October 22nd, 2013 .

Social entrepreneur: looking for a good definition

Max Morden

Today I’m checking out the social media site Google+ Hangout.  It’s part of 24 hours of reality: the cost of carbon, an all-day global broadcast from the organization Climate Reality.

The session on Google+ Hangout is being promoted as “exploring what the climate crisis means for young people today and what the next generation of social entrepreneurs are doing to solve it.”

Social entrepreneur is a term that I tend to get stuck on.  I suspect that people who use the term aren’t really sure what it means either.

The online Oxford Dictionary describes a social entrepreneur as “a person who establishes an enterprise with the aim of solving social problems or effecting social change.” That seems straightforward enough, but the more research you do the fuzzier it gets.

The term “social entrepreneur” came into usage in the 80s and 90s. Recently it’s been gaining favour. According to Wikipedia, “There are continuing arguments over precisely who counts as a social entrepreneur.” It gives a few examples, and then notes that the work of Florence Nightingale could be described as “classic social entrepreneurship.” At that point I gave up.

I think social entrepreneurs do good work, and I wish I was one. But I’m reminded of the exchange between Humpty Dumpty and Alice in Through the Looking Glass.

“’When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’”



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