Academic journal article Emergence: Complexity and Organization

The Social Entrepreneurship Matrix as a "Tipping Point" for Economic Change

Academic journal article Emergence: Complexity and Organization

The Social Entrepreneurship Matrix as a "Tipping Point" for Economic Change

Article excerpt

As social entrepreneurs and the enterprises they create gain momentum in the marketplace, research aimed at better understanding the effects of this growing form of social commerce has burgeoned. However, consensus regarding how a social entrepreneur differs from a traditional one or exactly how a social enterprise or social entrepreneurial program differs from other forms of social commerce has not been reached. Indeed, confusions involved in defining social entrepreneurship can hamper attempts to apply the constructs and methods of complexity theory to this burgeoning new arena of "social capital." To remedy this lack of clarity and, accordingly to more fully grasp the nature of social entrepreneurship, the current paper introduces the diagramic construct of the Social Entrepreneurship Matrix (SEM). Using a systems thinking perspective, the Matrix combines entrepreneurial mission concerns with enterprise profit requirements. It is hoped the interaction that results can serve as a mechanism for better conceptualizing and exploring social commerce.


As social entrepreneurs and the enterprises they create gain economic strength, research to understand the phenomenon has burgeoned (Drayton, 2002; Dorado, 2006). Not only does the literature contain rich descriptions of dedicated individuals creating a variety of socially beneficial and profitable businesses (Van Slyke & Newman, 2006), there has also been a concerted effort to differentiate these achievements from those of traditional entrepreneurial efforts (Dart, 2004; Harding, 2004). A clear distinction between the two would help investors, analysts, researchers as well as other interested stakeholders, be better able to value the strategic and operational outcomes each brings to the marketplace. However, to date, most of the efforts at differentiation have done more to confuse the issues rather than clarify them (see, e.g., Mort et al, 2003; Peredo 8c Chrisman, 2006). One prominent avenue of differentiation has focused on identifying personal traits that distinguish between social and traditional entrepreneurs (Roberts & Woods, 2005; Drayton, 2002) while another has sought to differentiate business approaches by who funds a given type of enterprise (Ligane &. Olsen, 2004; Hartigan, 2006).

Interestingly, no one has yet offered a way to practically develop the social enterprise approach to business as a mechanism for fundamental economic change in the marketplace. Even while Dart (2004) seeks to legitimize the social enterprise approach, we are still lacking the unifying guidance needed to propel the phenomenon forward. The current paper seeks to re-conceptualize previous efforts and provide a framework for distinguishing between entrepreneurial efforts, including socially conscious ones, and the types of businesses they create. The paper seeks to use the integrating properties of systems thinking to offer guidance for assessing social enterprise opportunities (Fuller & Moran, 2001).

Social entrepreneurship defined

Whether because the notion of someone starting a business for reasons other than profit maximization might seem oxymoronic to some or because there is something fundamentally different about individuals who choose to do this, much research on social entrepreneurism has focused on identifying characteristics that make such individuals stand out (Dees, 2001; Fiet et al., 2006). Table 1 provides a sample of the ways social entrepreneurs have been defined in the literature as well as the characteristics that have been attributed to their success.

It is interesting that Table 1 points out how efforts to distinguish social entrepreneurs from traditional ones has led to a finding of greater similarity than difference. For example, the evidence indicates that all entrepreneurs are passionate, driven individuals, who believe their ideas will make the world a better place, regardless of whether they receive the title of "social" entrepreneurs or not (Hayward et al. …

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