Social Entrepreneurship – Now is the Time

Social entrepreneurship is a major area of interest in many social and civic organizations and has a significant impact on many areas of society. During the past decade economic resources have become more difficult to acquire and society has continued to exhibit economic and cultural decline. Concurrently, communities are in need of initiatives that will enhance their financial viability and programs that will enhance the overall viability of the population.

Social entrepreneurship initiatives are ventures that can serve as a method of increasing the social value of a community, organization or cause while enhancing the financial viability of a not-for-profit organization. With this being stated, social entrepreneurship has been defined in different ways by many different theorists. Gary McPherson, Executive Administrator of the Canada Centre for Social Entrepreneurship, states that social entrepreneurship involves various individuals working toward meeting social and economic goals simultaneously; while Bill Drayton, CEO of Ashoka, defines social entrepreneurship as a term coined to describe “individuals who combine the pragmatic and results oriented methods of a business entrepreneur with the goals of social reform.”

A more basic definition of social entrepreneurship states that it is “the process of using entrepreneurial and business skills to create innovative approaches to social problems.” Therefore, it is a methodology that is presently being used to resolve community and societal concerns globally. Social entrepreneurship as an area of specialized entrepreneurship is not defined by the same titling in every culture. For example, in Latin America countries social entrepreneurship initiatives are referred to as “Micro Enterprise.” In India the same program would be identified as a “Social Mission.” Though termed differently in various regions, social entrepreneurship initiatives are being implemented to solve specific societal and community concerns by focusing on the needs and resource availability within specific geographic regions.

Social Entrepreneurship in Education Throughout the United States, many top tertiary level academic institutions are enhancing their business programs by including a curriculum that caters to the study of social entrepreneurship. In 2003, the Center for Responsible Business was launched on the University of California Berkley Campus. This subsidiary of the Haas School of Business was implemented with the intent of training students to be more principled and socially responsible members of society through attending “the preeminent educational institution in area of Corporate Social Responsibility.” Stanford University also has established a Center for Social Innovation as a part of its graduate school of business. This center was founded with the mission to “build and strengthen the capacity of individuals and organizations to develop innovative solutions to social problems for a more just, sustainable and healthy world.”

In 1993, Harvard Business School started its social enterprise program with its mission of “generating and sharing knowledge to help individuals and organizations to create social value in the not-for-profit, private and public sectors,” and the University of Miami has refocused its business school curriculum to include coursework in the areas of ethical-decision making, social entrepreneurship and community engagement with the primary focus being to expose students to various areas of civic engagement while concurrently teaching them leadership and team building skills.

Tertiary level institutions, including Duke, which has established a Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship as part of its Fuqua School of Business, and Columbia University where the research initiative on social entrepreneurship is embedded in its school of business, have also made strides to enhance the study and education of those seeking to venture into areas of social entrepreneurship and social venture implementation. The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business-International (AACSB – International) has identified over twenty-four tertiary level institutions that have included social entrepreneurship as a part of their business college and or business curriculums.

With social entrepreneurship being perceived by many as a new way of stimulating social change, Idee Winfield believes that the implementation of community-focused service learning projects is the first step in exposing youth to the various attributes associated with social entrepreneurship. Through community involvement, youth will begin to visualize and experience the various social issues within their community and envision ways to solve these problems. Winfield states that social entrepreneurship should be promoted in primary and secondary education, and coursework should be adjusted to allow students to “see how abstract socially focused concepts can have real world applicability.” Jeffrey Soderborg, a member of the Kauffman Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership Clearinghouse on Entrepreneurship Education, is also an ardent proponent of social venture education who believes that social entrepreneurship would be more readily accepted if youth were exposed to information expounding the laurels of these initiatives during their primary and secondary academic years.

As youth expand their horizons through the establishment of entrepreneurial efforts, knowledge and exposure to information about the process involved in the establishment of entrepreneurial business effectively plays a major role in the rate at which business entities are established. A study focusing on entrepreneurial interests among black youth ages 14 to 19 identified that 75% of the youth surveyed had interest in becoming entrepreneur. The study also found that these minority youth believed that more information about entrepreneurship should be presented through their schools. They also believed that entrepreneurs have a responsibility to reinvest in their community.

Corporate Social Responsibility

Personal values often serve as the justification for entrepreneurs to focus organizational efforts on socially focused ventures. The organizational decision to forgo pursuing financial gain with the intent of using the corporations’ profit resources to enhance a community is often referred to corporate social entrepreneurship. Corporate Social Entrepreneur (CSE) is a term used to describe corporate initiatives whose primary focus is to enhance a social concern and whose secondary focus is financial gain. The corporate social entrepreneur differs from the financial profit seeking entrepreneur in the area of decisions made that affect the community and environment in which their organization functions. Research identified that in corporate social entrepreneurship business acumen serves as a factor in the success or failure of social venture initiative implementation. Research identifies that success factors associated with the implementation of social responsibility initiatives were linked to whether the entrepreneur exhibits behavior that is moral, amoral or immoral.

The amoral entrepreneur would pursue initiatives only if they were deemed acceptable by the organization as a whole. The immoral entrepreneur implements initiatives based on what can be potentially gained for self as well as for the stakeholders, while the moral entrepreneur would pursue social responsibility initiatives based on what was in the best interest of the organization. Individuals identified as corporate social entrepreneurs are individuals who are more active in community activities and are actively involved in social responsibility efforts. Corporate social entrepreneurs also are more likely to implement social responsibility initiatives based on an organization’s long term objectives.

While many corporations are looking for ways to increase their social responsibility efforts, in some regions corporate responsibility efforts are not progressing. A policy paper, “Corporate Social Responsibility in Latin America and the Caribbean,” documented that corporate social responsibility activity in this region has “stalled.” The reason for stagnation in this region is “minimal government involvement” and the lack of “private sector involvement.” It was also identified that initiatives to implement programs focusing on social responsibility are often initiated outside of the market, and then subsequently not embraced by stakeholders who reside within this geographic region.

Corporations are continually looking for ways to increase corporate advantage through their social responsibility efforts. While proponents of corporate social responsibility believe that corporations are obligated morally to engage in efforts to enhance social, community and environmental concerns, many stakeholders believe that social involvement should only be initiated if the efforts are going to strengthen the organization’s image, brand, moral or stock value. With this in mind, corporations have separated social issues into specific categories.

These categories are social concerns that are general, social concerns that are value chain based and concerns that focus on social dimensions of competitive contrast. Generic social issues are identified as social concerns that do not directly affect the company’s operation and do not have an effect on a company’s competitive advantage. Corporations are least likely to get involved or invest in projects that focus in these areas because they will not receive a high value of return on their involvement. Value Chain Social Impact issues can significantly affect a company’s operation and can have an impact on the way a company conducts business. Corporations are more likely to be involved in value chain concerns, but only after conducting due diligence studies to ensure that a return on investment will be achieved over time.

Social issues that affect a company’s financial profitability or serve to enhance or increase a company’s competitive edge are likely to be areas that a company will invest in because of the direct impact that these initiatives will have on the company’s overall viability and stability. An example of a social dimension projects is General Electric’s investment in under-performing high schools throughout the country. General Electric believes that through investing financial and professional resources in under-performing high schools in areas where they have substantial financial investment, they are investing in enhancing a community, as well as directly increasing their future employment prospects.

Whole Foods Market is an organization that has taken control of its social value position through purchasing products from local farmers. Also, Whole Foods maintains strict controls over all of the products produced and sold in all of its locations. They even have extended their social and ecological efforts through offsetting the use of in-store electricity with the installation of wind conversion generators, converting their trucks to operate on bio-fuel and trucking spoiled produce to regionally located compost sites. Though the investments in these technologies may be costly at the onset, the long term financial, civic and market exposure benefits far exceed any initial costs incurred.

In the area of corporate philanthropy many corporations are at a loss. They continue to be involved in the conflict between philanthropic giving and investor requests for increased profits. For this reason many corporations engage in context-giving programs. Context-giving programs are programs that are defined as allotting resources to specific projects that will enhance the community while simultaneously enhancing the corporation.

Examples of context-giving initiatives include the Cisco System Networking Academy, which trains computer network administrators and provides job opportunities to those who complete the program; the DreamWorks SKG film production program that trains low-income individuals in occupations that are needed in the film and entertainment industry; and American Express Travel and Tourism Academy which trains high school youth for careers in the hospitality and tourism industry. Corporations that invest in corporate-giving social venture programs are concurrently gaining positive return on their social investment, improving the economic climate of the communities where they are located and gaining positive exposure for their organizations.

At times social ventures do not have the intended impact on the community. A study focusing on the impact of community focused business ventures found that businesses started with the intent of enhancing a community often lose focus by becoming focused on profitability and competition. Competition and self-focused motivators were identified to be factors that played an additional role in the impact and economic role that entrepreneurial ventures have in community settings.

While many foundations, trusts and philanthropic organizations, accumulate and distribute resources with the intent of providing services to enhance specific community or social causes, many of these organizations are looking for ways to gain public exposure for their efforts. Organizations also attempt to leverage their gifting efforts through seeking not-for-profit organizations that are willing match the funding received. The success of funded programs is evaluated through performance outcomes and indicators, and through promoting the organization’s work through success stories provided by program clients. These methods are viable ways for funding agencies to acquire value and exposure through their philanthropic efforts and simultaneously continue their efforts to enhance the communities in which they invest.

With the social philanthropic efforts of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates gaining a high degree of attention, and many leaders engaging in activities to promote social advocacy, corporations are seeking ways to also gain exposure with social entrepreneurship. Social entrepreneurship from the corporate perspective can be defined as corporate social initiatives used by a corporate entity as vehicle to show support for social causes. In recent years, many Fortune 500 companies have implemented social ventures with the intent of enhancing their corporate image through providing funding for various social causes.

McDonald’s is one such company that has funded social causes for many years. McDonald’s primary social venture is the Ronald McDonald House Charities. The Ronald McDonald House provides lodging for the families of adolescents, ranging in age from birth to 18, who are receiving critical care for illness in communities that are away from their community of residence. The Ronald McDonald House allows families to reside in these temporary living facilities throughout the child’s period of treatment at no charge.

The Federal Express Corporation also funds programs focused on the implementation of socially responsible programs. FedEx is a supporter of St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital and has been acknowledged by Reader’s Digest as one of “Americas Best Charity Minded Corporation.” Federal Express has also been recognized for providing funding for numerous community and civic organizations, including March of Dimes, Heart to Heart organization, an organization that focuses on delivering food and health resources globally, the United Way and the National Civil Rights Museum. These are just a few of the charitable initiatives that allow Federal Express to present itself as a socially conscious organization.

Virgin Mobile has partnered with Youth Noise, a not-for-profit organization that brings youth together for networking and brainstorming opportunities, and Stand Up for Kids, the largest all volunteer not-for-profit organizations in the United States, to implement an initiative to expand its corporate social responsibility activities. The project involves recording artists donating ring tones to Virgin Mobile and through partnership agreements, 5% of the proceeds received through ring tone sales are donated to various “Virgin Mobile Charity Partners.” This initiative, established in June 2006, is being positioned to raise over $250,000 annually.

For social ventures to gain global acceptance, corporations need to become involved in ventures that allow employees and consumers to see the social, community and external benefit of these ventures. This process is identified in countries south of the United States, where the concept of social responsibility is one that has been embraced by many but implemented by few. Many government organizations expect non-government, or private organizations to take responsibility for ensuring the stability and longevity of the resources throughout this region while the private sector is looking toward government agencies for intervention.

Paul Van Putten, is an educator, entrepreneur and business consultant in the areas of social entrepreneurship, entrepreneurial start-up, marketing, media management and leadership engagement. Dr. Van Putten has seamlessly transitioned between both academic and corporate environments having served as a College President and Corporate CEO. He has also served as a consultant with national and international organizations. [http://www.nationaletc.com]

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