Eight trends in social entrepreneurship to watch for in 2011

A guest post by Tamara Schweitzer

We’re kicking of 2011 with a look at some of the trends currently shaping the movement. What follows is the culmination of a series of interviews with a diverse group of experts. Each trend also links to a longer Q&A with the expert, where you can read more about their thoughts for this year in social entrepreneurship. Here is what to look for in the field in 2011:

1. More Creative Funding Solutions for Social Entrepreneurs

It is important to look at creative funding solutions, says Sasha Dichter of Acumen Fund. Social enterprises are getting more resourceful in the way that they are going after funding, and some of the most successful enterprises are those that are utilizing a combination of different sources of capital – from seed funding and impact investments, to government grants and fundraising from corporate donors. Social enterprises cannot expect to be carried by one source of funding anymore, and need to look at different ways of blending capital to create the largest social impact.

2. Improvement of Metrics and Increased Adoption Rates

As a result of a greater funding pipeline, there is greater pressure to provide the metrics for determining the impact of investments beyond just their financial returns. Dichter says the sector is in a transition period; on the heels of the Impact Investing Report released by JP Morgan in December, initiatives like GIIN’s Impact Reporting and Investment Standards are gaining traction. The tools and methods by which we can begin to evaluate impact have been developed (IRIS began its initiative in 2009), and according to Dichter, 2011 will be the year where we move from the conceptualization phase to more widespread adoption.

3. The Formation of an International Community of Social Entrepreneurs

Much of the work that social entrepreneurs have been doing for the past few decades has taken place on a global scale, but until recently, there hasn’t been as much discussion or partnership with social entrepreneurial counterparts outside the U.S.. According to Kevin Jones, one of the co-founders of SOCAP, each year the international constituent at SOCAP gets larger. Jones said that more U.S.-based organizations are realizing the potential synergy of learning from and teaming with like-minded organizations in Europe. Along the same lines, the Social Venture Network is putting on its first international conference in collaboration with its European members in the Netherlands this summer.

4. Closing the Gap Between For-Profit and Nonprofit

Much debate has taken place around the for-profit/nonprofit divide among social entrepreneurs. Kevin Jones says while the two camps are still learning to understand each other and find ways to relate to one another, the debate is ultimately irrelevant because bridges are being built between both camps now. The trend is not whether there will be more for-profits or nonprofits in the year to come, but rather, how these two camps find ways to collaborate and form partnerships so that they aren’t competing with one another.

5. The Democratization of the Movement

The responsibility for creating widespread social change is not something that falls squarely on the shoulders of social entrepreneurs anymore. Entrepreneurship, says Amy Clark of Ashoka, is just one avenue by which change can be achieved. Clark says we have entered a time of democratization in which everyone can be involved in advancing social change. Ashoka operates from the standpoint of a citizen community, where contributions and innovations of all kinds are necessary for creating large scale social impact. Gone are the days of isolated tales of innovation; we are increasingly embracing and seeking out the ideas and innovators from all fields, sectors and skill sets.

Along with more people taking on the role of change-makers, there is increasing participation from those that entrepreneurs are working to serve. According to Clark, there is a shift taking place away from people as service recipients and charity targets, and a move towards more active engagement on the receiving end. Clark is observing entrepreneurs who are now soliciting feedback from those they are trying to help. As a result of this increased engagement, entrepreneurs are able to use that knowledge to inform their efforts going forward.

6. The Evolution of a Meta Profession

Increasingly, social entrepreneurship is making its way into the academic space. More universities that have entrepreneurship offerings are creating specific undergrad and grad programs that focus on social entrepreneurship. The Catherine B. Reynolds Program in Social Entrepreneurship at New York University, which opened in 2006, has been pioneering a new way of engaging students in this area of work. Gabriel Brodbar, the program’s director, says the program was designed to take a cross-university approach, rather than focusing solely on enterprise and business skills. The school’s philosophy is that social entrepreneurship can and must cross sectors, and that the greatest amount of change and innovation will happen when multiple skill sets are working together. Brodbar says this way of thinking about social entrepreneurship as a much larger meta profession, under which many other professions can fall, is being embraced more everyday by the larger entrepreneurial community.

With a broader definition of social entrepreneurship comes room for multiple change-making roles. A social entrepreneur no longer encompasses just the person with an innovative idea for addressing a social problem. There are also those that play a role in building the infrastructure needed to implement these solutions – whether that be the lawyers, engineers, or biologists without which actual social change could not be realized. There are also those that approach social change through the arts – via journalism, documentary filmmaking and even performance. The definition of a social entrepreneur says Brodbar, is expanding now to encompass all these roles.

7. Growth of the Youth Constituency

While social innovation is not more prevalent amongst one generation or another, increasingly the millennial generation is taking action. Lara Galinsky, the Senior Vice President at Echoing Green says that’s especially true of their applicant pool, where those that apply to be fellows are skewing toward the young. She believes social entrepreneurship is hitting a sweet spot particularly among millennials and the Y Generation because there is a greater bend towards leading a life of meaning and significance. As the sector grows, Galinsky believes they will only continue to get more interest from a younger generation.

8. More Product-Driven Ideas

Galinsky has observed that many of the ideas emerging from the social innovation space have been focused around building products that will advance change. This observation points to a growing trend in product-based social enterprises, rather than the service-based models. Galinsky says that entrepreneurs are increasingly going to develop product-based solutions that serve to alleviate broader social problems.

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