The Role of Social Enterprise and Hybrid Organizations
104 Pages Posted: 15 Jan 2014 Last revised: 21 Aug 2017
Date Written: May 20, 2017
Recent years have brought remarkable growth in hybrid organizations that combine profit-seeking and social missions. Despite popular enthusiasm for such organizations, legal reforms to facilitate their formation and growth—particularly, legal forms for hybrid firms—have largely been ineffective. This shortcoming stems in large part from the lack of a theory that identifies the structural and functional elements that make some types of hybrid organizations more effective than others. In pursuit of such a theory, this Article focuses on a large class of hybrid organizations that has been effective in addressing development problems, such as increasing access to capital and improving employment opportunities. These organizations, which are commonly referred to as “social enterprises,” include microfinance institutions, firms that sell fair trade products, work integration firms, and low-cost sellers of essential goods and services such as eyeglasses, bed-nets, and healthcare. The common characteristic of social enterprises is that they have a transactional relationship with their beneficiaries, who are either purchasers of the firms’ goods or services or suppliers of inputs (including labor) to the firm. The essence of this Article’s theory is that through these transactions, social enterprises perform a measurement role; that is, they measure or gather information on their patron-beneficiaries’ abilities to transact with commercial firms (for example, workers’ skills, borrowers’ creditworthiness, and consumers’ ability to pay). That information permits social enterprises to tailor the form and amount of subsidies to the specific needs of individual beneficiaries. This “measurement” function makes social enterprises relatively effective vehicles for allocating subsidies as compared to traditional donative organizations and other forms of hybrid organization, in particular firms that pursue corporate social responsibility policies. Thus, the measurement function can serve as the basis for designing a legal form for social enterprises.
Keywords: social enterprise, corporate social responsibility, theory of the firm, nonprofits, benefit corporations
JEL Classification: L31, K, D21
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation