Assessing Social Entrepreneurs' Personal Network for Resource Acquisition: A Preliminary Study

Assessing Social Entrepreneurs' Personal Network for Resource Acquisition: A Preliminary Study

Susana Bernardino, José Freitas Santos
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6942-8.ch008
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Social entrepreneurial activity is characterized by the innovative search for resource acquisition, combination, and management to pursue opportunities aiming at fulfilling the organization's mission. The network approach to entrepreneurship assumes that entrepreneurs use their personal network to acquire resources and manage the assets of the organization. This chapter intends to analyze whether social entrepreneurs use their personal network to acquire different resources. The investigation uses a quantitative approach, based on an online survey of individuals involved in the management of Portuguese social organizations. The results attained reveal that social entrepreneurs are usually involved in strong and diversified networks. Their personal networks shape the way human, financial, and informational resources are obtained and managed. The major influence is made by social entrepreneurs' indirect contacts (weak ties) and the benefits they perceive these networks are able to provide.
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The perpetuation of many of the most pressing social problems led the civil society to develop new approaches to the social area. Social entrepreneurship is a new field in the entrepreneurship domain, since it blends an entrepreneurial behaviour with a social mission that is at the heart of these initiatives. The main purpose is to leverage the organization’s ability to produce value for the society and to improve the viability of the social entrepreneurs’ activities.

A selection of some of the most prominent definitions of social entrepreneur emphasises the role of acquiring resources and the outcomes generated to the society as a main entrepreneurial task. A popular concept defines social entrepreneurs as people who play the role of change agents in the social sector by: i) adopting a mission to create and sustain social value; ii) recognizing and relentlessly pursuing new opportunities to serve that mission; iii) engaging in the process of continuous innovation, adaptation and learning; iv) acting boldly without being limited by resources currently in hand; and v) exhibiting heightened accountability to the constituencies served and for the outcomes created (Dees, 2001; Cho, 2006). Further, the entrepreneur possesses entrepreneurial skills, ambition, and capacity to communicate the mission and inspire the staff, users and partners (Leadbeater, 1997). Schuyler (1998, p. 1) adds to the term “a vision for social change”, “financial resources”, “skills” and “a powerful desire to social change”.

Another definition stresses the efficiency in the management of resources (people, facilities, equipment), the mission (satisfy unmet social needs), and the innovation in the way of delivering welfare services (Leadbeater, 1997). According to Thompson, Alvy and Lees (2000), social entrepreneurs are people who realize where there is an opportunity to satisfy some unmet needs that the state’s welfare system will not or cannot meet, and they gather the necessary resources (generally people, often volunteers, money and premises) and use them to make a difference. One of the key features of the definitions of social entrepreneurship stated above lies in the search for resource acquisition to pursue opportunities to fulfil the organisation’s mission and/or practices that yield and sustain social value (Mair & Noboa, 2006).

The intervention of social entrepreneurs at the community level is most closely associated with restricted access to resources, and emerged as a response to social problems in those communities (Obschonka, Silbereisen & Schmitt-Rodermund, 2010; Paulsen & McDonald, 2010; Seelos, Mair, Battilana & Dacin, 2011; Constanzo, Vurro, Foster, Servato & Perrini, 2014; Gordon, 2014; Lan, Zhu, Ness, Xing & Schneider, 2014). The challenge of procuring resources for the venture can become so all-consuming for the social entrepreneur that it can become a primary focus of the organisation’s activities (Urban, 2010). Also, resource limitations push the social entrepreneur into finding innovative ways of obtaining new resources to generate social outcomes. In the case of social entrepreneurs, there is a distinctive nature of the resource constraints as most of the social entrepreneurs act in markets characterised by a paucity of resources (Di Domenico, Haugh & Tracey, 2010). However, acquiring resources is only a part of the equation, because the wide range of resources needs to be effectively and efficiently managed, in order to attain and pursue the mission of the social organization (Leadbeater, 1997; Schuyler, 1998; Dees, 1998, 2001; Di Domenico et al., 2010).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Social Venture: Organizational unit in which an entrepreneurial approach is pursued in order to produce social value in a sustainable way.

Social Entrepreneurs: Individuals inspired by a desire for social change who focus their efforts on designing, conceiving and developing a social venture whose main purpose is to reduce the negative consequences of social problems.

Networks Density: Depth of the network resulting from the number of contacts that are embedded into a given network.

Resources: Set of assets, tangible or intangible, that are necessary to develop the activities of an organization.

Networks: Single nodes linked by a set of relationships, which form the structure of the network.

Social Entrepreneurship: Field of activity dedicated to identifying and capturing social value-creating opportunities. This field employs innovative models and entrepreneurial practices to create social value in a sustainable and lasting way.

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