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Social Entrepreneurship Research in Undergraduate Education

By Dr. Sophie Bacq

On Fri­day Feb­ru­ary 21, I had the chance to take part in the Ashoka U Exchange hosted by Brown Uni­ver­sity. Ashoka U cat­alyzes social inno­va­tion in higher edu­ca­tion through a global net­work of entre­pre­neur­ial stu­dents, fac­ulty and com­mu­nity lead­ers. The Ashoka U Exchange is their annual, global con­ven­ing for social entre­pre­neur­ship edu­ca­tion, bring­ing together 650 indi­vid­u­als rep­re­sent­ing over 150 insti­tu­tions from 40 coun­tries. At the Exchange, entre­pre­neur­ial stu­dents, fac­ulty, admin­is­tra­tors and com­mu­nity mem­bers come together to share action-oriented best prac­tices on how to fos­ter a campus-wide cul­ture of social innovation. 

In line with North­east­ern and SEI’s deep involve­ment in and com­mit­ment to social entre­pre­neur­ship edu­ca­tion, I had the oppor­tu­nity to serve as a pan­elist in a ses­sion focused on “Social Inno­va­tion: Research Method­olo­gies & Lessons Learned for a New Field”. Dur­ing 100 min­utes, Mary Con­way Dato-On (Rollins Col­lege), Brett Smith (Miami Uni­ver­sity Ohio) and I had the chance to share our thoughts and best prac­tices for data col­lec­tion and research related to social entre­pre­neur­ship. Sarah Wood­side (Boston Col­lege) won­der­fully orga­nized and mod­er­ated the panel discussion.

Brett Smith started the con­ver­sa­tion by pre­sent­ing the work of the Base-of-the-Pyramid Action Research Pro­gram in which he has been involved in Guatemala and Sri Lanka, part­ner­ing closely with social enter­prises like Com­mu­nity Enter­prises Solu­tions and Room to Read (check out: http://www.sirlab.org/). Brett reflected on what made these research projects suc­cess­ful from the per­spec­tive of the local com­mu­ni­ties but also from the aca­d­e­mic per­spec­tive as their research was led to a pub­li­ca­tion in the Acad­emy of Man­age­ment Jour­nal. Mary fol­lowed on with the story of her long-term study of social entre­pre­neurs and com­mer­cial entre­pre­neurs in Mex­ico. Mary stressed the impor­tance of part­ner­ing with local insti­tu­tions, like SEI does when stu­dents go on dia­logue every sum­mer, and reflected on fund­ing options avail­able for these types of research endeav­ors, such as the Ful­bright Scholar Program.

Finally, I dis­cussed the impor­tance of hav­ing a strong the­o­ret­i­cal frame­work to enlighten the research we con­duct on social enter­prises. Dur­ing my pre­sen­ta­tion and responses to ques­tions from the audi­ence, I stressed that the­o­ries are impor­tant to bet­ter under­stand many dif­fer­ent aspects of a phe­nom­e­non, to pre­dict out­comes of inter­est, to describe and explain a process or sequence of events, and to orga­nize the com­plex­ity of the empir­i­cal world (Colquitt & Zapata-Phelan, 2007). Sec­ond, whereas the many dif­fer­ent expres­sions of social enter­prises might lead to the build­ing of new the­o­ries, social entre­pre­neur­ship researchers can start by bor­row­ing and test­ing the­o­ries from many dis­ci­plines (e.g., soci­ol­ogy, anthro­pol­ogy, account­ing). Third, one can decide which theory(ies) to bor­row by focus­ing on a spe­cific issue that has been researched in other con­texts. For instance, we drew on the fam­ily busi­ness lit­er­a­ture to iden­tify mean­ing­ful the­o­ret­i­cal lenses to address this issue of com­pet­ing demands from the social and the busi­ness spheres of a social enter­prise (Bacq & Lump­kin). By doing so, schol­ars can hope to use the find­ings of their social entre­pre­neur­ship research to inform and con­tribute back to exist­ing theories.

This ses­sion fully devoted to research was a wel­come addi­tion to this year’s Exchange pro­gram. Indeed, our research find­ings fuel the con­tent of our classes. It is thus worth reflect­ing on why and how we con­duct research on this com­plex and mul­ti­fac­eted phe­nom­e­non that social entre­pre­neur­ship is. Over­all this first-time panel was a suc­cess: we had great atten­dance, engage­ment, and fol­low up to a research sub­ject at a pri­mar­ily teach­ing conference.

I am already look­ing for­ward to the next oppor­tu­ni­ties on the agenda to share ideas on the future of social entre­pre­neur­ship research. One of them is the Annual Social Entre­pre­neur­ship Con­fer­ence, which will be hosted for the first time by North­east­ern D’Amore-McKim School of Busi­ness, in part­ner­ship with NYU-Stern, on Novem­ber 5–7, 2014. Save the date! More infor­ma­tion will follow. 

Bacq, S. & Lump­kin G.T. Can Social Entre­pre­neur­ship Researchers Learn from Fam­ily Busi­ness Schol­ar­ship? A Theory-Based Future Research Agenda. Work­ing paper.

Colquitt, J. & Zapata-Phelan. 2007. Trends in the­ory build­ing and the­ory test­ing: A five-decade study of the Acad­emy of Man­age­ment Jour­nal. Acad­emy of Man­age­ment Jour­nal, 50(6): 1281–1303.