Academic journal article American Journal of Entrepreneurship

Social Entrepreneurship of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Movement

Academic journal article American Journal of Entrepreneurship

Social Entrepreneurship of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Movement

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The development of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Movement (Tzu Chi henceforth) has moved in parallel with Taiwan's miraculous economic development.1 Inasmuch as the nation's economy has advanced toward being more industrialized, the accompanying byproducts - such as the deterioration in social structure, the dereliction of family values as the traditional fabric of society, and the widening gap between the rich and the poor - have posed dramatic challenges to Taiwan's social order. Following the lining of Martial Law in 1987, a series of political changes, and the liberalization of people gathering freely, the organization of social associations became quite prevalent. The convergence of social, political, and economic factors contributed to creating an environment in Taiwan favorable to the growth of social enterprises (Pelchat, 2005).2 None of these organizations could survive without charismatic individual leaders at their heart as predicated by Leadbeater (1996).

Without Master Cheng Yen as its leader, there in fact would be no Tzu Chi Movement. For over four decades, the Tzu Chi Movement under her leadership has been contributing to the betterment of social and community services, medical care, education, and humanism in Taiwan as well as around the world. What the Tzu Chi Movement has been doing is a typical case of social entrepreneurship, serving to fill gaps in social needs that are left unfilled or poorly addressed by both businesses and governments, as Dees (2001) contented. The feats of the Tzu Chi organization have won worldwide recognition. To name a recent one, Master Cheng Yen was selected as one of Time Magazine's 100 Influential Persons in April 201 1 (Time, 201 1).3

Tzu Chi has become a distinct icon representing the bright side of social change along with Taiwan's miraculous economic performance after WWII. How Master Cheng Yen and her Tzu Chi Foundation transformed pennies in a bamboo tube into six hospitals, an international bone marrow bank, and a quick-response global rescue organization that eclipses some governments' response to an emergency has drawn profound attention from various media (Chen, 2010; Montlake, 2010; Time, 2011) and academia (Ting, 1997; Laliberté, 2003; Huang, 2009; Brummans and Hwang, 2010). Most academic studies on Tzu Chi are from the perspectives of sociology, using an ethnographical approach to study how Tzu Chi is organized, or showing how Tzu Chi mobilizes volunteer groups to implement its charity and relief efforts. There is still a dearth of study on the Tzu Chi Movement from the perspective of economics, especially focusing on the role of entrepreneurship and issues of effectively managing entrepreneurial activities. This paper intends to fill this void.

Although the role of entrepreneurship in the market economy has been ignored by mainstream (neoclassical) economics, it recently has won a renaissance (Baumöl, 1968; Bygrave and Zacharakis, 2008:1). Driven by profound technological change, a trio of investments (the personal computer, the mobile phone, and the Internet) is democratizing entrepreneurship at a cracking pace (Economist, 2009). Focusing on the analysis of market equilibrium, neoclassical economics fails to grasp the nature of the market economy, which is principally dynamic and rapidly changing. In order to properly incorporate the role of entrepreneurship in capitalism, economics has to pay attention to the process that is conducted towards to equilibrium, rather than to equilibrium situations themselves (Metcalfe, 2004; Minniti and Levesque, 2008).

Entrepreneurial behavior can be aptly defined by two types - adaptive entrepreneurship and revolutionary entrepreneurship (Yu, 2001) - or similarly by replicative entrepreneurship and innovative entrepreneurship as in Baumol et al. (2007). Revolutionary entrepreneurship is related to Schumpeter (1934), who stipulated that a successful entrepreneurship sets off a chain reaction through creating new combinations by destroying the existing equilibrium, rendering existing products and services obsolete. …

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