There's been a historical (and cultural) disconnect between Social Work128 and Social Entrepreneurship131. S.E. in its current form is much more recent than S.W., an outgrowth of the penetration of the ideology of capitalism and free market ideas into popular life, with the coming of technology -- a value regime sometimes called Neoliberalism129. Social Work in Western countries originated with philanthropy, nursing, women's suffrage, and church-sponsored social and "conscience" movements such as alcohol temperance and abolition of slavery.
It later picked up aspects of the Civil Rights Movement of the United States of America128, and a strong element of
Neo-Marxism129, along with French-inflected "continental" philosophy with its concerns with power, individual liberation and resistance to established interests. I think it shares this orientation with Libertarianism (politics)130 (another philosophical element of an entrepreneurial mind-set); however the analysis and proposed solutions are different, with the one tending towards communitarianism and the other towards individualism. This account is of course starkly over-simplified.
There's a growing but diffident alliance between the Social Work and Social Entrepreneur-ism, a kind of "strange bedfellows" or "sleeping with the enemy" relationship, but it's changing as social work adapts to neo-liberalism and capitalism seeks to assimilate some social conscience through Conscious Capitalism127, Sustainable Development131, Corporate Social Responsibility126, and other movements. The motivation from the social work side includes "privatization", the de-funding or (as they might see it) abandonment of social welfare as a proper concern of the State. This has been going on strongly in the U.S. since at least the Reagan administration, with previous action in the movement starting in the 1950's to dismantle state-run mental institutions and turn things over to communities. This was at the same time a reform movement and an opportunity / excuse for public sector cost-cutting.
Social Work is a much broader concern than social entrepreneurship, well-established in the educational system, with its inherent conservatism (in the sense of "resistance to change", not "left/right"). It appears to me that Social Work theorists are much more aware of social entrepreneur-ism than vice versa, as they attempt to accommodate to neo-liberalism and make S.E. part of macro-social-work without losing the "soul" of their value system. In turn, the thinking of social entrepreneur-ism seems to lack historical context, with a "this is now, this is the new game" attitude. I think though, these two fields will form a useful fusion, although controversy will persist.
For now, social entrepreneur-ism is well represented in business schools but much less promoted in schools of social work.
What They're Saying
De-linking Enterprise Culture from Capitalism and its Public Policy Implications123 (2007)
Although a small literature has recently emerged that highlights the existence of social entrepreneurship, the idea that entrepreneurship and enterprise culture might be other than profit-driven capitalist endeavor is seldom entertained. Instead, enterprise culture is widely viewed as a by-word for contemporary capitalist culture. The aim of this article is to evaluate critically this dominant narrative.
Social workers are among the best prepared professionals to respond to the world's social problems. However, in the current realm of forward-looking, functional solutions to society's social ills, social workers are not easy to find. This paper makes the argument that given the tremendous need for solutions to today's pressing social challenges, it is time for social workers to stand up and embrace much of the straightforward business sense found in social entrepreneurship, a hybrid of social work macro practice principles and business innovation activities. To address this issue, the paper examines the imperative for social workers to explore and engage in social entrepreneurship. Ethical considerations concerning practice are discussed and a few examples of social entrepreneurship are described. Finally, the article ends with some recommendations for educating social workers and conducting future research in this emerging area of inquiry.
Increasingly, human service agencies are facing revenue shortfalls, which are endangering important social programs. Unless human service leaders find sustainable revenue sources to support programmatic efforts, their programs will remain financially unstable. Social entrepreneurship (SE), which balances organizational economic and social goals, offers one possible solution. Unfortunately, very few human service administration programs offer SE training, and those that do utilize a mono-disciplinary education model. In truth, effective SE requires skills/knowledge that traverse various academic disciplines and community groups.
As a hybrid field, it originally had to overcome significant social and even psychological barriers to the strong category boundaries most of us cling to, i.e. “You’re either a businessperson or a social worker -- you can’t be both.” Yet, ironically, it is remarkably non-self-reflective about where it chooses to aim its main weapon -- innovation -- and where it simply accepts business-as-usual.