Defining the Universe of Social Enterprise: Competing Metaphors
28 Pages Posted: 24 Oct 2012 Last revised: 7 Dec 2012
Date Written: October 1, 2012
After more than a decade of research in the U.S., Europe and elsewhere, there is continued debate on the definitions of social enterprise, specifically in classifying populations. Several schools of thought contest the territory. The EMES network in Europe argues that there is an ideal type of social enterprise to which all social enterprise ventures should aspire. Another approach emphasizes the spectrum and trade-off between pure profit-making and social impact, locating organizations on this spectrum. A third approach takes innovation as its central focus, arguing that the research should placed emphasis how social entrepreneurs achieve material and social goals through innovation and disruption of the status quo. In this paper we argue that each falls short of providing an adequate framework for future research, policy, and practice. Instead we offer an alternative metaphor, that of a social enterprise zoo. The diverse universe of social enterprise forms and the “zoo” in which many different “animals” combine social and market goals in substantially different ways. Each species has distinct environments and needs, though. Using this framework we then reconsider the place of social entrepreneurs, viewing them as curators responsible for nurturing, breeding, and experimenting with the ever changing population of animals in the social enterprise zoo.
Keywords: social enterprise, social entrepreneurship, taxonomy
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