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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
The Search for Social Entrepreneurship
Article Type: Suggested reading From: Strategic Direction, Volume 27, Issue 6
Paul C. LightBrookings Institution Press, Washington, DC, 2008, ISBN: 978-0-8157-5210-3 (cloth: alk paper); 978-0-8157-5211-0 (pbk: alk paper), 295 pp.
This book addresses a topic of irrefutable relevance that contains the work of researchers from a number of different disciplines. The phenomenon of entrepreneurship always comes under the spotlight in situations of economic crisis, but in terms of the area of social entrepreneurship, it should be capable of generating new initiatives with even greater intensity. We adhere to the thoughts of Guzmán and Trujillo (2005) when they consider the 1980s as being the time when entrepreneurship began to acquire relevance for business schools. We can also identify the start of the twenty-first century as the moment when social entrepreneurship began to appear in a sizeable number of academic studies.
As a result of the notable interest in the phenomenon of social entrepreneurship, over the last two years, we can find studies containing in-depth comment whose aim is to look for a consensus on this phenomenon by delimiting the more significant aspects it incorporates. The search for empirical evidence has been fruitful on the part of several authors who have been able to delimit the term according to different approaches, thereby shedding greater light on the phenomenon and, in turn, on the study itself, identifying the main contributions to scientific advancement. The publication under review, The Search for Social Entrepreneurship, makes an interesting journey, from “basic assumptions” or “fundamental premises” to a new conceptual proposal which is the result of wider research on the phenomenon of social entrepreneurship in a clear, rigorous way that allows the reader to take a closer look at the concept, familiarize themselves with the concept, and identify its influence on the current state of affairs via a brief reading of the text and an immediate vision, aided by tables and figures that appear in the various chapters all completed by conclusions of exceptional simplicity.
From an academic perspective, it also allows the reader to consider the contributions in depth of the authors that have developed and carried out research on the concept, from Drayton, to who the author attributes the merit of being the inventor of the term (in a clear contribution to delimiting the concept), up to the most recent contributions from Austin et al. in 2006, where positions relative to different areas are marked out in which social entrepreneurs can appear, or the excellent study by Martin and Osberg (2007) based on the three pillars: identification of injustices within the framework of a stable balance; identification of opportunities created by that status quo that encourage the creation of social value from entrepreneurial action; and the identification of a new stable balance, that solves, entirely or in part, the effects of an unfair stable balance from whence it originates.
The latter concept provides the structure for the first four chapters, where the author deals with four fundamental concepts: the entrepreneur, ideas, opportunities and the organization. An in-depth review of the literature and laying down the proposals contained in the conclusions of each chapter lead to an extremely interesting debate.
The previously mentioned journey takes the form of the following chapters: the first chapter questions the maturity of the phenomenon of social entrepreneurship, and does so via a comprehensive analysis, clearly showing the lack of incentives, the difficulty involved in achieving consensus on this subject and form of researching the phenomenon, but by carrying out a methodological proposal on the four basic components previously mentioned: the entrepreneur, ideas, opportunities and the organization.
Basing the underlying ideas on this structure, the author presents the results of the research carried out in 2006 in Table I, the results on the basic assumptions on social entrepreneurial initiative, using true or false answers. The author questions his own standpoint, which is approximate to that of an inclusive perspective and arrives at different conclusions closer to that expressed in studies by Martin and Osberg, which attempt to avoid falling into the trap of using the term socially entrepreneurial initiative to describe “all forms of socially beneficial activity“. The position adopted by the author shares basic premises with the previously mentioned ideas, such as the notion that entrepreneurial initiative involves a change that breaks with established patterns, or that the main objective consists of a change in existing social equilibrium. However, the real challenge lies in avoiding premises that turn socially entrepreneurial initiative, narrowly defined, into the bastion of a chosen few that hoard potential support and aid, which other individuals and lesser known institutions may also deserve.
In the second chapter, the author looks at spaces for building new initiative and presents a discussion on the components relative to novelty as being essential, showing how mature organizations can create and maintain an entrepreneurial culture that can produce social initiatives, either as a complement to the main objective, or as part of a transformation in terms of the entire organization. The question of access to particular resources that enable the process of the development of entrepreneurial initiative, as a nuance on the Garage Theory, relates entrepreneurial theory with a previous process of solitude and discovery; building on the four models proposed by Colvin and Miles.
The review of the outcomes of the research suggests that social entrepreneurial initiative flourishes in robust organizations and this robustness describes the ability of an organization to fold, stretch and adapt over time. In short, the development of a critical process in the study of published work allows the author to ascribe four attributes to entrepreneurial organizations that create a culture in which social entrepreneurial initiative can flourish, while entrepreneurs quickly identify opportunities, ideas find entrepreneurs, and opportunities are born and disappear in an environment in which high performance and innovation strengthen each other to create the following: a committed alignment with a vision of the future; the ability to adapt while ideas are transformed; a state of alertness to identify opportunities that allow the existing social equilibrium to be challenged; and agility in the organizational response to those opportunities.
In the conclusion to this chapter, the author adopts an open standpoint, where setting up an organizational platform, being a new firm or an existing one, is merely a choice, and does not determine success. On the evidence provided by other authors in their review, the idea that organizations characterized by social entrepreneurship initiative start from scratch must be rejected, as they can emerge from already established, mature firms. This initiative also requires a commitment to excellence in terms of management, particularly creating conditions so that ideas can survive long enough to instigate sustainable change.
The third chapter examines the logic of social entrepreneurial initiative and strategies for bringing together entrepreneurs, ideas, opportunities and organizations at different stages of the entrepreneurial process. The logic of social entrepreneurial initiative is presented in a sequence in the figure on p. 54, and goes on to a revision of that logic on p. 74. Tracing the continuous steps of the strategic process leads the author to search for a new strategic formulation and to put forward an original proposal on “An ultimate logical chain of social entrepreneurial initiative”, on p. 78. Having identified the stages and fundamental components of the process, the end of this chapter addresses the need to connect the different parts, and the clear interrelation between the seven stages and the four components. Thus, the entrepreneur is seen as essential at the beginning and at the end of the process, the ideas are essential in the middle, opportunities at the stages of discovery and diffusion, and the organization tends to become more important as the process advances. In the conclusion to this chapter, the author insists on the need to find a consensus on the logic of socially entrepreneurial initiative, which is essential for its development. The author also highlights the fact that the social entrepreneur can arise both in new organizations and in existing ones, although he does recognize the greater difficulty of this occurring in the latter.
Chapter four serves as an introduction to the research presented in following chapter on the heel of the rigorous study carried out in previous chapters, and begins with a clear vindication of this rigour, underlining the fact that the questions posed up until this point are interesting, the ground covered immense, and the possibilities of influencing social change are significant, and consequently, researchers in this field have an extraordinary opportunity for achieving an immediate impact. However, these authors cannot play this role without gathering contrasted evidence that may exist outside the field, and without adopting an attitude of analytical rigour, transparency in their findings and courage in the market of ideas. From this standpoint, the author presents the key elements of each fundamental pillar and concludes that: In terms of the entrepreneur, the doctrine concludes that he or she should possess a mental process characterized by leadership skills that may result in an individual or group effort, and should to face the battle with the status quo.
In relation to the idea, the fact of combining familiarity with innovation is underlined, and should be accompanied by some kind of awareness or mobilization that deactivates possible rejection. In relation to opportunity, consensus exists on the assertion that the possibilities of social entrepreneurial initiative are endless, opportunities appear and disappear with the ebb and flow of the status quo, and they require supervision and constant alerts in order to make the most of them. On the nature of the organization, unanimity exists in rejecting the idea that social entrepreneurial initiative should be ascribed to a single sector and that there should be an emphasis on the generation of its own inputs.
Chapters five and six contain research that leads to interesting debate and is followed by general conclusions of the study in chapter seven, which include some very significant findings, and a very thorough review of previous studies.
The findings are based both on the interviews carried out with the senior managers of 131 high performance charitable organizations and on the existing literature in the field of social entrepreneurial initiative:
Entrepreneurs. The dominance of vision emerges as one of the essential characteristics of the entrepreneur.
Ideas. They clearly believe in their vision, and consequently in their ideas in order to make that vision a reality.
Opportunities. The study shows that extremely socially entrepreneurial organizations develop their activities in the segments of their environments that are less competitive and are less regulated, or, in other words, concentrate on opportunities within the wider context in order to challenge the established consensus. Strategic planning is a way of controlling the different uncertainties created by external threats these organizations face, but it is a time-consuming activity which tends to be left to one side, although this is normally a symptom that the firm is already aware of the direction it wants to take, a fact that can either be a strength or a weakness.
Organizations. Highly socially entrepreneurial organizations share many traits with organizations of a less social nature, although they confer less importance to strategic planning, less confidence in purely financial results, they devote less resources to training and ITC, and have less active boards of directors. If management is essential for greater growth and impact, highly social entrepreneurial organizations need to give them their due importance.
The presentation of results compared with the results from 2006, is clear, bringing into doubt a large share of what was then accepted as basic presumptions and consequently shedding light on a new formulation. The table showing the summary of results of the two investigations brings us back to the initial comment where we indicated the possibility of a quick comprehensive reading as one of the possible alternatives for the reader.
In this final stage, the study presents a series of recommendations, from an eclectic point of view where the movement towards exclusivity is detailed, but is a long way from the idea of the heroic entrepreneur, and remains inclusive:
It is therein concluded that researchers need to:learn more about commitment to vision;understand better the socially entrepreneurial idea;study socially entrepreneurial opportunity;gather more information on the entrepreneurial organization; andpay more attention to the fundamental role played by strategy in creating combinations of entrepreneurs, ideas, opportunities and organizations that are the basis of final success.
The conclusions of this chapter can be summarized as follows: social entrepreneurial initiative is rapidly evolving as a concept and as a cause. As a concept, it has attracted the attention of a wide variety of academic disciplines, and consensus is forming around the idea that social problems that are regarded as unsolvable perhaps do have a solution. As a cause, social entrepreneurial initiative is attracting a new generation of agents for change that have essential characteristics for sustainable change and the study suggests that the number is growing and includes new and old organizations. The question facing the discipline is not so much whether a new generation of social entrepreneurs will enter into action, but what the doctrine can do to increase the chances of success. Although failure is always a possibility for entrepreneurial initiative, the field of entrepreneurial initiative of a social nature cannot withstand the rate of failure that exists in the business field, as there is too much at stake, such as social costs, lost opportunities and unnecessary sacrifices.
Two appendices complete the study that helps to understand, first, the institutional state of affairs and, second, the questionnaire filled in for the research as well as the bibliographical references, recommend reading and an extremely complete index.
Reviewed by Rafael Fernández Guerrero, University of Valencia, Valencia, Spain.
This review was originally published in Management Decision, Volume 48 Issue 5, 2010, pp. 842-6.
Austin, J., Stevenson, H. and Wei-Skillern, J. (2006), “Social and commercial entrepreneurship: same, different, or both?”, Entrepreneurship Theory & Practice, Vol. 30 No. 1, pp. 1–22
Guzmán, A. and Trujillo, M.A. (2005), “Emprendimiento Social-Revisión de la Literatura”, Estudios Gerenciales, Vol. 24 No. 109, pp. 105–25
Martin, R.L. and Osberg, S. (2007), “Social entrepreneurship: the case for definition”, Standford Social Innovation Review, Vol. 5 No. 1, pp. 28–39