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Entrepreneurship: Instrument for Positive Social Change

January 31, 2012

By Mark H. Clevey, MPA, Entre/Intrapreneurship Consultant and co-author of the Michigan Entrepreneurship Scord Card

In 2011 the Michigan Municipal League published a new book titled, “The Economics of Place: The Value of Building Communities Around People” that identified entrepreneurship as one of five key drivers of community and economic development. Entrepreneur extraordinaire Josh Linkner notes that entrepreneurs drive this development because they, by definition, “change the world.” More importantly, research increasingly shows that entrepreneurs change the world other than by simply by making a better mouse trap. They do so by creating and catalyzing a paradigm of entrepreneurship that makes the social, cultural, community and economic systems that surround them more entrepreneurial as well. When this influence reaches a tipping point it becomes, in the words of Google, an “entrepreneurialist culture.” 

According to Google, an, “Entrepreneurialist Culture is not just relevant to business and engineering students contemplating starting their own businesses. It is just as relevant to people who intend to seek employment with large companies or, indeed, are going to enter public service, Non Governmental Organizations, charities, museums, hospitals, universities, public school administration and the like.”

Even more importantly, research shows that an entrepreneurialist culture is more than just the sum of its parts. It is characterized primarily by a synergistic “virtuous cycle” where a greater number of innovative people lead to shared ideas which further leads to growth in institutions that foster innovation that in turn attract more innovative people from less fertile communities and so on. Over the last eight years, SBAM’s Annual Michigan Entrepreneurship Score Card has researched the issue of “entrepreneurialist culture” and has found that entrepreneurship typically flourishes in three key ways:

• Small Business Entrepreneurs are defined as firms that effectively combine technical innovation with intent and capacity for growth in high growth potential markets. 

• Intrapreneurs – While an entrepreneur is defined as an individual that takes primary responsibility for venture creation, intrapreneurs are entrepreneurs who reside inside of existing organizations that serve as change agents, steering their hosts in new directions of growth, diversification, profitability and impact. 

• Social Entre/Intrapreneurs – In 1980, Bill Drayton, a management consultant working for McKinsey & Company, coined the term “social entrepreneur” as an individual who uses entrepreneurship principally to generate positive social change operating in both the private and non-profit sectors. 

SBAM’s Score Card research indicates that communities can use Social Entrepreneurship to enhance innovation and change in non-business organizations as well as to encourage increased small business entrepreneurship as an economic revitalization strategy. Serial entrepreneur extraordinaire’ Josh Linkner, for example, tells would-be entrepreneurs that, “if you’re going to be an entrepreneur, do it to make a difference.” Many for example, look to the Charter School movement as a prime example of Social Entrepreneurship at its best – better educated students make higher performing employees and better business/community leaders and followers. In other instances, Social Entrepreneurship is being used a way to revitalize communities and seed new businesses and industries in blighted areas. Social entrepreneurs often are early adopters of new technologies, thus helping innovators compete in the marketplace. Finally, at the community level, a growing number of organizations are beginning to use social entrepreneurship principles as a way to revitalize the community based organizations that they financially support.

Those wishing to learn more about how to use Social Entrepreneurship to catalyze a more robust entrepreneurialist culture will find a growing list of resources available to them. Currently, for example, five key foundations are considered the leaders in providing financial support for social entrepreneurship-related initiatives: Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, Skoll Foundation, Ashoka (Founded by Bill Drayton), Omidyar Network and Echoing Green. 

In Michigan, the University of Michigan (U-M), Center for Entrepreneurship has also launched a “Social Entrepreneurship Initiative” whose goal is to help U-M students pursue social entrepreneurial achievements that improve people’s lives and drives societal change. The stated goals of the program are to: Educate U-M undergrads and graduate students on the principles and concepts of social entrepreneurship; Support the development of breakthrough, low cost technologies and innovations that can effect social change in both domestic and international contexts; Incubate and launch viable social ventures from within the UM community; and, Influence other schools and programs on social entrepreneurship. 

In summary, entrepreneurs are revitalizing local communities and economies all across Michigan. Small businesses have honed the principles of entrepreneurship into a robust strategic management system that is now extending beyond the business sector to bring about positive change in all areas of society. As these entrepreneurial organizations synergize we can expect to see continued and accelerated improvement across the state and region. 

What do you think about social entrepreneurship? Engage and leave a comment below.

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