With the convergence of an ailing economy, a new generation of political leaders, and a strong public sentiment that change is needed on many fronts within our society and across the world, the phenomenon of social entrepreneurship has found new life and is flourishing within society as a whole and within higher education in particular. Yet, there exists some confusion and debate about the definition of social entrepreneurship and whether it is a useful concept for application across disciplines within the academy. There are also questions about where such programs should be situated within the academy. Do they belong in the business school alongside entrepreneurship education? Are they a better fit for the social sciences? Is social entrepreneurship an interdisciplinary field of study or a multidisciplinary field? This article seeks to shed light on these questions by examining the origin and evolution of the term "social entrepreneurship" and its use by practitioners outside the academy. Drawing upon this background, the article suggests a conceptualization of social entrepreneurship that would situate it broadly in the curriculum rather than limiting it to one discipline.
Social Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneurship Education
Social entrepreneurship is a term frequently used in popular publications today. Recent articles in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, USA Today, the Washington Post, and many others tell the story of a burgeoning field in which business practices (sometimes involving the creation of a sustainable revenue stream) meet social responsibility and a strong desire for social change. In the past two years alone, there have been over 1,000 news stories covering everything from conferences focusing on the convergence of entrepreneurship and social responsibility (European Economic and Social Committee 2008), to learning the all-important elevator speech for one's social entrepreneurship venture (Wake Forest University 2008), to the genesis of social entrepreneurship programs on university campuses across the United States (Babson College 2008).
General entrepreneurship education is well-established in academe. Entrepreneur and The Princeton Review published a list of the top 50 colleges and universities for entrepreneurship education in 2009, and included on the list of undergraduate institutions were such schools as University of Houston, Babson College, and Drexel, DePaul, and Temple Universities (Entrepreneur and The Princeton Review 2009). In fact, Zwaniecki (2008, [paragraph] 6) notes that "[i]n 1970, no more than a handful of such programs existed. By the early 2000s, about 1,600 universities and colleges offered 2,200 entrepreneurship courses, according to a 2003 study." Those numbers have grown significantly over the past seven years, but one is still left to discern whether these university programs are simply traditional entrepreneurship programs grounded in business school ideas or whether they include social entrepreneurship and therefore might more readily be incorporated into other academic disciplines (e.g., social sciences, humanities, natural sciences, and education). For example, in a recent New York Times article, "Dreamers and Doers" (Schwartz 2009), the author features the entrepreneurial education taking place at Babson College, the living-learning communities included in this educational experience, and many of the unique ideas Babson students have generated and implemented. Most of the ideas featured are entrepreneurial in nature, and, if one digs a little deeper, there is mention of students who have developed ideas focusing on societal change (e.g., a nonprofit organization intended to help fight for human rights in Darfur). Babson is but one of many institutions that includes social entrepreneurship initiatives as part of its broader entrepreneurship education program.
The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a leading supporter of social entrepreneurship education, reports that there are more that 5,000 campuses that currently offer social entrepreneurship courses or programs (Schwartz 2009). …