Social Entrepreneurship: Building a Research Agenda for Social Work
Social entrepreneurship (SE) is a management practice that integrates principles of private enterprise with social sector goals and objectives. SE is a relatively new type of social work macro practice (Germak & Singh, 2010; Cooney, 2011) and includes a variety of sustainable economic activities designed to yield social impact for individuals, families, and communities (Robinson, 2006; Robinson, Mair and Hockerts, 2009; Robinson, 2008).
One example of social entrepreneurship is Elijah’s Promise, a nonprofit soup kitchen in New Jersey that operates a for-profit restaurant and catering service open to the public. This initiative is a considered a social venture because restaurant profits provide earned-income that is reinvested into the nonprofit soup kitchen’s essential services and programs thereby creating a sustainable financing model. Similarly, for-profit concerns also engage in social entrepreneurial behavior. Panera Bread, the restaurant chain, recently launched a line of so-called Panera Cares cafes that utilize a pay-what-you-can pricing model. Customers who are able to pay the suggested price or more underwrite meals for those that cannot pay the full price. Certain cafes also employ people from marginalized communities furthering the social impact of the restaurants. Goodwill Industries International, Inc. is yet another example of social entrepreneurship; its retail stores earn profits as well as serve as employment training sites for people with barriers to employment.
In short, SE is an emerging field that promises to harness the energy and enthusiasm of commercial entrepreneurship combined with social work macro practice to address many long-standing social issues. Despite being a popular practice phenomenon, empirical research on SE is still quite nascent (Hoogendoorn et al, 2010); indeed, only a few empirical articles on the subject have thus far appeared in academic journals, and even fewer in social work journals. In addition, SE has not yet been the focus of many presentations at professional conferences in social work, despite its increased popularity in other disciplines, such as public and business administration.
To address this gap in the social work literature and social work professional discourse, this symposium presents four empirical research studies (conducted by social work scholars) concerning various facets of SE research in diverse contexts. This symposium intends to provide social work scholars with an introduction to research in this area as well as to foster a dialogue regarding future SE research directions for social work. The symposium organizers believe that SE is a newly important concept for social work scholars to embrace, and they hope that this symposium will mark the beginning of future social work intellectual gatherings on the topic.