What do We Know about Social Entrepreneurship: an Analysis of Empirical Research
Despite the growing attention for social entrepreneurship no consensus exists on what it is or what it is not. It is a multi-interpretable concept and although the use of the label is widespread, the meaning attached to it often varies. Not surprisingly, a considerable amount of scholarly effort is devoted to defining what social entrepreneurship is and what the commonalities and distinctions are with closely related fields such as commercial entrepreneurship.
The purpose of this paper is twofold. The first purpose is to give an answer to the question what we know about social entrepreneurship from empirical research beyond anecdotes and illustrations. This is done by reviewing articles on social entrepreneurship based on empirical research. At the same time this analysis allows for an inventory of research gaps. Therefore the second purpose is to identify research omissions and to generate suggestions for future research both from a content point of view as well as from a methodological point of view.
Despite the growing attention for social entrepreneurship as a scholarly field of research, it is still at a stage of infancy. Academic research in the past two decades was primarily dedicated to establish a conceptual foundation which resulted in a considerable stream of conceptual papers. Empirical articles are gradually appearing since the turn of the century. Although they are still by far outnumbered by conceptual articles, they are of considerable significance for social entrepreneurship to evolve as a field of scientific inquiry. This paper reviews 14 empirical research studies on social entrepreneurship, classifies them along four dimensions and summarizes research findings for each of these dimensions. Preliminary to the analysis of the empirical researches, an overview of four schools of thought is presented that serves as a background for interpreting the empirical inquiries.
This article was published in the ERIM Report Series Research in Management. The ERIM Report Series is distributed through the following platforms:
- Academic Repository at Erasmus University (DEAR), DEAR ERIM Series Portal
- Social Science Research Network (SSRN), SSRN ERIM Series Webpage
- Research Papers in Economics (REPEC), REPEC ERIM Series Webpage
N.B. The version published here is an early version presented at the 2nd EMES International Conference on Social Enterprise, July 2009, Trento (Italy).
The general analysis of these studies confirms the stage of infancy of social entrepreneurship as a field of scientific inquiry. The findings at this level can be summarized as follows: there is a limited number of studies with a dominant qualitative research approach mainly of an exploratory type using primary data based on relatively small sample sizes. For an underexplored research field such as social entrepreneurship it is surprising to see that only one of the studies apply a grounded theory methodology. Applying more grounded theory and methodology could divulge unique aspects of social entrepreneurship. Instead, most of the studies reckon entrepreneurship as their knowledge foundation. Approaching social entrepreneurship from an entrepreneurial perspective may restrict the research domain and makes that what we observe is limited to what we already know. Employing a grounded theory and methodology is a first opportunity for future research.
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Brigitte Hoogendoorn, Enrico Pennings, and Roy Thurik
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Report | What do we know about Social Entrepreneurship
24 Jun 2010, pdf, 483KB