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The Search for Social Entrepreneurship

Paul C. Light

Publication Year: 2009

Research on social entrepreneurship is finally catching up to its rapidly growing potential. In The Search for Social Entrepreneurship, Paul Light explores this surge of interest to establish the state of knowledge on this growing phenomenon and suggest directions for future research. Light begins by outlining the debate on how to define social entrepreneurship, a concept often cited and lauded but not necessarily understood. A very elemental definition would note that it involves individuals, groups, networks, or organizations seeking sustainable change via new ideas on how governments, nonprofits, and businesses can address significant social problems. That leaves plenty of gaps, however, and without adequate agreement on what the term means, we cannot measure it effectively. The unsatisfying results are apple-to-orange comparisons that make replication and further research difficult. The subsequent section examines the four main components of social entrepreneurship: ideas, opportunities, organizations, and the entrepreneurs themselves. The copious information available about each has yet to be mined for lessons on making social entrepreneurship a success. The third section draws on Light's original survey research on 131 high-performing nonprofits, exploring how they differ across the four key components. The fourth and final section offers recommendations for future action and research in this burgeoning field.

Published by: Brookings Institution Press

Front Cover

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Title Page, Copyright Page

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Table of Contents

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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-xii

Research on social entrepreneurship is finally catching up to its potential for supporting socially entrepreneurial activity in society as a whole. Drawn by increasing financial support and public interest, researchers are laying the foundation for a distinctive field of inquiry. ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

Just as social entrepreneurship cannot occur without a network of support, neither can books on social entrepreneurship. Luckily, I have been welcomed enthusiastically into the social entrepreneurship network and supported by a range of scholars, entrepreneurs, and funders who helped bring this book to fruition. ...

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1. Declaring Assumptions

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pp. 1-29

Despite enormous enthusiasm for social entrepreneurship among a new generation of change makers, the field of social entrepreneurship is not yet a field per se. It does not have paths to tenure for its young professors, a growing inventory of quantitative data for its researchers, or a guaranteed source of private or government funding for its institutions. ...

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2. Building Sites

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pp. 30-51

The study of business and social entrepreneurship has long focused on newness. Study after study has defined entrepreneurship as the creation of a new venture, almost always a small business, family firm, or organization. When new ventures emerge from existing organizations, researchers have sometimes labeled it “intrapreneurship.” ...

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3. Creating Strategies

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pp. 52-87

Looking at the United States over the past fifty years, it is impossible to ignore the dramatic changes produced by social entrepreneurship. Led in part by social benefit organizations, the United States launched massive new programs to reduce disease, increase health care access for children and the elderly, guarantee civil rights, ...

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4. Exploring the Evidence

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pp. 88-143

The questions are interesting, the territory immense, and the chance to influence social change significant. In a field hungry for rigorous research on what works, scholars have an extraordinary opportunity to make an immediate impact. ...

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5. Selecting Cases

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pp. 144-168

The field of social entrepreneurship has spent much of the past decade telling success stories designed to celebrate, inspire, and teach. Few can read the stories without wondering how they might change the world too, nor can they miss the hopeful lessons learned: harvest exceptional ideas, embrace surprise, adapt and learn, recruit the right people, and above all persevere. ...

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6. Comparing Activity

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pp. 169-195

Investing in social entrepreneurship will always rely on instinct—no matter how precise the plan, investors and entrepreneurs both must make leaps of faith as they move forward. They can produce and evaluate reams of data, but the eventual decision to launch involves a fundamental belief that the new combination has promise. ...

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7. Drawing Conclusions

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pp. 196-218

This study challenges and confirms much of the conventional wisdom about socially entrepreneurial activity and social entrepreneurship. The study may be exploratory in nature, but it does yield strong insights about the nature of socially entrepreneurial activity, especially as it occurs among high-performing social benefit organizations. ...

Appendix A: Mission and Purpose Statements from the Sample of Highly, Moderately, and Not-Too Entrepreneurial Social Benefit Organizations

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pp. 219-238

Appendix B: The 2006 Survey Questionnaire and Responses

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pp. 239-258

Appendix C: Differences between Highly and Not-Too Entrepreneurial Organizations in the 2001 and 2006 Surveys

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pp. 259-264


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pp. 265-276

Further Reading

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pp. 277-282


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pp. 283-295

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780815701590
E-ISBN-10: 0815701594

Page Count: 295
Publication Year: 2009