What are Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship?

What is Social Innovation? 

There are many different understandings and interpretations as to what social innovation really means. Here at DCU, we like to use the definition by Avelino et al. (2019) to understand social innovation and to explain to others what it's all about:

Social innovation is innovation that leads to a "change in social relations, involving new ways of doing, organising, knowing and framing."


What is Social Entrepreneurship?

Similar to social innovation, there are many different definitions for what social entrepreneurship actually is. Here at DCU, we use the term social entrepreneurship as the process of establishing and running a social enterprise.

The Irish National Social Enterprise Policy (2019) provides a clear and comprehensive description of what a social enterprise is: 

"A social enterprise is an enterprise whose objective is to achieve a social, societal or environmental impact, rather than maximising profit for its owners or shareholders.

It pursues its objectives by trading on an ongoing basis through the provision of goods and/or services, and by reinvesting surpluses into achieving social objectives.

It is governed in a fully accountable and transparent manner and is independent of the public sector. If dissolved, it should transfer its assets to another organisation with a similar mission."

This definition encapsulates how social entrepreneurship puts the emphasis on the social/environmental good, rather than individual economic profit. It also illustrates how social enterprises are financially sustainable, working with legitimate and robust business models for trading goods and/or services.


What is not a social enterprise?

A private for-profit business. Unlike a social enterprise, a private business' main aim is monetary profit, in which the revenue generated is for the owners and shareholders of the business. Many private businesses may have a social mission and incorporate corporate social responsibility in to their organisation. However, this is not considered true social enterprise.

A charity. Charities are similar to social enterprises with regards to their focus on providing services and supports to address social and/or environmental challenges. Charities, however, are much more reliant on funding from other organisations to provide these services and supports. Charities may have some form of trading in place (e.g. a charity shop), although it is usually not as self-sustaining as a social enterprise.

Gandhi and Raina (2018) provide an insightful argument about what social entrepreneurship is not:

Social entrepreneurship is not social service provision. Social service provision is usually more limited in nature and does not lead to transformative change. Social service provision is confined to a certain population or demographic, usually at a local level. For these reasons, social service provision is more vulnerable to disruption than social entrepreneurship.

Social entrepreneurship is not social activism. Social activism has many similar traits to social entrepreneurship. For example they both involve creativity and risk-taking. However, the main difference is that social entrepreneurship involves driving change through direct action, while the main aim of social activism is to make a change indirectly, through influencing other groups of stakeholders. Such groups include governments, NGOs, workers and consumers. Although social activism is distinct from social entrepreneurship, it is considered a type of social innovation.