Research Proposal on Social Entrepreneurship

Social Entrepreneurship - Best practices and the role of technology

This research proposal suggests an exploratory approach to collect the best practices of successful social entrepreneurial ventures. It tries to establish a reliable and easily accessible platform on which academicians and prospective social entrepreneurs can build on. It is intended that full life-cycle stages of entrepreneurship would be taken into consideration wherever possible. In addition, how social entrepreneurs are making the best use of technology will be investigated and documented.

Background and Rationale
Although the term ‘Social Entrepreneurship’ is relatively new, evidence shows that some great social entrepreneurs have always existed in the last two centuries. Altruism coupled with business sense has paved way for new opportunities for those who have entrepreneurial skills and want to work for the betterment of the society. Extraordinary people like Muhammad Yunus (Nobel Peace prize winner in 2006) came up with brilliant ideas and succeeded at creating revolutionary products and services dramatically improving human lives (Youssry 2007). As opposed to traditional non-profits, which are dependant on charitable donations and government subsidies, social enterprises are increasingly self-sufficient and sustainable (Boschee & McClurg 2003). There are a number of definitions for Social Entrepreneurship at the moment giving broad and narrow meanings to it. Whatever they are, the underlying truth is that making a social impact is as important for social entrepreneurs as creating personal and shareholder value, if not more (Austin, Stevenson and Wei Skillern 2006). Social Entrepreneurship is definitely more than the business or economic entrepreneurship. Unlike some commercial/economic organisations that only voice their social concerns through their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) departments, social enterprises treat their social and/or environmental responsibilities as the prime business cases. The CSR initiatives can change with time and circumstances, and range from simply organising donations by the employees to international social/voluntary projects involving millions of pounds, depending on the interests and financial status of the company. On the contrary, most social entrepreneurs get influenced by local problems with which they have first-hand experiences and decide to stick to them for a considerable time. They focus all of their resources and energies thinking about and analysing the social issues and offer direct and often speedy solutions to the people in need. Due to the stronger, quicker and more transparent impact the social

enterprises make on the society, there is an obligation to create and foster more and more social entrepreneurs as compared to the CSR solutions from general companies. Baron (2005) supports this by saying that corporate giving in the form of social entrepreneurship is a better substitute to personal giving than that of profitmaximising firms. Nonetheless, one should understand that both CSR and Social Entrepreneurship are not mutually exclusive. They can go hand in hand for the sake of a healthier society. If CSR is defined as “the business contribution to Sustainable Development” (European Commission 2002), then the “individual entrepreneurs’ contribution to sustainable development” is Social Entrepreneurship (Seelos & Mair 2004). However, many people still find it difficult to comprehend the marriage between ‘Social service’ and ‘Entrepreneurship’. It is yet to attract the required attention of the academicians. There is confusion on who should teach this subject in universities. It is lacking credibility as there is not enough research done on it.

Research Questions
It is suggested to focus this doctoral research on addressing the following points:

1. Practical differences between the tools, techniques, procedures used in
various stages of the life cycles of Entrepreneurship and Social Entrepreneurship 2. Unique challenges, risks and opportunities for a Social Entrepreneur such as arrangement of finances, scalability, measurement of success/growth, availability of best practices, etc. 3. Role of technology in Social Entrepreneurship such as web 2.0, open-source software, etc.

Theoretical Framework
Still an emerging field, Social Entrepreneurship is slowly picking up momentum among researchers. The term ‘Social Entrepreneurship’ itself is seen as too broad and vague and hence many people tried to give various definitions to it (Austin, Stevenson and Wei Skillern 2006). According to Martin & Osberg (2007), Social Entrepreneurship is defined as a concept with the following three components: “(1) identifying a stable but inherently unjust equilibrium that causes the exclusion, marginalization, or suffering of a segment of humanity that lacks the financial means or political clout to achieve any transformative benefit on its own; (2) identifying an opportunity in this unjust equilibrium, developing a social value proposition, and bringing to bear inspiration, creativity, direct action, courage, and fortitude, thereby challenging the stable state’s hegemony; and (3) forging a new, stable equilibrium that releases trapped potential or alleviates the suffering of the targeted group, and through imitation and the creation of a stable ecosystem around the new equilibrium ensuring a better future for the targeted group and even society at large.”

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A large range of not-for-profit, for-profit and mixed ventures (that have both not-forprofit and for-profit elements in them) come under the umbrella of Social Entrepreneurship (Dees 1998 & Hockerts 2006). Dees (1998) says that social entrepreneurs are a rare breed with unique skills and interests. There is a great need to encourage these people and also spread the awareness, support and guidance in this area to attract others. This has been the motivation behind “Ashoka”, founded by Bill Drayton, also called as the ‘Father of Social Entrepreneurship’. In the UK, Lord Young of Dartington, Michael Young was one of the pioneers in this area. He was responsible for about forty social organisations including a school for Social Entrepreneurs. History has seen several of such innovative thinkers in addition to institutions such as the Schwab, the Skoll and the Draper Richards foundations that clearly understood how just a person like Muhammad Yunus (founder of Grameen bank) or Vinoba Bhave (founder of the Land Gift movement) can change millions of lives with simple ideas. The question is whether there exists a common platform in the form of literature or research to spread the best practices in social entrepreneurship? If yes, how many budding social entrepreneurs can access and emulate them? There is still a vacuum in the literature, research and awareness about the factors that lead to success in the field of Social Entrepreneurship (Alvord et al. 2004; Cramer 2003; Desa and Kotha 2006; Mulgan 2006). Leadbeater (1997) and Thompson (2002) stress in their publications the urgent need to foster social entrepreneurs. Mair, Robinson and Hockerts (2006) expect more research to be done in understanding how values, systems and processes can affect sustainability of social enterprises. Technology especially Information Technology (IT) is becoming increasingly important in eradicating the poverty and other social problems in developing economies. Wise investments in the relevant technologies can help improve the lives of common people in emerging countries. Some reputed not-for-profit organisations such as ‘The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’, The Open Society Institute and The MacArthur Foundation are focussing on technology-driven solutions to societal needs. Latest internet based technologies (such as web 2.0 phenomenon and open source projects) democratise the innovation by connecting the people on a global level (von Hippel 2005). However, the literature available in Social Entrepreneurship is yet to address the complete role of technology in running social ventures (Mair & Martif 2004). Pearce, J.M., Grafman, L., Colledge, T. & Legg, R. (2008) propose that a network formed with free IT tools, Social Entrepreneurship and right learning mechanisms can make sustainable development possible and free many poor people from sufferings. Although Desa & Kotha (2006) did some research on the life-cycle of technology social ventures (TSV), there is a need to work more on how technology addresses some of the pressing practical issues faced by social entrepreneurs.

Social Entrepreneurship appeals to most social-conscious people of this generation who would like to start their own ventures. Carrying out business by directly helping the needy is the dream of many talented professionals. However, due to lack of awareness, support and guidance, many enthusiasts are unable to step into this field and therefore fail to utilise their skills to support the downtrodden. The suggested research will create a good foundation of best practices for all the stages of business

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life cycle right from business idea to entrepreneur’s leave from the venture and possibly equip the prospective social entrepreneurs with a technology tool kit positively influencing their ventures. It will also contribute to the present ‘body of knowledge’ of social entrepreneurship opening the doors to further research opportunities in offering more practical solutions to budding social entrepreneurs.

In order to solve the research problems the data will be gathered by closely studying the tools, techniques, processes and procedures adopted in successful social ventures. It is suggested to carefully divide social enterprises based on pre-decided criteria, choose a number of small to large successful enterprises in UK and India, which fit in these categories, approach the founders & senior management and conduct interviews with them. Wherever possible, surveys and questionnaires will be used. Role of technology specifically the use of affordable information technology tools in all the stages of the life cycle of these social businesses will be thoroughly investigated. It may not be feasible to analyse different types of varied businesses and derive a clear set of established practices. Keeping this in view, it is expected to discuss the findings based on the background, industry and type of the business. Quantitative techniques are considered as well as there may be a need to combine both quantitative and qualitative methods for more accurate analysis. It is recommended to include only those ventures that are the brainchildren of one or two entrepreneurs. In other words, institutional or co-operative social enterprises (Spear 2006) will not be approached as the main goal behind conducting this research is mainly to foster visionary social entrepreneurs.

My Previous Experience of Research & Career Aspirations

Alvord S.H., L. David Brown & C.W. Letts. 2004. “Social Entrepreneurship and Societal Transformation: an Exploratory Study.” Journal of Applied Behavioural Science: 40: 260-282 Austin, Stevenson & Wei-Skillern. 2006. "Social and Commercial Entrepreneurship: Same, Different, or Both?" Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice 30, no. 1 (January 2006). Baron, David P. 2005. Corporate Social Responsibility and Social Entrepreneurship. Boschee, J. & McClurg, J. 2003. Toward a better understanding of social entrepreneurship: Some important distinctions Cramer, J. 2003. Ondernemen met hoofd en hart – duurzaam ondernemen: praktijkervaringen. Assen: Koninklijke van Gorcum.

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Dees, J.Gregory. 1998. The Meaning of “Social Entrepreneurship”. Desa, G. & S. Kotha. 2006. “Ownership, Mission and Environment: An Exploratory Analysis into the Evolution of a Technology Social Venture.” In Social Entrepreneurship, ed. Mair J. et al. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Hockerts, K. 2006. "Entrepreneurial opportunity in social purpose business ventures", in Mair, J., Robinson, J. & Hockerts, K. (Eds), Social Entrepreneurship, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke. Ingstad, Eline Synneva Lorentzen. 2008. Social entrepreneurship in academia: Which role can a university play in pursuing technology based social entrepreneurship? Leadbeater, C. 1997. The Rise of the Social Entrepreneur. Mair, J. & Martif, I. 2004. Social Entrepreneurship: What are we talking about? A framework for future research. Working Paper 546. IESE Business school, University of Navarra, Barcelona. Martin, Roger L. & Osberg Sally. 2007. Social Entrepreneurship: The Case for Definition. Mulgan, G. 2006. Social Innovation, what it is, why it matters and how it can be accelerated. London: The Young Foundation. Pearce, J.M., Grafman, L., Colledge, T. & Legg, R. 2008. Leveraging Information Technology, Social Entrepreneurship, and Global Collaboration for Just Sustainable Development. Seelos, C. & Mair, J. 2004. Social Entrepreneurship: The contribution of individual entrepreneurs to sustainable development Spear, R. 2006. “Social entrepreneurship: a different model?” International Journal of Social Economics Vol. 33 No. 5/6, 2006. Thompson, John L. 2002. The world of the social entrepreneur. von Hippel, Eric. 2005. "Open source software projects as user innovation networks no manufacturer required." in Perspectives on Free and Open Source Software, edited by J. Feller, B. Fitzgerald, S. Hissam, and K. Lakhani. Cambridge: MIT Press. Youssry, A. 2007. Social Entrepreneurs and Enterprise Development.

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