Surveying Social Entrepreneurship: Toward an Empirical Analysis of the Performance Revolution in the Social Sector

35 Pages Posted: 2 Jan 2009

Date Written: July 1, 2004


Over the past few years, social entrepreneurship has captured the imagination of development and social policy practitioners. The term is rapidly becoming shorthand for the performance revolution in the social sector. Social entrepreneurship may well hold the key to address the crisis of the welfare state and underdevelopment. But to seriously turn the tide on global issues as exemplified in, say, the Millennium Development Goals, well-intentioned interest in social entrepreneurship alone is insufficient. Sizeable investments in social entrepreneurs are needed. This requires a strong business case. We must identify the social issues where social entrepreneurship interventions have comparative advantage, and the social enterprises that do best at delivering social value. This paper reviews social entrepreneurship as a specific form of intervention in domains where market mechanisms alone do not work properly. The argument does not intend to provide any comprehensive statement on the field of social entrepreneurship, or to weigh in on the debate how to properly define social entrepreneurship. It seeks to answer the question, what would I need to know to put substantial financial resources into social entrepreneurship, rather than funding a few initiatives here and there? The range of views on social entrepreneurship is wide. Section one introduces the subject. Section two provides a brief overview of social entrepreneurship and its logic of action. Taking a structured perspective, one can establish a continuum ranging from an exclusive focus on social entrepreneurs' traits and patterns of behavior to a complete focus on context. The emerging schools of thought on social entrepreneurship are best classified as the individualist and the contextualist views on social entrepreneurship. For the purpose of empirical analysis, the paper proposes to look across the continuum. Section three clarifies four dimensions of social entrepreneurship that warrant empirical validation: innovation, performance, leadership, and identity. Section four concludes, pointing to a way forward to put the phenomenon of social entrepreneurship on the sound empirical basis needed to convince social investors of its upside.

Keywords: Social entrepreneurship, non-profit sector

JEL Classification: B29, H41, I39, L31, M13, M14

Suggested Citation

Martin, Maximilian, Surveying Social Entrepreneurship: Toward an Empirical Analysis of the Performance Revolution in the Social Sector (July 1, 2004). Available at SSRN: or

Maximilian Martin (Contact Author)

University of St. Gallen ( email )

Tigerbergstrasse 2
St. Gallen, CH-9000

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