Tag Archives: Entrepreneur

Your Invention is about to Launch: Did You Consider ALL Ramifications?

Do you think it’d be wonderful to have government departments with such lofty titles like the Ministry of Peace, the Ministry of Truth, the Ministry of Plenty, and the Ministry of Love? OK, maybe that’s a bit too on the nose, as most people have probably read (and/or heard of) 1984. The point I’m trying to make:

The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry.

Huh? Let me explain.

You’re a burgeoning, young social entrepreneur who can’t wait to set the world on fire with this idea you’ve been cultivating for years. This invention has all the hallmarks of a game-changer in its industry and will surely have a spillover effect into other industries. It will revolutionize the way business takes place for years to come. You know that as soon as your invention goes to market, the world will be a better place. Finally, the day is here and your invention goes live. There is an enormous uptake rate. People start using it instantly – across the world. You’re so happy and can’t believe how quickly people have adapted to making it part of their daily lives. You always hoped and thought they would, but to see it actually happening – wow!

Two months later, you start to notice something peculiar in how your invention is being used. You notice that people are starting to use the invention in a way that you hadn’t intended and that this is starting to have an adverse effect in some areas. Weeks pass and you see that the trend has continued. People are continuing to use your invention in the “wrong” way and as a result, some people are starting to get hurt. More weeks pass and you realize that your invention, while if used in the way you intended is wonderful, has become a main driver of pain and suffering in the world.

Recognizing this, you wish with all your might that you could go back to the day before you launched the invention to undo it. Take it all back. Unfortunately, the proverbial cat is out of the bag and there’s no going back. The internet is here to stay…

I share this anecdote on account of something I read in The New Yorker recently:

In an influential piece that appeared in Rolling Stone in 1972, Brand prophesied that, when computers became widely available, everyone would become a “computer bum” and “more empowered as individuals and co-operators.” This, he further predicted, could enhance “the richness and rigor of spontaneous creation and human interaction.” No longer would it be the editors at the Times and the Washington Post and the producers at CBS News who decided what the public did (or didn’t) learn. No longer would the suits at the entertainment companies determine what the public did (or didn’t) hear.

“The Internet was supposed to be a boon for artists,” Taplin observes. “It was supposed to eliminate the ‘gatekeepers’—the big studios and record companies that decide which movies and music get widespread distribution.” Silicon Valley, Foer writes, was supposed to be a liberating force—“the disruptive agent that shatters the grip of the sclerotic, self-perpetuating mediocrity that constitutes the American elite.”

Fifty years ago, people thought computers would bring us closer together in a way that we hadn’t imagined. Certainly, we can say that that’s the case, but we must also say that they’ve brought us closer together in a way that we hadn’t imagined!

When we aspire to bring things into the world through entrepreneurship (or) intrapreneurship, it’s extremely important that there be someone there to play the role of “devil’s advocate” to consider ways in which this “wonderful idea” might literally set the world on fire. Optimism is great, but without a healthy dose of pessimism in the planning process, we might be closer to a Ministry of Plenty than we’d like to believe.

NOTE: This was cross-posted.

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The Cross-Section of Social Entrepreneurship and Externalities: Social Entrepreneurship and Externalities, Part 4

In the first post in this series, we looked at the definition of social entrepreneurship. In the second post in this series, we looked at the definition of externalities. In the third post, we looked at some solutions to externalities. In today’s post, the last in this series, we’ll look at the cross-section of social entrepreneurship and externalities and wrap up the paper.

The Cross-Section of Social Entrepreneurship and Externalities

Let’s revisit our definitions of social entrepreneurship and externalities. Social entrepreneurship is the application of innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems in the form of massive wide-scale change, usually to the system. Externalities are a cost/benefit experienced by someone who is not a party to the transaction. Just by looking at those two definitions, my first inclination is that externalities are absolutely essential to the understanding of social entrepreneurship. Given that many of society’s most pressing social problems – in some people’s minds – can be traced back to a transaction that resulted in the negative externality, it’s hard to imagine how externalities wouldn’t be essential to the understanding of social entrepreneurship. With that being said, let’s look at some examples where these two concepts meet.

The current Director of the Skoll Center for Social Entrepreneurship, Pamela Hartigan, recently wrote a book chapter entitled, “Creating Blueprints for Business in the 21st Century: Social Entrepreneurship Shows the Way.” In it, she talks about the specific role of social entrepreneurs in the economic ecosystem. “Economic literature often pays much less attention to the role of positive externalities than it does to negative externalities. In so doing, it neglects the primary drivers of social entrepreneurial action.”[1] Hartigan goes on to say that neglected positive externalities should be a main focus of social entrepreneurship. A really good example of this is Wikipedia, which was created by Jimmy Wales (who is also an Ashoka Fellow). Based on that citation alone, one would have to think that externalities are part of the understanding of social entrepreneurship, but let’s see if there are others.

A paper written by a professor at INSEAD, which is consistently one of the top business schools in the world, called A Positive Theory of Social Entrepreneurship offers some more insights into neglected positive externalities. In fact, the author’s first proposition states that, “addressing problems involving neglected positive externalities is the distinctive domain of action of social entrepreneurship.”[2] It looks like Santos and Hartigan share similar viewpoints in that neglected positive externalities are a key to social entrepreneurship. These two examples make it pretty clear that neglected positive externalities feature in the field of social entrepreneurship. Let’s move onto different examples to see if any other key points arise.

If you recall, one of the solutions to externalities had to do with the internalization of the externalities. There’s a book chapter entitled, “The NYC Watershed agreement: sustainable development and social entrepreneurship,” written by Joan Hoffman. In it, she addresses some of the challenges that are faced by those in watershed collaborations (combination of economic and environmental goals). “The economic concept of externalities, or impacts of market transactions on third parties, can be extended to describe the need for social entrepreneurs . . . The new organizations fostered by social entrepreneurs are designed to internalize consideration of these externalities.”[3] It turns out that social entrepreneurs, if not by intention at least by accident, are directly addressing problems of externalities through some of the solutions that have been proposed by economists and academics.

In answering our question about whether externalities are essential to the understanding of social entrepreneurship, we have inadvertently answered the second question: are economic theories of externalities used in the professional understanding of social entrepreneurship? In this last reference, we saw that not only was there a reference to an economic theory of externalities, but there was a reference to a solution of externalities (as offered by economic theory). As a result, I think it is safe to say, “yes” to both questions.

Closing Thoughts

In this paper, we have explored definitions of social entrepreneurship and externalities. We have explored some of the muddiness around both of these definitions. We have taken a closer look at some of the different kinds of externalities (positive, negative, positional, etc.). We have looked at some of the proposed economic solutions to externalities. Then, we looked at the cross-section of externalities and social entrepreneurship. We dove deeper into the intersection of these two concepts to find that at the heart of social entrepreneurship is an inclination to solve some of the externalities facing the planet. Lastly, we were able to answer, “yes” to the two main questions of this paper: “Are externalities essential to the understanding of social entrepreneurship?” and “Are the economic theories of externalities used in the professional understanding of social entrepreneurship?”

In closing, I wanted to revisit one of the ideas put forth by Barnett and Yandle in their paper, The End of the Externality Revolution.[4] Specifically, I want to address their idea that there aren’t any externalities – only inefficiencies. As someone who has had very little training in economics, but a great deal of training in some of the other social sciences, I can appreciate this reframing of externalities. In fact, I think it is appropriate to repackage our understanding of externalities as part of the “main” function of the transaction. In calling them inefficiencies, I don’t think that Barnett and Yandle are doing this. I think both names – externalities and inefficiencies – are not entirely representative of the true state of affairs. In doing research for this paper, I came across a quote that I think captures the essence of what I’m trying to say. It was written in the aftermath of the financial collapse of 2008,[5] [emphasis mine]:

The good news is that I think the economic system we will build next will be one in which environmental and social costs will no longer be externalities; costs that get pushed off the balance sheet. The cost of doing business to the planet . . . will now be factored in.


[1] Lopez-Claros, A. (2010). The innovation for development report 2010-2011: Innovation as a driver of productivity and economic growth. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

[2] Santos, F. M. (2009). A positive theory of social entrepreneurship. Social Innovation Centre: Working Papers, 1-51.

[3] Perrini, F. (2006). The new social entrepreneurship: What awaits social entrepreneurial ventures? Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar Publishing Limited.

[4] Barnett, A. H., & Yandle, B. (2009). The end of the externality revolution. Social Philosophy and Policy, 26(2), 130-150.

[5] Jones, K. (2009). When more mission equals more money: The more a business focuses on its social mission, the more revenue it will generate. Stanford Social Innovation Review.

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If you liked this paper/series, you might want to check out some of the other papers/series I’ve posted.

Defining Social Entrepreneurship: Social Entrepreneurship and Externalities, Part 1

I enjoyed sharing the work that I’d done several years ago curating those quotes from various religious scriptures into a number of posts. As a result, it got me thinking of some of the other papers I’ve wrote and whether they’d be appropriate to share here. Since I just finished an MBA, I’ve gone through quite a number of case studies. Since professors tend to reuse those cases, it seems inappropriate to share the papers I wrote for those cases (as some students might try to pass it off as their own work). With that being said, yesterday’s post about fines vs. fees reminded me of a paper I wrote about a year ago for a class in social entrepreneurship. This paper wasn’t for a case, so I thought I’d share it in a number of installments. In today’s post, I’ll share the executive summary and the first section: defining social entrepreneurship.

Executive Summary

This aim of this paper is to answer two main questions: (1) are externalities essential to the understanding of social entrepreneurship? (2) are the economic theories of externalities used in the professional understanding of social entrepreneurship? To answer these questions, the definitions of social entrepreneurship and externalities are explored, along with the different categories of externalities. There is also a short examination of the different solutions to externalities. Following this, an analysis of the intersection of the two concepts (social entrepreneurship and externalities) is conducted, the results of which return answers of “yes” to both of the main questions of this paper.

Defining Social Entrepreneurship

Before moving into a discussion about social entrepreneurship and externalities, it is important to define these terms. As one delves further into the literature – both academic and popular – it quickly becomes clear that there are myriad understandings that cloud the space around these terms[1] and thusly make the task of definition that much more important. To begin, I will define social entrepreneurship, but before that, it might be more appropriate to start with a definition of entrepreneurship.

Most definitions of social entrepreneurship begin with an attempt to define entrepreneurship and logically so, as ‘social’ acts as a modifying word to entrepreneurship. One definition of what it means to be an entrepreneur that I particularly like, “A person is an entrepreneur from t1 to t2 if and only if that person attempts, from t1 to t2, to make business profits by innovation in the face of risk.”[2] Subsequently, the definition of entrepreneurship follows as, “The process of attempting from t1 to t2, to make business profits by innovation in the face of risk.”[3] While there is disagreement among some about how to define entrepreneurship, this basic understanding will suffice for the purposes of this paper.

Now that we have defined entrepreneurship, ‘business profits by innovation in the face of risk,’ we can move on to define social entrepreneurship. Similar to entrepreneurship (and maybe understandably so), social entrepreneurship lacks a consensual definition among those who study it. The Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at the University of Oxford defines social entrepreneurship as, “[being] about innovative, market-oriented approaches underpinned by a passion for social equity and environmental sustainability.”[4] Others believe that social entrepreneurship is, “ a process that catalyzes social change and/or addresses important social needs in a way that is not dominated by direct financial benefits for the entrepreneurs.”[5] While those definitions are similar, one could identify differences. The first definition includes an approach and the second definition includes a process. Part of the issue surrounding the definition of social entrepreneurship is that, “it means different things to different people.”[6] I may be a bit biased as I’m currently interning with Ashoka, but I think the person [Bill Drayton, founder and CEO of Ashoka] who ‘created’ the term[7] should have a great deal of say in the definition of said term. As such, Ashoka defines social entrepreneurship in following way:[8]

Social entrepreneurs are individuals with innovative solutions to society’s most pressing social problems. They are ambitious and persistent, tackling major social issues and offering new ideas for wide-scale change.

Rather than leaving societal needs to the government or business sectors, social entrepreneurs find what is not working and solve the problem by changing the system, spreading the solution, and persuading entire societies to take new leaps.

One of the important distinctions regarding Ashoka’s definition of social entrepreneurship is that the idea precedes the doing. That is, the social entrepreneur plans to address the problem (or social ill) before s/he begins the venture. This will be important later on when we talk about externalities. Another important distinction here is the specification of ‘changing the system.’ This is key because one of the more recent academic articles published on the topic of social entrepreneurship isolates four main factors of the definitions of social entrepreneurship, none of which are ‘changing the system’. They include: characteristics of individual social entrepreneurs, their sphere of operation, the processes and resources used by social entrepreneurs, and the mission of the social entrepreneur.[9] Let’s use the definition of social entrepreneurship provided by Ashoka and move on to define the next piece: externalities.

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Note: Check back tomorrow for the next section: defining externalities. Below, you’ll find a list of footnotes from this first section of the paper.


[1] For social entrepreneurship, see: Tan, W., Williams, J., & Tan, T. (2005). Defining the ‘social’ in ‘social entrepreneurship’: Altruism and entrepreneurship. International Entrepreneurship and Management Journal, 1(3), 353-365. For externalities, see: Barnett, A. H., & Yandle, B. (2009). The end of the externality revolution. Social Philosophy and Policy, 26(2), 130-150.

[2] Tan, W., Williams, J., & Tan, T. (2005). Defining the ‘social’ in ‘social entrepreneurship’: Altruism and entrepreneurship. International Entrepreneurship and Management Journal, 1(3), 353-365.

[3] Ibid.

[5] Mair, J., & Marti, I. (2004). Social entrepreneurship: A source of explanation, prediction, and delight. Journal of World Business, 41(1), 36-44.

[6] Dees, J. G. (1998). The meaning of ‘social entrepreneurship.’ Stanford University: Center for Social Innovation. See: http://www.caseatduke.org/documents/dees_sedef.pdf

[9] Dacin, M. T., & Dacin, P. A. (2011). Social entrepreneurship: A critique and future directions. Organization Science, 22(5), 1203-1213.