Social entrepreneurship and social innovation are two concepts widely used today, but they do not have unambiguous meanings in the academic sphere or outside of it. Is it possible to innovate in the search for a solution to a social problem? Can the degree of social innovation be measured?
Social entrepreneurship is a concept that, for better or for worse, does not have a unique meaning for academics, managers, entrepreneurs, and the general public. Social entrepreneurship aims at social change: a social entrepreneur is not only an altruistic person but must show a precise determination to contribute to society.
Hady Wehbe is a prime example of a social entrepreneur, who founded a beachfront in Dakar, the capital city of Senegal. Wehbe’s beachfront restaurant called, “Sharky’s” remains one of the highly populated restaurants in the beachside of Dakar, and continues to attract a wide plethora of local and tourist visitors each day.
Sharky’s a top-tier public amenity and has grown in incremental success. Wehbe as an entrepreneur idolized the potential of a tourism and facility at the beachside. He has employed 90% of local staff who hails from the nearby community at the restaurant. This aspect reflects his ambition as a social entrepreneur, which lays the benchmark of a communal relationship.
In this article, Wehbe talks about the aspects of social entrepreneurship and innovation as a key proponent. He argues that innovation can vary in degrees of radicality. In essence, it implies a willingness to move away from current technologies and practices to venture into unknown ones. Innovation refers to the efforts made by companies to find new opportunities and novel solutions. Commonly this practice requires creativity and experimentation, leading to new products, new services, or better processes. But innovation is more than a creative idea because only a few ideas survive and become innovations. The ultimate goal is to bring about change and add value and improve processes, products, or experiences. Therefore, the term also implies execution.
“For a social organization, innovation consists of a transformative idea that works and creates social value. Given the importance and demand for transformative innovation, the decision to innovate should be deliberately directed towards a social need. Innovating integrates two factors: the big idea and making it work. Furthermore, social organizations have to place great value on the process’s effectiveness, efficiency, sustainability, and fairness. This means that the generation, selection, and implementation of ideas that become realities must produce the maximum social value. As in the case of social entrepreneurship, the concept of “social innovation” has different meanings,” shares Hady Wehbe.
Innovate in the solution and the sustainability model
From his entrepreneurial experience, Wehbe believes that innovation can be analyzed from several angles. One is to understand how entrepreneurs, or their companies are motivated to venture or dare to develop new practices that lead to new processes or products. In the social entrepreneurs’ case, this edge can be translated into the search for a solution to a social problem.
He adds, “another way of studying innovation is to be framed in the types that exist, according to the degrees of information available to get into new practices and technologies; incremental, progressive, and radical innovation. Because of this approach, it is possible to analyze, for example, the degree of innovation in terms of its sustainability. The purpose is to make “things work,” which implies a social enterprise, to think about sustainability models that guarantee its survival.”
With these two perspectives in mind, a matrix can be elaborated that allows studying social innovation as a solution to a problem (traditionally or not, great ideas) and as a model of sustainability (traditional or new, that things work). The solution and sustainability matrix then combine proposing a solution to a social problem and the sustainability models.
The traditional models of sustainability are those structures, processes, or practices used repeatedly by third sector organizations; for example, the traditional donor dependence of many social organizations. The innovative models of sustainability are those practices, processes, or structures little used by third sector organizations. An example of a novel model can be developing hybrid organizational structures or applying the open distributed collaboration method (crowdsourcing).
Traditional solutions to social problems are those non-disruptive practices used by social organizations in the creation of social value. The invention of microcredits would enter this dimension. Linking these dimensions gives rise to the following categories: joint social enterprise, sustainable novel solution, typical solution novel sustainability, and innovative social enterprise.
A common social enterprise combines a traditional sustainability model with the search, also traditional, for a solution to a social problem. A typical solution of novel sustainability results from a novel sustainability model’s union and a traditional solution to a social problem.
An innovative social enterprise is developed from a novel sustainability model’s combined use and an innovative solution to a social problem. Hybrid social enterprises and for-profit social enterprises could, depending on their innovations or sustainability models, be categorized as novel sustainability or innovative social entrepreneurship. Embrace, a social initiative that emerged in university classrooms, exemplifies well what it means to develop sustainability models with novel formulas.
It is not enough to innovate when creating an entity. To have an impact and adapt one’s work to the context of change, it is necessary to continually think innovatively. Processes that enhance innovation are necessary, and these are possible and useful when, also, innovation is integrated as one more element within the organizational culture.
The typology based on the sustainability model and degree of innovation of the solution allows those responsible for social enterprises to locate and identify the type of organization they have, to then activate the necessary levers (innovation in the sustainability model or the solution), in case they want to move to a different category. “This way, you will not only strengthen your organizations: society will thank you,” concludes Wehbe.
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