Social Entrepreneurship

It’s been a while since my last post: I was busy with school, different venture competition applications, and a (tiny) bit of travel.

Tomorrow I am going to Skoll:EMERGE and I am thinking about a divide between Business Plan Competitions and Social Enterprise Competitions. Do we really need it? What IF there is an idea that is very viable commercially and also creates a significant social change?

I think that current divide presents a problem for the best projects: when a venture creates both profit and social and/or environmental impact. This hypothetical successful business model could be altered to create even more profits or even more impact, but it will loose a part of its hybrid characteristics.

So, I am thinking about a trade-off between profit and impact. In any organization we could think that there is a trade-off between a profit and an impact: anything from a bagel shop to a homeless shelter to an multinational corporation to a global NGO could have either profit or impact or some combination of both.

What a for-profit will choose:

On the graph to the left, each curve represents  a posible sets of combination of profit and impact for four different hypothetical organizations. If we look at the graph, clearly, traditional business plans will just focus on maximizing profit, so in cases of both black line, green and red line they’ll prefer a point that has zero impact. But in case of yellow dotted line, they will actually be better off with some impact–this will increase the profit.

What a social enterprise will choose:

The idea behind social enterprise (as I see it) is that profit has a place in impact-oriented organizations. Profit solves the problem of scallability and increases the efficiency. With this in mind, a green line social enterprise will choose a combination that is furthest to the right–it will have a highest sum of profit and impact. But about red line organization? It seem to be inefficient as a hybrid organization, yet I don’t know why or if such cases even exist. And a yellow line organization will pick the same point on the curve as the for-profit–this will offer a highest combination of profit and impact. A black line organization can theoretically pick any point on the line, depending on its short-term and long-term goals: whether it puts more emphasis on sustainability or on current impact.

A few questions arise:

1) For-profit and SE seem to merge in yellow–is that a problem? Wouldn’t SE funders push to a higher impact, even though it decreases efficiency?

2) How to distinguish a for-profit from SE in black organization? Is there any cut-off profit/impact ratio (like 60/40) for SE?

3) What to do with red case: is it better to have either strict for-profit or a strict non-profit?

4) Finally, could other organizations organization be redesigned to become more like yellow organization?

My interest is not academical: I have an idea for an organization that is both profitable and will create an impact. So I am thinking how should I frame and design this organization to better serve its goals and to get initial funding.

I’m just thinking and playing here, so if you could forward me some research or provide me some ideas/feedback/criticism, it would great!


As a part of research for my new project I have done a Gogle search in Russian on “social entrepreneurship”. The results are: 1,160,000 pages found. To put in perspective: Google gives 5,500,000 results for “entrepreneurship” (in Russian). To compare, in English the results are 5,200,000 and 16,200,000 results for “social entrepreneurship” and “entrepreneurship,” respectively.

Here is a youtube video about the winner of the pilot competition (a family of artists who teach unemployed mothers of three or more kids to create woolen dolls), started by NB-Forum in a search for social enterprises:

It’s all great, but look at the numbers. In case you don’t speak Russian, the narrator says:

“in Rybinsk, there are more than 250 unemployed mothers …. . At least ten of them will have a job now”

It’s really nice what these people do, but they don’t solve the problem. Not even 5 % of the tiny target population is impacted. The problem is that this venture doesn’t innovate the processes. I am not talking about high-tech or anything. I mean that the main processes are just the same they were before the venture. The other problem is that the venture has zero capital–it completely relies on the two people to teach and the others to learn and produce.

Next, look at the number of views this video got. 500! and it’s the winner and it was published 5 months ago..

Also, look at the type of sources, that Google gives on the first page–there is an interesting observation to be made. They are all scholarly: published by universities, foundations, research institutes, etc. A specific blog-search on Russian gives 63 blog entries that contain “social entrepreneurship”… Compare it with 40,000 entries for “entrepreneurship.” This just shows that VERY few people besides experts know what the social entrepreneurship is.

I am going to ponder about that. I feel like I have so stuff to share with Runet.