There has been a lot of talk over the last few years about social entrepreneurship/enterprise/innovation. . . but what does it really mean? What really is the difference between social enterprise, social entrepreneurship and social innovation?

Social enterprise, as defined by Social Enterprise UK, is “a business that trades to tackle social problems, improve communities, people’s life chances, or the environment”. A social enterprise is a business, not a charity that makes money and profit.  “It is how they work and what they do with their profits that is different: working to make a bigger difference, reinvesting the profits they make to do more good.”

Social entrepreneurship, as defined by Said Business School (SBS) here in Oxford, “refers to the practice of combining innovation, resourcefulness and opportunity to address critical social and environmental challenges.”  It is not philanthropy, activism or companies with a foundation. “Social entrepreneurs focus on transforming systems and practices that are the root causes of poverty, marginalization, environmental deterioration and accompanying loss of human dignity. In so doing, they may set up for-profit or not-for-profit organizations, and in either case, their primary objective is to create sustainable systems change.”

Essentially, a social entrepreneur wants to change things and “do good”, and sets up an organisation (whether for profit, a social enterprise, or not) to help bring about those changes.  But what about social innovation?

Innovation is a very tricky subject, as it is not easily defined.  However, the definition put forward by SBS is simple and quick: “new ideas that work”.  Innovation is bigger than small changes, and relies on creativity and invention to make good ideas useful. Social innovation, therefore, refers to “new ideas that work in meeting social goals.”  Along the same lines, the British Council defines a social innovation as “a ‘disruptive’ solution to a social need — that is, one that seeks to change the way things are done to meet the challenges facing society.”

So social entrepreneurs set up social enterprises to use social innovations to create change in the world!

Social Entrepreneurship

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