Decent Work and Economic Growth

Living Edition
| Editors: Walter Leal Filho, Anabela Marisa Azul, Luciana Brandli, Pinar Gökcin Özuyar, Tony Wall

Social Entrepreneurship and Sustainable Development

  • Rob LubberinkEmail author
Living reference work entry


There is still no consensus about the definition of social entrepreneurship (Choi and Majumdar 2014), but a definition should logically draw upon entrepreneurial processes that require opportunity exploitation and resource (re)combination processes (Newth and Woods 2014). Therefore, the following scientific working definition can be adopted:

Social entrepreneurship is exercised where some person or group: (1) aim(s) at creating social value, either exclusively or at least in some prominent way; (2) show(s) a capacity to recognize and take advantage of opportunities to create that value (“envision”); (3) employ(s) innovation, ranging from outright invention to adapting someone else’s novelty, in creating and/or distributing social value; (4) is/are willing to accept an above-average degree of risk in creating and disseminating social value; and (5) is/are unusually resourceful in being relatively undaunted by scarce assets in pursuing their social venture. (Peredo and McLean 2006, p. 64)


Social enterprises are the organizations founded, owned, and/or managed by the social entrepreneur(s). Their organizations can take different (sometimes multiple) legal forms, such as foundations, cooperatives, or limited liability companies. Some countries introduced separate organizational forms to do justice to the dual mission of social enterprises, such as low-profit limited liability company (L3Cs), benefit corporation (B-Corps), and community interest company (CICs) (Ebrahim et al. 2014). This is to create an enabling environment for social enterprises in which they can operate.

The next section (section “The Drivers of Social Entrepreneurship”) explains the drivers for social entrepreneurship and the reason for the current interest in the phenomenon. This is followed by a conceptualization of the multidimensional concept of social entrepreneurship and its subconcepts in section “Social Entrepreneurship and Its Subconcepts.” Subsequently, section “Contributing to Sustainable Development Goals” explains how social enterprises contribute to the sustainable development goals by solving societal problems and scaling for impact. It further goes into detail about the role of the social entrepreneur in this process. The conclusion is drawn in section “Conclusion,” which is followed by an agenda for future directions, specified for each of the subconcepts of social entrepreneurship in section “Future Directions.”

The Drivers of Social Entrepreneurship

All over the world one can find societal problems and pressing social needs that governmental, nongovernmental (NGOs), and market organizations fail to recognize or to respond to in efficient and effective ways. However, social entrepreneurs are individuals who find innovative solutions that respond to exactly those challenges, and support their solutions with innovative business models (Choi and Majumdar 2014). Social enterprises contribute to decent work by showing the possibility of social enterprising that inherently takes social value and economic growth simultaneously into account.

There are a number of reasons why social entrepreneurship increasingly manifested itself. Social enterprises in Europe identified and responded to problems that emerged in times of retrenchment of the welfare state, which was characterized by decentralization, privatization and reduced services. Social enterprises step into this “third sector” problems, such as housing problems of marginalized groups and re-integration of individuals into the work force (Kerlin 2006). Such third sector problems are characterized by low potential for high profit margins, which makes it less interesting for profit-oriented companies to address (Santos 2012). In such cases, social entrepreneurs “mend the social fabric where it is torn” (Zahra et al. 2009), a role that is increasingly recognized by policy makers and government organizations. The reason why social entrepreneurship is increasingly manifested in the United States is different. Social enterprise emerged after not-for-profits needed to fill the gaps after welfare retrenchments and subsequent cutbacks on their funding. They needed to adopt a market-orientation to sustain their organization and their social value creation (Kerlin 2006).

Social entrepreneurship is therefore not an entirely new phenomenon (Bacq and Janssen 2011); it is a phenomenon that existed before and started receiving more attention after Bill Drayton started the Ashoka foundation in 1980 to provide a platform for social entrepreneurs (Barendsen and Gardner 2004). However, since the last two decades it has also sparked the interest of scientists, which led to an exponential increase in social entrepreneurship research (Sassmannshausen and Volkmann 2016).

Social Entrepreneurship and Its Subconcepts

The rapid increase in academic interest in social entrepreneurship has led to an expanding body of literature, and further institutionalization of social entrepreneurship in academia. Sassmannshausen and Volkmann (2016) conducted a scientometric study of the extant literature and found that the majority of the articles aim to define and conceptualize the phenomenon of social entrepreneurship. Yet, this plethora of definitions and conceptualizations did not result in an academic consensus about its definition or conceptualization. This can be attributed to the fact that social entrepreneurship is a multidimensional phenomenon (Choi and Majumdar 2014; Weerawardena and Mort 2006) that is best captured by five subconcepts: social value creation, the entrepreneur, the organization, market orientation, and social innovation (Choi and Majumdar 2014).

Social value creation is a necessary but not sufficient condition for social entrepreneurship. Social value creation needs to be complemented by any of the following sufficient conditions: the presence of social entrepreneur(s), working in some form of (social enterprise) organization, which is adopting a market orientation, and engaging in social innovation to tackle a social and/or societal problem (Choi and Majumdar 2014). The manifestation of these four sufficient conditions can differ from case to case. For example, Seelos and Mair (2017) found that some social enterprises are great in finding novel solutions for certain problems by innovating. While others make a deliberate decision not to engage in social innovation, and instead they adopt a social innovation that they scale efficiently and effectively to create social value.

The difficulty of conceptualizing social entrepreneurship does not only come from the fact that it a multidimensional concept. Also, the subconcepts are manifested in heterogeneous ways. There are, for example, different typologies identified with regard to the organization of social enterprises (Ebrahim et al. 2014), the process of social innovation (Lubberink et al. 2018), the social entrepreneur (Chandra and Shang 2017), and the scaling for social value creation (André and Pache 2016; Westley et al. 2014). This heterogeneity also needs to be kept in mind when interpreting the remaining of this section, where the subconcepts of social entrepreneurship are briefly explained.

Social Value Creation

Social value can be understood as the value for society that is generated by solving a societal problem or responding to pressing social needs (Alvord et al. 2004). It revolves around the mission of the social enterprise that focuses on resolving a social or societal problem, which is also associated with terms as social change, social impact, or social transformation (Bacq and Janssen 2011). This promise and distinctive offer of the social enterprise constitutes its social value proposition. The social value that is generated depends on the values, characteristics, and skills and capabilities of both the social entrepreneur(s) as well as their organization. This value is created and shared with the wider value network in which the organization is embedded. That includes the wider ecosystem, stakeholders (e.g., beneficiaries, donators, institutions, and commercial partners), and the return to society. The revenue streams coming from the wider system should be captured and should cover the costs that are made by the social enterprise. This holds for both social and financial return on investments (Hlady-Rispal and Servantie 2018). What is characteristic for social entrepreneurship is the focus on creating social value whereas the economic value capturing is the means to sustain the end. Santos (2012) comes with a more economic definition and defines social value creation as “the aggregate utility of society’s members increases after accounting for the opportunity cost of all the resources used in that activity” (Santos 2012, p. 337). Furthermore, it is important not only to account for the created social value but also for the (social) costs involved (Zahra et al. 2009), for example, costs incurred due to disruption of the social system.

Social Entrepreneur

Social entrepreneurs are the founders and/or owner-managers of the social enterprise and are hence considered central to social entrepreneurship. They are often considered to be the individuals (or collective of individuals) who identified the opportunity to resolve the problem and subsequently initiated action (Choi and Majumdar 2014). The personality of a person is proven to be relevant for pursuing an entrepreneurial career in general, and social entrepreneurship in particular (Stephan and Drencheva 2017). Stephan and Drencheva reviewed empirical research regarding the motivations, traits, identities, and skills that are particular for being a social entrepreneur. Their first finding was that the persons involved in social entrepreneurship share more similarities than differences with their profit-oriented peers. However, there is some evidence that empathy and moral obligations are more discriminating traits related to social entrepreneurs, although this finding requires more robust evidence (Stephan and Drencheva 2017). They also found evidence that social entrepreneurs aim to achieve an innovation-supportive organization by stimulating socially responsible cultures, whereas for-profit entrepreneurs stimulate competitive cultures for this reason.

Social Enterprise Organization

Social entrepreneurship takes place within an organizational framework, which sets it apart from other forces of social change, such as social movements (Mair and Martí 2006). Social enterprises adopt aspects from for-profit enterprises that typically create value for their owners and stakeholders and at the same time also adopt aspects from charities who serve the public as opposed to private interests. Social enterprises are held accountable for both social and financial returns and therefore have to balance their social mission and revenue generation, which can require new legal organizational forms (Ebrahim et al. 2014).

Currently, social enterprises take different legal forms such as foundations, cooperatives, limited liability companies (LLC), or corporations. Some social enterprises have multiple legal forms, for example, one for commercial activities to serve customers and one for social activities to serve beneficiaries. Others have one legal form to simultaneously pursue commercial and social activities (e.g., by selling eyeglasses or microfinance to the poor). Each of these organizational forms faces different governance challenges and conditions that could lead to mission drift (Ebrahim et al. 2014). Nowadays there are new organizational forms introduced that do more justice to the hybridity of social enterprises. For example, there is the low-profit limited liability company, benefit corporation, and community interest company (Bacq and Janssen 2011; Ebrahim et al. 2014).

Market Orientation

The fact that social enterprises are driven by social value creation does not mean that economic value capturing is less important. As is already stipulated in the beginning of this chapter, the market orientation (i.e., economic value capturing) is crucial to sustain the social value creation. Value capturing comes down to the profit that is left after delivering valuable goods or services that a customer is willing to pay for (Santos 2012). The market orientation can involve commercial activities as in generating income from the social entrepreneurship activities or it can refer to effective and efficient distribution of social services and products (Choi and Majumdar 2014). In both cases, they see the market as a mechanism for creating and scaling their social impact (Mair and Martí 2006).

Social Innovation

Innovation is a key dimension of social entrepreneurship because the entrepreneurs need to engage in innovation to develop solutions for the societal problems that they want to tackle (Chell et al. 2010; Phillips et al. 2015). Where others accept or tolerate inconvenient situations, social entrepreneurs see it as an opportunity to create something new. They have the inspiration to alter the situation by exploiting their creativity to develop a solution. Subsequently, they act and have the courage to pursue the solution and have the strength to bring the solution to market (Martin and Osberg 2007). These solutions can be found along a continuum of being more formalized (e.g., products) or less formalized (e.g., business model innovation or service). In some cases they are actually systems solutions that are solutions consisting of several interrelated smaller innovations (Choi and Majumdar 2015).

Contributing to Sustainable Development Goals

Developing the Solution and Scaling the Solution for Impact

The sustainable development goals can be understood as complex global challenges that require a plethora of different innovations to address them. Social entrepreneurs can play an important role in this because of their predisposition in society to address problems that others overlook or cannot address as efficiently or effectively as social enterprise. In very simplistic terms, the process of responding to a societal challenge by a social enterprise consists of two crucial parts: first of all, the development or adoption of a (partial) solution (i.e., the social innovation) and secondly making sure that the solution is accessible and available (i.e., scaling of social innovation) based on a viable business model.

Researchers frequently described the social entrepreneur as a heroic individual (Dufays and Huybrechts 2014). However, social innovation as well as scaling the social innovation does not take place by a social entrepreneur in isolation. Furthermore, the view of the heroic individual does not take into account the fact that social enterprises can actually have multiple founders nor that the impact of the enterprise is the result of a collective (Bacq and Janssen 2011). In fact, social entrepreneurship is likely to be characterized by social networks as it involves socio-political objectives (Cho 2006), and it is an economic activity taking place in a (local) social environment. Social entrepreneurs have the skills to bridge multiple and diverse views by stakeholders in their networks (Dufays and Huybrechts 2014). It does not come as a surprise then that social entrepreneurs develop and implement a solution by working together with target constituencies. Collaboration during innovation or scaling takes place within the social enterprise itself as well as among organizations and stakeholders. The latter is most likely when social enterprises are involved in broader institutional change, which may require close collaboration between policy makers and practitioners or in the case of public- private partnerships (de Bruin et al. 2017). In general, collaboration is important because it helps enterprises in reaching their mission, and in particular it helps social enterprises accessing resources and funding, strengthen legitimacy and access to capital (e.g., social and human capital) (de Bruin et al. 2017).

Social entrepreneurs and the networks in which they operate collaboratively develop and/or implement solutions for different problems. Some social entrepreneurs aim to tackle a local atomistic problem, which is most likely due to their specific position and expertise that enables them to identify the particular problem. Other social enterprises target larger societal problems by “mending the social fabric where it is torn” (Zahra et al. 2009) or as Newey (2018) calls it “compensatory social entrepreneurship.” Then there are entrepreneurs who aim for disruptive social change who aim to transform a dysfunctional social system by introducing an alternative social system (Newey 2018; Zahra et al. 2009). While they all rely upon collaborative action, their process in developing the social solution can be more or less open to input from other stakeholders than their target constituents (Lubberink et al. 2018; Zahra et al. 2009). Often, social entrepreneurs aim to strengthen the community that they target by focusing on human development and social capital within the community. Hence, positive social outcomes of social entrepreneurship may not always be best covered by tangible forms of capital but also intangible forms of benefits, such as well-being or social relations (Lumpkin et al. 2018).

Whether social enterprises target local atomistic problems or more large scale societal challenges can also be due to the temporal dimension. Social entrepreneurs and their entrepreneurial team operate in a social and institutional context in which they identify a problem and are motivated to find an entrepreneurial solution. By being organized in a social enterprise, they are able to create micro effects for individual target constituents as well as scaling their impact by reaching larger groups or communities. Ultimately, the effect of the social enterprise on a macrolevel can influence the behavior of many actors, generating large scale social or institutional change. Hence, such a process requires different respective mechanisms to ultimately realize such transformative change (Saebi et al. 2018). At the same time, it can also be that their social innovations and approaches are adopted and implemented in other contexts, and potentially other social needs and problems. This is one way of scaling, which is crucial for creating compensatory or transformative social change.

Scaling can be done in different ways, and André and Pache (2016) mention (1) diversification, i.e., diversifying the range of products or services, (2) scaling across, i.e., disseminating and sharing the innovation with other actors, (3) scaling deep, i.e., improving and enriching the current innovation, or (4) scaling up, i.e., reaching new beneficiaries not yet served. The research by Westley et al. (2014) provides interesting case-based information about different configurations of scaling for impact. The interplay between developing a solution for a social problem (i.e., social innovation) and scaling that solution to generate more impact (social value creation) can be considered as an art or a balancing act. The works by Westley et al. (2014) as well as Seelos and Mair (2017) provide interesting insights, for practitioners and researchers with regard to the different approaches that social entrepreneurs take to efficiently and effectively respond to a social problem.

The Role of Social Entrepreneurs as Problem Solvers in Society

There are several reasons why social entrepreneurs play this problem solving role. In this section the focus is on the personal characteristics of the social entrepreneurs. More specifically, there is explained why they want to address the societal problems by contrasting it to profit-oriented peers. Subsequently, there is explained why they are able to act as problem solvers.

Stephan and Drencheva (2017) argue that research regarding the personality of the social entrepreneur is dispersed and considered as a niche. They therefore conducted a systematic literature review of empirical studies that investigated the motivations, traits, identities, and skills that are particular for being a social entrepreneur. Their review revealed that social entrepreneurs are heterogeneous with regard to their personalities. Social entrepreneurs are driven by a range of motivations and values, including prosocial values and moral motives (Mair and Noboa 2006; Stephan and Drencheva 2017). Just like their for-profit peers, social entrepreneurs are motivated to start their enterprise due to their openness to change and need for autonomy. Social entrepreneurs have self-efficacy, have a positive attitude to risk-taking, and show persistence, optimism, and proactivity. However, empathy and moral obligations seem to be traits that are particularly relevant for social entrepreneurs, although this finding requires more robust evidence.

Chandra and Shang (2017) studied the biographical antecedents of Ashoka social entrepreneurs and also found out that they are a heterogeneous group of entrepreneurs. One type of social entrepreneurs can be understood as the social elite, social entrepreneurs (e.g., successful lawyers and entrepreneurs) with a long-term passion for social causes or charitable work. The second type are social-grassroots entrepreneurs, who are more social activists who want to improve society. The third type consists of successful former profit-oriented entrepreneurs who started focusing on a social cause, often triggered by a critical event (e.g., illness or life crisis). And last, the fourth type, are the commoners who were in more marginalized positions themselves; they were unsatisfied with the status quo and determined to do something about it themselves. Most importantly, Chandra and Shang found out that: “combining multiple institutional logics might not be as challenging as presumed in the literature because social skills, a key component in establishing SE, may (1) already exist early in an individual’s life as a propensity to improve others’ welfare regardless of one’s social position, or (2) emerge at some point in one’s life through important life events and experiences at a time when such individual has possessed favorable social position” (Chandra and Shang 2017, p. 2522). The importance of social skills acquired through one’s own lived experience is also found as a critical antecedent in the empirical articles reviewed by Stephan and Drencheva (2017).

Interestingly, it is only after getting out of a marginalized or oppressed position, when individuals are able to develop their solution to the problem that they have experienced. This, Chandra and Shang argue, could be due to a lack of entrepreneurialism, education or professionalism, and/or the lack of social skills during their times of marginalization. These social skills and “social position” are probably acquired during later stages in their lives, and they are vital for gaining legitimacy. Legitimacy is crucial for social change because social enterprises are often micro-, small-, or medium enterprises who cannot solve the problem in isolation, especially when aiming at transformative social change. They therefore have to coordinate collective action, which requires that other stakeholders are convinced of the mission of the social enterprise (Chandra and Shang 2017; Ruebottom 2013; Smith and Woods 2015) as well as their ability to create the social change together (Chandra and Shang 2017; Smith and Woods 2015).


Research regarding social entrepreneurship has been rapidly expanding over the last years, and it became more institutionalized field to study in the academic world (Sassmannshausen and Volkmann 2016) and to engage with in practice. The majority of the research that has been published contributes to (or aims to contribute to) definitions, theoretical constructs, frameworks, and conceptualizations of social entrepreneurship (Sassmannshausen and Volkmann 2016). Despite the authors’ focus on these issues, or maybe it is due to this focus, there has neither been a consensus reached on the definition nor on the conceptualization of social entrepreneurship. Social entrepreneurship is therefore best considered as a contested cluster concept that is comprised of multiple underlying and interrelated subconcepts. Social value creation is a necessary subconcept, which is accompanied to a greater or lesser extent by the four subconcepts: social innovation, social enterprise, social entrepreneur, and market orientation (Choi and Majumdar 2014). Even though the expansion of social entrepreneurship research resulted in a better understanding of social entrepreneurship and its subconcepts, there is still a lot of space that needs further exploration. Researchers, practitioners and policy makers should all pick up the gauntlet to explore how decent work and economic growth can be realized by stimulating social entrepreneurship and creating an enabling environment. The following directions for future research are based on suggestions that are put forward by researchers who have reviewed social entrepreneurship literature.

Future Directions

Social Value Creation

Hlady-Rispal and Servantie (2018) reviewed the social entrepreneurship literature with the aim to understand the way in which (social) value is created. Even though social value creation is a necessary condition for social entrepreneurship (Choi and Majumdar 2014), there is little agreement on what it exactly is or how it can be attained. Hlady-Rispal and Servantie (2018) therefore used the business model construct as a framework to understand an enterprise’s logic as to how value is created, delivered, and captured. Their review provides interesting insights for both practitioners and researchers and policy makers. Furthermore, they provide four thematic areas that researchers should investigate in future research.
  1. 1.

    Future research should investigate how social value propositions (i.e., the promise and the distinctive offer of the social enterprise) are modified to maximize value for their target beneficiaries and ecosystem, and how that affects value generation, capturing, and sharing.

  2. 2.

    Social entrepreneurship research should not only focus on the value perceived by consumers and donors but also study the beneficiaries’ use value, which is currently being overlooked.

  3. 3.

    More research is needed to understand the embeddedness of a social enterprise in a local structure as it is crucial for scaling social value. There can be specifically looked into cultural embeddedness, emotional embeddedness, and network embeddedness, acting as driver or barriers for value creation.

  4. 4.

    Social enterprises depend on reciprocity to efficiently engage in value generation with the network, value capture through revenue streams, and value sharing in the ecosystem. Future research could investigate which mechanism can alleviate the risks and challenges associated with value exchange processes (Hlady-Rispal and Servantie 2018), such as rhetorical strategies (Ruebottom 2013).


Social Entrepreneur(s) and Their Collaborations

Social entrepreneurs used to be portrayed as heroic individuals (Dufays and Huybrechts 2014), and indeed they are motivated by prosocial motives and there is evidence that they have relatively high levels of empathy (Stephan and Drencheva 2017). However, the body of evidence for empathy as a distinctive characteristic of social entrepreneurship is limited, and it is an interesting direction for future research regarding the distinctive features of the person in social entrepreneurship (Stephan and Drencheva 2017). Recently, there have been attempts to move away from the focus on the individual entrepreneur in social entrepreneurship, instead researchers focus more on the collaborative dynamic in social entrepreneurship. De Bruin et al. (2017) edited a special issue on collaboration in social entrepreneurship, both within the enterprise and between organizations. Research regarding collaboration that already took place focused, for example, on its contributions to social entrepreneurship (e.g., enhancing impact, improving access to resources, strengthening legitimacy) as well as the challenges that can come with it (e.g., managing and sustaining relationships or reconciling competing logics). However, De Bruin and colleagues also introduce several avenues for future research. Collaborations take place at different levels, among different organizations, covering different spheres (e.g., institutional, social, and economic). “What are the different collaborative patterns, how are they initiated at the local, institutional and systemic change levels, and their interplay at different levels, are social entrepreneurship dynamics that deserve future research” (de Bruin et al. 2017, p. 578). Subsequently, they suggest more research as to how social entrepreneurs coordinate that collaboration and the role that leadership plays in collaboration.

Social Enterprise Organization

The organizational forms of social enterprises can take many different forms, such as for-profit enterprises or nonprofits, sometimes creating both, respectively, for economic and social activities (Ebrahim et al. 2014). Ebrahim et al. (2014) looked into three recent alternatives that provide space for social enterprises to do justice to their dual missions. The low-profit limited liability companies, benefit corporations, and community interest companies. Each of these three new legal forms provides opportunities to combine social and economic objectives, but adopt different approaches to do so. Most importantly, the different organizational form that a social entrepreneur decides upon can ultimately affect the different reasons for mission drift. That happens when they give priority to their economic activities over their social activities. The review of the organizational forms, potential reasons for mission drift, and the governance mechanisms to prevent that from happening is why the article by Ebrahim et al. (2014) is recommended for practitioners and researchers in the field of social entrepreneurship.

However, they also give several avenues for future research that researchers should look into. Hiring new members of the social enterprise is a crucial activity as these members directly contribute to the dual mission of the firm. However, their peculiar mission and activities make it hard to hire people with the right background or to train and socialize young people who may lack experience. They therefore suggest future research to investigate the human resource management in social enterprises. Following from the fact that social enterprises have different and sometimes multiple organizational forms, or adopt new legal forms in line with their dual mission, it poses challenges to measure their performance. There are many different ways in which performance can be measured, which in itself is a field that needs further investigation (Rawhouser et al. 2017). Related to the organizational form, Ebrahim et al. (2014) suggest future research to study how the different measurements of social and economic performance influence decision making. Saebi et al. (2018) suggest that future studies investigate how founders choose for example between certifying for a benefit corporation or a community interest company and how that decision subsequently affects the enterprise’s future behavior and ultimately its success.

Market Orientation

Social entrepreneurs identify and seize opportunities to develop solutions for societal problems, which are less interesting for profit-oriented companies (Saebi et al. 2018; Santos 2012). Hence, profit should be possible, but it needs to be complemented with a moral or social incentive in order to act upon the opportunity (Saebi et al. 2018). Saebi et al. (2018) reviewed the literature and found out that social value is created for beneficiaries or with beneficiaries. Furthermore, a social enterprise can operate on a continuum between a focus on social and commercial activities. They identified a two-sided value model (e.g., “buy one, give one” model such as TOMS shoes), market-oriented work models (e.g., work-integration social enterprises) where beneficiaries create products or services in exchange for financial value. In both cases, social and commercial activities are differentiated. In the case of a one-sided model, the economic activity produces social value, such as when beneficiaries are the actual customers and pay for the product or service. The social-oriented work model is similar to the one-sided model, but different in the sense that beneficiaries are also included in economic activity of the firm like in a work-integration social enterprise.

Yet, there are interesting opportunities for future research to better understand how the market orientation of social enterprises plays a role in value creation, delivering, and capturing. Social enterprises are hybrid organizations as they have multiple, sometimes competing, logics, and objectives. The social objectives of the enterprise but the importance of economic value capturing can lead to conflicts, tensions, and ambiguity. Saebi et al. (2018) urge future research to investigate how coping strategies (e.g., reduced motivation, high employee turnover rates, or reinterpretation of goals) influence the organizations’ goals and hence impact. Furthermore, they suggest to investigate why in some cases pro-social owner/managers may create more financially sustainable and cost efficient social enterprises than commercial-oriented counterparts, which conflicts with common conceptions (Saebi et al. 2018). The list of interesting avenues for future social entrepreneurship research as suggested by Saebi et al. includes many other opportunities, and their review of the literature is highly recommended to both practitioners as well as social entrepreneurship researchers.

Social Innovation

Social entrepreneurs often operate in the third sector, which means that their innovations are likely to affect the public. Yet, it remains unknown to what extent, and if so how, social enterprises develop their innovations together with their stakeholders and target beneficiaries. According to Cho (2006), if a social innovation is implemented in the public sphere, it should at least be prone to public scrutiny throughout the process. Otherwise is it just the enterprise’s conception of the public good that needs to be pursued. Lubberink et al. (2018) did an empirical analysis to study the stakeholder dynamics of social entrepreneurs during the development of the innovation process and identified four different ways in which innovations were developed. They suggest that more research is necessary to understand how social enterprises foresee and anticipate the impact of their innovations and how they should govern their innovation activities in line with their vision. They suggest to use the framework of responsible innovation (e.g., Stilgoe et al. (2013) or Lubberink et al. (2017)) to understand how stakeholder inclusion and deliberation can act as a governance mechanism for social enterprises to steer their social innovation towards a desirable direction.

Phillips et al. (2015) conducted a systematic literature review of social innovation and social entrepreneurship literature. In their review, as well as a later article (Phillips et al. 2017), they stress future research to specifically look into the social innovation system. Phillips et al. (2015) suggest three specific avenues:
  1. 1.

    Due to the focus on social innovation, it is crucial to understand how individual- and collective learning takes place in innovative social enterprises and their ecosystem.

  2. 2.

    Future research to look into the role that commercial enterprises can play in the ecosystem of social enterprises that are innovating for social value.

  3. 3.

    There should be a shift in focus from who undertakes social innovation towards how to undertake social innovation. The empirical research by Chalmers and Balan-Vnuk (2013) provides interesting insights into the activities that social enterprises engage in to develop their social innovations. It covers internal organizational activities as well as activities in relation to stakeholders and beneficiaries.




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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Business Management and OrganisationWageningen UniversityWageningenThe Netherlands

Section editors and affiliations

  • Edurne A. Inigo
    • 1
  1. 1.Business Management & Organization, Social Sciences GroupWageningen University and ResearchWageningenThe Netherlands