Sustainable Development: How Social Entrepreneurs Make it Happen

IESE Business School Working Paper No. 611

16 Pages Posted: 19 Jan 2006

Date Written: October 2005


This paper demonstrates that entrepreneurs who have created innovative organizations and service provision models are contributing to sustainable development. The processes, structures and outcomes of their initiatives are contrasted with more traditional efforts. World leaders have recently renewed the momentum for 'buying' sustainable development through massive allocation of development funds. The authors argue that such traditional approaches have repeatedly failed in the past and are unlikely to overcome the more fundamental hurdles to create development. Building on the findings of a three-year research project, the paper presents case studies which demonstrate how so-called 'social entrepreneurs' succeed in creating social and economic development in a poor country context. The process of discovery and creation from the ground up, in contrast to traditional design-driven development processes and strategies, is illustrated. The cases show how social entrepreneurs cater to various levels of needs: the basic needs of individuals, the institutional needs of communities, and the needs of future generations. The impact of social entrepreneurial activity on sustainable development measures such as the Millennium Development Goals is demonstrated. The findings suggest that social innovation may change the very structures and systems that recreate the circumstances for poverty and that development processes need to consider the link between social and economic development.

Keywords: social entrepreneurship, sustainable development

Suggested Citation

Seelos, Christian and Mair, Johanna, Sustainable Development: How Social Entrepreneurs Make it Happen (October 2005). IESE Business School Working Paper No. 611, Available at SSRN: or

Christian Seelos (Contact Author)

Stanford PACS ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

Johanna Mair


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