Social entrepreneurship is one of the most powerful and important ideas to emerge in our society in recent years, and it is having a dramatic impact on every major university. A decade ago, the term was known only to a few theoreticians and isolated groups of enlightened idealists; just over five years ago an article in the New York Times describing the new field was considered to be groundbreaking.1 Today, a Google search of the term results in 1.3 million hits, and tens of thousands of nongovernmental organizations now characterize themselves or their founders as “social entrepreneurs.” Influential commentators characterize the movement as the wave of the future—a compelling and effective means of employing philanthropic resources of all forms. Those who believe the research university must attack the world’s biggest problems cannot ignore this remarkable movement. Its development illustrates a central thesis of this book: when entrepreneurship is added to a mix that already includes significant financial and human resources and passion, remarkable things can happen.
The desire to heal the world and make things better is as old as civilization itself. By the turn of the nineteenth century, the idea of “scientific charity” emerged. The idea was that “modern” principles in health, education, and commerce could usefully be applied to the plight of the poor. The work of Florence Nightingale, the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and Goodwill Industries are popular examples of the results of this movement. Still, the word “entrepreneur-