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Scaling Social Impact: What Challenges and Opportunities Await Social Entrepreneurs

Social Entrepreneurship

ISBN: 978-1-80043-791-3, eISBN: 978-1-80043-790-6

ISSN: 2514-1759

Publication date: 24 November 2021


Purpose: This literature review aims to answer the calls for further exploration of scaling challenges and opportunities for social entrepreneurs (SEs). We address the scaling issue of social entrepreneurship through the theoretical lens of sustainable business models. Methodology: This paper investigates, on a multilevel approach, 340 journal articles published in one of the 20 peer-reviewed journals in management, entrepreneurship, CSR, organizational behavior, and nonprofit. It also considers influential articles due to their relatively high citation count (i.e., more than 150 times) outside of those selected journals. This paper furthermore analyses in-depth 32 scaling articles. Findings: This study positions the topics of social entrepreneurship over the last decades, together with the six types of scaling strategies: scaling up, scaling down, scaling across, scaling deep, scaling out, and diversification. It also discusses 15 challenges related to the scaling efforts by SEs. It furthermore elaborates on potential leads for research and practice regarding scaling social impact. Social Implications: There are many pathways for SEs to increase their impact on society, even though it remains quite challenging to achieve for most. Understanding what possibilities or limitations apply to individual SEs is but a first step in developing the full potential of social entrepreneurship. Originality: This paper approaches scaling from three complementary levels of analysis, i.e., individual, organizational, and institutional. Thus we provide more clarity and a nuanced perspective on past and future research regarding scaling challenges and opportunities.




We are grateful to the editors of Business and Society 360 for improving the ideas present in this chapter. We are thankful to Andrew Crane and Sandra Waddock for their advice and encouraging words during early discussions on this research at the IABS conference. Thanks also go to Benjamin Huybrechts and Frédéric Dufays, whom we met at the SEPHI Doctoral Seminars. Particular words of appreciation go to our VUB colleagues Marc Jegers and Thomas Crispeels for their valuable feedback during the chapter’s development. We also appreciated the VUB Chair of Social Entrepreneurship partners’ support, Didier Appels, Martine Hendrickx, and Charlotte Shaw.


Eiselein, P. and Dentchev, N.A. (2021), "Scaling Social Impact: What Challenges and Opportunities Await Social Entrepreneurs", Wasieleski, D.M. and Weber, J. (Ed.) Social Entrepreneurship (Business and Society 360, Vol. 5), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 145-172.



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