To me, social entrepreneurship means: to do good things and contribute to society in an innovative and creative way, while taking risks, as an entrepreneur. I introduced the term in Dutch in the Social Entrepreneurship Handbook*. It also has a long history in the Anglo-Saxon world.
In 1994, the book supported social entrepreneurs in different areas: legal, financial and organizational. But also, in dealing with volunteers. A few examples taken from the book:
- Camping Zeeburg which provided jobs for the unemployed.
- The Panda sandwich, a collaboration between a bakery and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), whereby part of the proceeds supported the WWF.
- Timon Foundation which saw congregations collaborate on social goals.
- The Botanical Gardens of Utrecht that were looking for additional funding from the market, as ties to universities weakened.
The social aspect is not solely the responsibility of the state
At the time when we introduced the concept in the Netherlands, the country was in the midst of a climate of ideological battle related to privatization. Both those in favor and those opposed to privatization saw only a choice between market or state. In my opinion a far too limited spectrum. From this limited perspective, of course, neither party understood the concept. Or chose not to understand it.
In their perspective, entrepreneurship is reserved for market parties and ‘real entrepreneurs’. Nothing social about it. The social aspect is solely the responsibility of the state and so will only cost the taxpayers money.
‘Independent active citizenship in addition to the state and market’
This is the reason why, during the same period, the nineties, I introduced a triangle: one with citizens as its third leg, in addition to the state and market. An independent active citizenship, which becomes visible, as was already the case in most Western countries at that time, via civil initiatives, collaborations and the appearance of many non-profit organizations.
Debate about social entrepreneurship
For Public Space Foundation such conceptual and ideological discussions are important. A debate must be open and smartly strategic. It helps if the debate is not only ideologically-driven and tied to interests but takes place in confrontation with and insight into actual practice.
Such practices I knew as no other from my time as partner and board chair of Boer & Croon, a large firm that offered a diverse set of top-level management services. It was during my days at this firm that I, using this kind of thought leadership, founded the think tank Public Space Foundation in 2001.
So social entrepreneurship is quintessential for Public Space Foundation. It also explains the name: SPACE is an abbreviation for Strategies for Public And Civil Entrepreneurs. This stood and stands for the core of what I wish to contribute through concepts, debates, and books.
* Springer 1994, co-author with Th. Schuyt, PhD and P. Verveen