Define Social Entrepreneurs by Their Impact, Not Their Income Strategy

Friday, July 20, 2012

After decades of frustrating setbacks, scientists at CERN think they have found the Higgs boson particle — a breakthrough success after $12 billion of research funding and smashing particles into each other in all imaginable ways. A few days ago, my colleague Amy Clark argued that there is a lesson about collaboration to be learned. I will use this discovery to argue that there is also an important insight for funders of social innovation.

The CERN research shows us that definitions are never more than hypotheses until an innovator thinks outside of the box. This is also the case in the field of social innovation, where experts and academics have struggled to define “social entrepreneurship” ever since the term was coined 30 years ago. Just like scientific research, social innovation often defies funders’ rigid definitions and expectations.

Many of the funders who have entered the burgeoning field of social entrepreneurship in recent years come from a background of commercial finance, and naturally they favor definitions focusing on the social ventures’ ability to repay investments. Some have gone so far as to suggest we can only fund the solutions to the world’s toughest social problems if we go leave philanthropy behind and tap into fantastic sums of capital ($500 billion, according to a Monitor study) by making profitable investment propositions.

Source: Forbes (link opens in a new window)

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