Sensemaking the "social" in social entrepreneurship

In the collective imagination, the practices and outcomes of social entrepreneurship seem to hold hope for a better future. So far, these practices have been largely assumed as idealised types with the ‘social’ in social entrepreneurship underexplored. Such assumed neutrality, we argue, is hampering the development of a more robust theoretical corpus for understanding the phenomenon and inspiring practices that are more effective. In this article, we analyse the sensemaking of the social in social entrepreneurship by exploring the ways in which social entrepreneurs make sense of social problems and develop solutions for addressing them. Our empirical analyses of the stories of 15 social entrepreneurs indicate two distinct types of sensemaking and sensegiving practices, aligned with Amartya Sen’s notions of social justice. Drawing on these findings, sensemaking and social justice theory, we elaborate a two-type social sensemaking model pertaining to the appreciation and assessment of circumstances and the differing problem/solution combinations emerging from alternative ontological views of what constitutes a social problem.

Social mission as competitive advantage

In social entrepreneurship, social and economic missions co-exist in a tensioned balance. At times, business survival requires reprioritizing objectives, leading social entrepreneurs to drift away from social values in pursuit of commercial gains. This requires (re)balancing acts aimed at mitigating the effects of drift. Although critical for business survival, the micro antecedents of this balancing act remain uncovered. This study explores the complex interactions between the strategic conditions of social entrepreneurs in the development of market-oriented social missions. Drawing on a fuzzy-set qualitative comparative analysis of 111 social entrepreneurs in Chile, this study reveals four alternative combinations of strategic conditions that explain why the social mission of a social entrepreneur can be perceived as being valuable for achieving a competitive advantage. The findings contribute to a more complex understanding of the set of conditions involved in the balancing act between social and economic missions in social entrepreneurship. This study calls into question the binary assumption underlying the commitment of social entrepreneurs to their social mission.