Social Entrepreneurship: The Transformative Potential

What IS social entrepreneurship? The first session of our series will help you get familiar with the concept of social entrepreneurship and understand why it is gaining popularity in some communities and sparking controversy in others. We’ll see some unique examples of how social entrepreneurs are changing the world and what Notre Dame is doing to foster this mindset within its students.


Highlights

  • At Notre Dame, entrepreneurship is the process of creating value by combining resources in unique ways to capitalize on opportunities. It’s about overcoming challenges and obstacles to be able to implement rather than just dream of a solution. Social entrepreneurship has this same foundation and mindset but is a process of creating social value and impact. (5:03)
  • Social Entrepreneurship is not about creating an entity, it’s about the mindset and how it is brought to the problem. Mindset is the key and social entrepreneurship is about bringing it to the approach of social value creation. (14:20)
  • “The entrepreneurship is not about necessarily creating an entity, like a nonprofit. It’s not about cleverly coming up with internally derived revenue sources or it’s not about just being more professional in your management approach. It’s about the entrepreneurial mindset and how we bring that entrepreneurial mindset to our whole approach to social value creation.” (Michael Morris, 14:20)
  • In the process of Social Entrepreneurship, it is important to be agnostic about entity formation until arriving at the best possible solution. Social entrepreneurship can take multiple forms, not necessarily a nonprofit as many would believe. There is a continuum of entity forms it could take, but could also go outside it to take form in other structures such as partnerships or asset-based community developments. (17:13)
  • “When it gets messy, that’s when social entrepreneurship is happening. You kind of move into this gray space, into the middle of this continuum, and that’s a really great opportunity for social entrepreneurship to take place.” (Melissa Paulsen, 19:00)
  • One of the greatest challenges of a social entrepreneur is the disconnect between purity of heart and business skills. What drives a social entrepreneur is a passion for the problem to be solved, but that passion is not always coupled with business competence to be able to implement the solution. (30:48)
  • Another of the major challenges of Social Entrepreneurship is the determination of social value. Measuring social return on investment is messy and turning social value into dollars is extremely difficult to calculate. This makes it difficult to analyze performance, as benefits take years to realize and outcomes cannot often be quantified. (35:14)
  • “The real impact, the outcome, is the change in behavior or the change in a person’s business. It’s behavioral or its an increased health benefit, and as you said it’s difficult to quantify that so what we do is end up focusing on outputs because those are a lot easier to quantify but social entrepreneurship asks us to do more.” (Melissa Paulsen, 36:30)
  • “We’re focused more on value that is being created to address the social problem, not put a band-aid on it but resolve it. Not just help the poor maintain but provide a pathway out of poverty as a case in point.” (Micheal Morris, 53:55)
  • “If we’re truly solving the right problems, then it does become social entrepreneurship because we’re addressing issues that people need addressed; transportation issues, food issues. Not better food, not how to get my food faster, but food security. That’s when it gets really kind of fuzzy in the middle and that’s good when you can’t really describe it in a very concrete way, I think that’s when social entrepreneurship is taking place.” (Melissa Paulsen, 55:16)

Event Recap

The first session of The Power of Social Entrepreneurship series opened with an introduction by Ray Offenheiser, the William J. Pulte Director of the Pulte Institute for Global Development. After a brief introduction to the Pulte Institute, Offenheiser presented the series and explained how it will explore the concept of social entrepreneurship and why it’s both gaining popularity and causing controversy around the world. He then provided an agenda for the first event and introduced the speakers, Melissa Paulsen, Associate Director, Entrepreneurship and Education Programs and Keough School Concurrent Assistant Professor of the Practice, and Michael Morris, professor of the practice with the McKenna Center for Human Development and Global Business. 

Before introducing the concept of social entrepreneurship, Paulsen began by asking Morris about entrepreneurship. He discussed the definition of entrepreneurship and how it’s about implementation rather than just dreaming. Paulsen follows up with the question of what is social entrepreneurship? Social entrepreneurship has the same foundation but with the goal of creating social value. Morris provided a definition and six key, but not linear, steps that happen in the process of social entrepreneurship, along with a variety of different examples of the concept in action. Morris proceeded to hone in on what makes social entrepreneurship different from entrepreneurship by addressing stakeholders, revenue models, and the difficulties of quantifying success. He then went on to describe what aspects of social entrepreneurship make it entrepreneurial and what aspects make it social. The entrepreneurial aspect is about the mindset and how it is brought to solve the problem. The social aspect lies in how one manages the social processes, relationships, and dynamics necessary to solve community problems in innovative ways.  

The discussion continued as Paulsen presented the Social Entrepreneurship Continuum and how it shows the multiple forms that social entrepreneurship can take. This is further discussed through a series of three case studies. 

  1. Case Study #1: Black Church Food Security Network – Asset-based Community Development Example
  2. Case Study #2: Better World Books – For Profit Example 
  3. Case Study #3: Playpumps

Morris proceeded to address six of the big distinguished challenges that exist at the level of the entrepreneur him/herself as well as on the broader level in understanding the field. These include a disconnect between passion and business competence, sustainable revenue models, and the measuring of social return on investment.

The discussion transitioned into the topic of how Social Entrepreneurship is being fostered at Notre Dame. Social entrepreneurship is present throughout campus, but they are trying to formalize it with a variety of events and opportunities. Notably, the Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation Minor launched Spring 2021 and it provides undergraduate students of all disciplines the opportunity to study SE and apply it to what they do. 

Offenheiser then opened the conversation for Q&A from the viewers and the questions were as followed: 

  1. In terms of high failure rates, what is the experience for social entrepreneurs? Is there a similar rate of failure? And how would you compare that to the for-profit and nonprofit failure rates? What often is the case for why these efforts fail? 
  2. How do you advise funders to evaluate the effectiveness of an organization when the outputs or outcomes are soft? And on the flip side, how do you advise organizations to pursue funding when the outcomes are soft or longer term beyond the duration of the grant? 
  3. Who defines a social entrepreneur? Do we define one ourselves? Others? Or is it largely based on impact? And what mechanisms should entrepreneurs have to ensure that their work is truly social? 
  4. What role do you see Notre Dame Alumni playing in support of the University’s social enterprise efforts? 

Lastly, Offenheiser closed by thanking the audience for participating and inviting them to join a breakout room.  


View the discussion recorded on Wednesday, February 10, 2021, with Michael Morris and Melissa Paulsen. Register to receive information about how to join future live events. 


Listen to the discussion wherever, whenever, on The ThinkND Podcast:


Other recaps:

Part 3: Why the business community holds the key to poverty alleviation
Part 2: Can entrepreneurship help to reduce poverty?

Learn more about the series and register here.

BusinessGlobal AffairsHealth and SocietyRecapMichael MorrisMelissa PaulsenThe Power of Social EntrepreneurshipConversations on Poverty & InequalityMcKenna Center for Human Development and Global BusinessRay OffenheiserDevelopmentPulte Institute for Global DevelopmentBusinessEntrepreneurshipHuman DignityKeough School of Global AffairsPoverty