Social entrepreneurs: Important actors within an ecosystem of social innovation

The state of research on social entrepreneurship is unsatisfactory. Social entrepreneurship research has been a key topic of the social innovation debate, contributing a lot to the development of the design, motives and practices to solve social demands and societal challenges mainly in the third sector, focusing at the role, possibilities and constraints of a social entrepreneurs and the social (instead of a market-driven) economy. However, the strong focus on social entrepreneurship fails to recognize other key aspects and the potential of a comprehensive concept of social innovation and its relationship to social change. Since findings from innovation research point out the systemic character of innovations, the strong concentration on social entrepreneurs as individuals responsible for innovations can be challenged. Instead, a differentiated perspective of the role of social entrepreneurs is needed, taking into account the different phases of the social innovation process as well as cross-sector collaborations with the whole diversity of societal actors (private and public actors, universities, and civil society). The purpose of our paper is to draw a systematic connection between these two aspects by contributing to a common theoretical ground based on social innovation theory and linking the burgeoning field of social entrepreneurship research with the comprehensive concept of social innovation and its contribution to social change.

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