v31 #3 Collecting to the Core — Social Entrepreneurship

by | Jun 28, 2019 | 0 comments

by Kimberly Copenhaver  (Associate Professor/Librarian, Reference, Instruction, and Access Services, Eckerd College; Business Subject Editor, Resources for College Libraries: Career Resources)  

Column Editor:  Anne Doherty  (Resources for College Libraries Project Editor, CHOICE/ACRL)  

Column Editor’s Note:  The “Collecting to the Core” column highlights monographic works that are essential to the academic library within a particular discipline, inspired by the Resources for College Libraries bibliography (online at http://www.rclweb.net).  In each essay, subject specialists introduce and explain the classic titles and topics that continue to remain relevant to the undergraduate curriculum and library collection.  Disciplinary trends may shift, but some classics never go out of style. — AD

Entrepreneurship is an area of business administration that is receiving increased focus in higher education.  Essential works cover a wide spectrum of business topics such as management, accounting, marketing, leadership, and small business development.  Libraries may already own specific core works in each of these areas that support student research. However, a distinct aspect of entrepreneurship that demands additional attention is social entrepreneurship.  Social entrepreneurship and social enterprise are interdisciplinary topics that have sparked considerable interest among leaders in the business, nonprofit, and government sectors, as well as among academics in management, nonprofit, and public administration or policy programs.  The term “social entrepreneur” was coined in the 1970’s by Bill Drayton, founder of Ashoka, an international organization that supports and promotes social entrepreneurs.  Social entrepreneurs act as change agents who advance and promote solutions to social or community problems in new and innovative ways.   

For students, Blake Mycoskie, founder of the California-based shoe company TOMS, may be one of the most well-known social entrepreneurs.  While volunteering in Argentina, Mycoskie was inspired to make a difference in the health of children.  TOMS was built based on a one-for-one business model promising to donate one pair of shoes for every pair sold.  Initial success allowed TOMS to move its supply chain for shoe donation to countries they actively give in, presently manufacturing in Kenya, India, Ethiopia, and Haiti.  TOMS has expanded its retail product line beyond shoes to include eyewear, apparel, accessories, and coffee, putting money toward giving shoes, eye treatment and services, and water services for those in need.  TOMS is a certified B Corporation business, meeting standards that balance profit and purpose in order to build a more sustainable economy, and has recently expanded its one-for-one giving model by investing in nonprofit organizations working to end gun violence in the United States. 

Another example of a mission-driven social enterprise is Alternative Waste Technologies (AWT).  AWT provides clean biomass briquettes to mitigate against climate change and deforestation, converting organic and charcoal wastes into low-cost and eco-friendly fuel briquettes.  The briquettes have replaced charcoal and firewood in many Kenyan households and businesses, resulting in reductions to fuel costs and environmental pollution. In addition to providing alternative energy solutions, AWT creates employment opportunities for at-risk youth through a work-study program so that they can develop skills, learn basic technologies, and earn degrees.  This mission-driven business model combines technology and entrepreneurship to address both environmental and social concerns.  

The interdisciplinary nature of social entrepreneurship often makes collection development difficult due to the breadth, depth, and intricate social and economic themes impacting specific business enterprises.  Social entrepreneurs need to clearly understand the unique market conditions as well as the complexities of the social issues being addressed. This essay presents a selection of foundational titles on social entrepreneurship, including theoretical contexts and practical approaches for students or practitioners interested in solving social problems through purpose-driven business enterprises.

In Social Entrepreneurship: What Everyone Needs to Know, David Bornstein and Susan R.  Davis provide a comprehensive introduction to the general principles and theories of social entrepreneurship.1  A professional consensus on the definition of “social entrepreneurship” has been difficult to achieve; Bornstein and Davis devote the first section of the book to exploring various definitions, including distinctions and relationships between business and social entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship and government, activism and social entrepreneurship, and social entrepreneurship and democracy.  The undergraduate student will benefit from the breadth and depth of the summative discussion. Part two examines the challenges of causing disruptive change and addresses financial constraints, staffing, and assessment. Part three asks readers to explore and envision the role of government, education, philanthropy, journalism, and business to innovate social change.  The work includes a selected bibliography and is supplemented by a lengthy list of additional recommended books and articles. Though it is nearly ten years old, this title remains a sound foundational work and general introduction for those students new to the field. 

In Scaling Your Social Venture: Becoming an Impact Entrepreneur, Paul Bloom, social marketing expert and Senior Fellow at Duke’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship, outlines practical recommendations for scaling impact-driven businesses.2  Bloom notes that the idea of scaling venture solutions to societal problems has become a popular theme in business.  Scaling is an essential skill for social entrepreneurs and necessary to sustain funding while supporting growth.  Entrepreneurs must show evidence that their business model can successfully create change on a larger scale in order to obtain the capital needed to fuel expansion.  Bloom defines scaling as achieving more efficient and effective adoption for your innovation.  While the idea of scaling is commonly valued, the practice is difficult and not easily transferrable from one organization to another.  Bloom argues that the unique ecosystem of each venture will dictate the approach to scale.  He recommends the SCALERS model to help changemakers assess organizational strength and evaluate the feasibility of ventures: Staffing, Communicating, Alliance-building, Lobbying, Earnings-generation, Replicating, and Stimulating market forces.  In contrast to other texts that focus on the benefits and goodwill associated with a social enterprise, Bloom does not overlook the challenges and obstacles that often derail success.   He presents the reader with self-assessment tools to help gauge a venture’s readiness to scale and the corresponding potential for successful growth.  The text is well-organized and offers real-world examples that are understandable and accessible for undergraduate students.

Social Entrepreneurship for the 21st Century: Innovation across the Nonprofit, Private, and Public Sectors, by Georgia Levenson Keohane, provides context on the market conditions necessary to fuel social entrepreneurship’s growth in the twenty-first century.(3) Keohane teaches in the Social Enterprise Program at Columbia Business School and is President of the Philanthropic and Social Impact Foundation & Head of ESG Practice at Navab Holdings.  While this work lacks the global perspective provided by other titles highlighted here, the attention to social innovation in the three distinct realms of nonprofit, private, and public sectors makes this an important contribution.  Keohane’s assertion that public policy can and should shape markets to a common purpose offers a new vision for changemaking.  Historically, social entrepreneurship has focused on individual efforts to create social capital, but Keohane highlights the critical role government serves in fostering climates and shaping markets that support and grow social entrepreneurial activity in the twenty-first century. 

Thomas Lyons is the Lawrence N. Field Family Chair in Entrepreneurship and professor of management at Baruch College of the City University of New YorkLyons’s research focuses on the relationship between entrepreneurship and community development.  He edited the three-volume Social Entrepreneurship: How Businesses Can Transform Society.4  Practical in nature and accessible to the undergraduate student, this work addresses the organizational structure of successful entrepreneurial ventures, the financial challenges associated with impact-driven businesses, and assessment standards designed to evaluate social impact and venture performance.  Topics receive global perspective from a diverse range of contributing authors, both practitioners and scholars, who examine key issues and best practices in the field. Lyons provides an informative summary at the conclusion of each volume.  Students will find the interdisciplinary and international approach to both the challenges and opportunities associated with social enterprise valuable.  The third volume outlining assessment strategies is noteworthy and an essential addition to the social entrepreneurship literature. 

Authors Ryszard Praszkier and Andrzej Nowak provide clarity to the dense subject of social entrepreneurship in their monograph Social Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice.5  The work begins with an overview and discussion of the various dimensions and definitions of social entrepreneurship.  The authors use case studies to illustrate how social entrepreneurs foster change to empower people and solve societal problems.  Praszkier and Nowak differentiate between social activists and social entrepreneurs, arguing that while both are important, the latter is rare.  They address shared characteristics, review personality traits that distinguish one from another, and detail the corresponding entrepreneurial leadership traits.  While grounded in theory, illustrative case studies offer best practices and a framework for students interested in becoming successful social entrepreneurs. An appendix includes an extensive bibliography for further reading and guidelines for becoming a social entrepreneur.

Founder and CEO of Entrepreneurs4Change, Ron Schultz showcases the power of disruptive design to bring forth societal change in Creating Good Work: The World’s Leading Social Entrepreneurs Show How to Build a Healthy Economy.6  This edited volume is divided into two parts — the first is focused on theoretical foundations and the second on practical applications.  Contributors address theory and application through the lens of their own business experience, increasing the appeal and readability for students.  Of particular value are the entries on microfinance projects and social profit. Contributor biographies and corresponding links to social ventures offer concrete examples of successful impact-driven business enterprises to inspire undergraduate students.

As the selections in this essay illustrate, social entrepreneurship presents the potential for purpose-driven business practices to solve societal problems and facilitate positive global impacts in the twenty-first century.  The resources highlighted here provide foundational knowledge and real-world contexts that clarify this complex and interdisciplinary topic for undergraduate students and aspiring social entrepreneurs. Consider them for inclusion in any library collection supporting programs in social entrepreneurship.  


  1. Bornstein, David, and Susan R. Davis.  Social Entrepreneurship: What Everyone Needs to Know.  Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.
  2. Bloom, Paul N.  Scaling Your Social Venture: Becoming an Impact Entrepreneur. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. 
  3. Keohane, Georgia Levenson.  Social Entrepreneurship for the 21st Century: Innovation across the Nonprofit, Private, and Public Sectors.  New York: McGraw-Hill, 2013.
  4. Social Entrepreneurship: How Businesses Can Transform Society.  Edited by Thomas S. Lyons.  3 vols. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2013.*
  5. Praszkier, Ryszard, and Andrzej Nowak.  Social Entrepreneurship: Theory and Practice.  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.*
  6. Creating Good Work: The World’s Leading Social Entrepreneurs Show How to Build a Healthy Economy.  Edited by Ron Schultz.  Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

*Editor’s note: An asterisk (*) denotes a title selected for Resources for College Libraries.


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