Academic journal article Emergence: Complexity and Organization

Complexity and Social Entrepreneurship: A Fortuitous Meeting

Academic journal article Emergence: Complexity and Organization

Complexity and Social Entrepreneurship: A Fortuitous Meeting

Article excerpt

This paper looks at how ideas, constructs, methods and insights coming out of the sciences of complex systems can be applied to the study of social entrepreneurship. At present, there is no theory that seeks to define social entrepreneurship in complex system terms nor how such a redefinition might contribute to greater positive social outcomes of these kinds of programs. To remedy this, we propose ways that complexity theory can be used to develop useful, and we hope, what is ultimately, a more practical theory. In particular, we explore how complexity ideas might be used to develop a robust theory of social dynamics and of how the mechanisms of social entrepreneurship might be better understood as a practical approach for generating well-defined positive social outcomes. After describing various possibilities, some hopeful thoughts on the future of the field are offered.

There is nothing more practical than a good theory.

Kurt Lewin

Introduction: Leveraging resources for a world in need

With 2.7 billion people across the world subsisting on only two US dollars or less per day and countless others barely managing to get through extremely challenging circumstances on a dayto-day basis, the need for powerful and scalable social initiatives cannot be overemphasized. In a reaffirmation of the 1970 General Assembly Resolution that wealthy nations pledge 0.7% of their Gross National Product, the United Nations launched the "Millennium Pledge" to eradicate poverty by 2015 and to tackle pressing social issues in such areas as education and health care (Millennium Project, 2006). As a result, in 2006 alone, donor nations provided more than $104 billion (in US dollars). However, despite the major investments of time, money, goods, supplies, and other resources provided by development and aid agencies as well as government and other organizations, large scale foreign aid programs have had only mixed success. Some have made spectacular gains, particularly in the health care arena, while others have failed to make a difference, having been hampered by the enormity of the need, the income and resource inequality, armed conflict, natural disasters, poor policy decisions, bureaucratic inefficiencies, corruption, mismanagement, and other factors.

In response to critics of these programs (see, e.g., Easterly, 2006), smaller-scale social entrepreneurship efforts have emerged expressing a concomitant shift in approach from "doing onto others" to "helping others do onto themselves." This approach is partnership based; usually, multi-partnerships among funders, government agencies, the social entrepreneurs themselves, the clients served, and diverse community members (for more on success and failure in cross-sector partnerships, see, Seitanidi in this issue). Partnerships that develop between the targeted group and social entrepreneurs provide input about the group's own needs within the context of their social mores and cultural values, thus enabling the targeted groups to take a more active role in problem identification, policy decisions, and implementable solutions.

As the papers of Massetti, Seitanidi, and Trexler (in this volume) demonstrate, these social entrepreneurial initiatives possess, to one degree or another, their own unique structures with regard to their profit vs. nonprofit orientation, their market-driven vs. socially-driven missions, their organizational configurations in that they can be standalones or spin-offs of larger entities, and so forth. For example, social enterprises focus on social missions, and reinvest earnings rather than obtaining operating capital through philanthropic donations (Markoff, 2008). Although social entrepreneurship initiatives have made a tangible difference within their communities as evidenced, for example, by the cases described in this paper, much more needs to be done if human organizing efforts and forms are to keep pace with the ever increasing need. …

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