In recent years, “social entrepreneur” has become a prominent term in the not-for-profit, foundation, and NGO worlds. But what exactly is a “social entrepreneur?” While social entrepreneurs share many of the characteristics ascribed to for-profit entrepreneurs, Roger L. Martin & Sally Osberg observe in their article in the Stanford Innovation Review Social Entrepreneurship: The Case for Definition that “the social entrepreneur aims for value in the form of large-scale, transformational benefit that accrues either to a significant segment of society or to society at large.” They also note that “social entrepreneurship….is as vital to the progress of societies as is entrepreneurship to the progress of economies, and it merits more rigorous, serious attention than it has attracted so far.”
PBS (http://www.pbs.org/opb/thenewheroes/whatis/ ) notes “A social entrepreneur identifies and solves social problems on a large scale. Just as business entrepreneurs create and transform whole industries, social entrepreneurs act as the change agents for society, seizing opportunities others miss in order to improve systems, invent and disseminate new approaches and advance sustainable solutions that create social value. Unlike traditional business entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs primarily seek to generate “social value” rather than profits. And unlike the majority of non-profit organizations, their work is targeted not only towards immediate, small-scale effects, but sweeping, long-term change.”
The Ashoka Foundation similarly stresses the large-scale effects that social entrepreneurs seek to make. “Social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. They are ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change. Rather than leaving societal needs to the government or business sectors, social entrepreneurs find what is not working and solve the problem by changing the system, spreading the solution, and persuading entire societies to take new leaps.” (See https://www.ashoka.org/social_entrepreneur )
While the above sources highlight the often ambitious, indeed global, goals of social entrepreneurs, most social entrepreneurship, in fact, involves developing and sustaining specific organizations and, in turn, operating discrete programs. These programmatic efforts can benefit from program evaluations that gather information to show that they are making the differences that their founders hope to make. Evaluations of social entrepreneur-sponsored initiatives not only provide critical evidence of impact, but equally importantly, provide objective information gathered directly from program recipients and others program stakeholders about the ways that such efforts might be strengthened. (See our previous post, “Listening to Those Who Matter Most: Beneficiaries.”) Evaluations of social entrepreneur-sponsored initiatives are especially important because program participants, service recipients, and other beneficiaries are seldom in a position to directly provide feedback to the innovators who are responsible for the programming. Transformative initiatives–no less than smaller scale programs—can substantially benefit from program evaluations.
See also “Advancing Evaluation Practices in Philanthropy” at The Stanford Innovation Review http://www.ssireview.org/supplement/advancing_evaluation_practices_in_philanthropy