations pursue social entrepreneurship through partnerships and teams and through networks, and our tendency in conferences and fellowship programs is to reward the individual when, in fact, we might be better off rewarding the idea or the organization along with the individual. In fact, the lone wolf entrepreneur is fairly rare and they’re often less successful in bringing their ideas to fruition than groups and networks and even communities of individuals. At the same time, I no longer feel there’s this cult of personality. There really are individuals out there who pursue pattern-breaking change against the odds and we should look for both types of entrepreneurs.”

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