Is Social Entrepreneurship Being Misunderstood?

Curated Story
This article originally appeared on Medium

In the current issue of Stanford Social Innovation Review, Marshall Ganz, Tamara Kay and Jason Spicer make a forceful critique of the field of social entrepreneurship, going so far as referring to this body of work as an over-hyped “distraction.” The authors’ central point is that social entrepreneurship is concerned with technical innovations to largely knowledge problems while our biggest collective problems are actually about power. And power problems, they suggest, are only solved by the kind of democratic political action that fueled the movements for civil rights, public education, environmental protection and more. The field of social entrepreneurship, they claim, either undervalues or deliberately undermines public voice and the role of government in shaping the kind of society we want to live in.

Ashoka was explicitly mentioned so we felt it was appropriate to respond directly. It’s true that Ashoka was the first to name “social entrepreneurship” and “social entrepreneurs” and support their ideas and organizations beginning in 1980 — work that continues to this day in more than 80 countries. But in reading this piece we felt that key points were missed or misrepresented.

Here are three reasons why:

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Ashoka insight

Most Ashoka social entrepreneurs are concerned with “power” problems, and their hidden power is in giving voice and creating broad pathways for civic action by all — not as different from collective, democratic action as Marshall Ganz, Tamara Kay, and Jason Spicer make it sound.