Social entrepreneurship: lessons from the US

We’ve written plenty about the impact that entrepreneurial behaviour can bring to the social sector, with contributions from pioneers such as Andrew Mawson and Richard Reed.

An interesting interview in this week’s Harvard Business School newsletter says that, beyond simply introducing business skills, entrepreneurialism needs to reinvent the social sector. Jane Wei-Skillern, co-author of  Entrepreneurship in the Social Sector, says:

"Our definition of social entrepreneurship extends beyond more narrow definitions of social entrepreneurship that simply apply business expertise and market-based skills to nonprofits. We believe that the opportunities and challenges in the field of social entrepreneurship require not only the creative combination and adaptation of social and commercial approaches, but also the development of new conceptual frameworks and strategies tailored specifically to social value creation."

One strong example is Guide Dogs for the Blind in the US, which used "an innovative network approach to achieve tremendous mission impact." In slightly less rarefied language, that means working with other not-for-profits, government agencies and private-sector bodies on an equal basis to get the job done. It’s all about advancing the mission, not the organisations.

In the UK, according to figures from the government’s 2005 Small Business Survey, there are 55,000 social enterprises with a combined annual turnover of £27bn. Social enterprises account for five per cent of all businesses with employees and contribute £8.4bn per year to the UK economy – almost one per cent of annual GDP. Thoughts here for a burgeoning sector…

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