In recent years the headword “social entrepreneurship” has been used to discuss the empirical phenomenon as well as the societal vision of new enterprises defining their business activities essentially by their contribution to (a better) society. Empirical research and theoretical concepts on this issue have just begun to emerge. By using a business ethics approach this project seeks to conceptualize both the need for and the possibility of novel business enterprises as an economic force with a societal aim.
The basic research question is: how is it possible to build up a successful business upon “social” motives, purposes, and ideals? This implies several further questions that affect the theoretical dimension of the concept. First, what is “social” about (social) entrepreneurship? The culturalistic approach to business and society studies, which is pursued in this project, attempts to understand business enterprises by their contribution to the construction of collective symbolic orders. From this perspective “social” motives, as well as the outcomes of business activities, will be seen multi-dimensionally as societal, political, civil, cultural, and moral “sense-makings”. This unveils simultaneously the kinds of problems that are connected with the taken-for-granted term “social”.
Second, what role can (“social”) motives, purposes, and ideals play in setting up a business? The answer to this question has to encompass more than mere individualistic models of motives and ideals by consulting collectively-oriented approaches such as social practices and social movements. If the attribute “social” is meant to emphasize the role of business in society, then motives, purposes, and ideals of “social entrepreneurship” imply ethical issues, insofar as they concern the actions of a responsible (organizational) agent for a better society. Modern virtue ethics is a promising ethical approach which is able to conceptualize the subjective-motivational aspects (“the responsible agent”) as well as the goal-oriented, teleological aspects (“the better society”) of entrepreneurship.
Third, how can the successful build-up of a (“social”) business be explained and described, and how can and should the success be measured? This question is central to the new strand of “social entrepreneurship” as a part of general entrepreneurship research. Among other things, an appropriate understanding of the (“social“) success of business (“social impact”, “social performance”) is crucial. For this purpose it is necessary to conduct a critical discussion of (“social”) value creation and innovation as the contribution of business to society. In sum, an explanatory model for “(social) entrepreneurship” is needed, taking special account of the society-oriented motivational-visionary dimension of entrepreneurial agency.