The Second Wave of Social Entrepreneurs?

I had an interesting moment of reflection the other day about the field of social entrepreneurship.  We are reaching a point where we are seeing a second wave of professionals moving into this space.  I look back to about 7-10 years ago when I started pursuing this work.  We were all entrepreneurs in our own right trying to define a career path that just didn’t fit with the mold.  We all came at if from different angles and were experimenting in different sector, geographies,  and educational degrees.

The other day though I began to realize that the field of social entrepreneurship is becoming more professionalized.  We have people prescribing their careers.  First consulting out of undergrad, then one year stint at an NGO or social enterprise abroad, then b-school, then they land a “job” an organization in this field.  It is so interesting that people are pursing “jobs” in this space, and it is exciting to see as it is demonstrating that the industry is growing and becoming more institutionalized.

So while this phenomenon is thrilling to see there are two things I am thinking about.

First, what does this mean for the level of innovation pumping in and out of the industry?  With a more “traditional” career path into this field will this stifle the entrepreneurial drive of our industry and/or bring in the systems and processes we need to really grow?

Second, while there is a more traditional path into the field, there are not traditional career progressions within the field.  I find that many people who come into the field for a “job” struggle to see what their career path beyond that job looks like.  That aspect of our industry is still very entrepreneurial. The people who are successful at staying in this field understand how to move in and out of sectors and organizations.

Interesting to see how our field will evolve…

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One thought on “The Second Wave of Social Entrepreneurs?

  1. Dear Blair,

    Thanks for bringing up this subject. I wholeheartedly agree with your concern that we have now a generation of people inspired by the example of the “first wave” to potentially make a life and career out of this. With that come all the expectations and hopes of professionals today that they can somehow find attractive jobs in this social sector. Entrepreneurship cannot remain about founders and individual stories. It has to mature into the effort towards building strong organizations that will stand the test of time in order to scale sustainably.

    To that end, yes, entrepreneurial mindsets remain important. But moving in and out (which they call constant turnover in the world of “professionals”) is not necessarily a good thing as it deprives companies of continuity and clear leadership. Without creating attractive places for talent, social entrepreneurs will burn themselves out carrying their passionate flame across oceans of resistance using a paddle boat instead of building a solid ship.

    I would go as far as claiming that funders and standard-bearers of the social entrepreneurship space are utterly neglecting this development and still cling hard to showcasing and presenting individual innovations instead of talking hard about how organizations can be built consisting of talented, motivated, and competitively compensated employees.

    As a matter of fact, I believe so much in this neglect in today’s media and from all social sector sites, that I have dedicated a blog to the issue of career navigation and reflection on “doing good” jobs.

    Check out http://goodgeneration.org

    I hope the discussions on this blog can be a help of anyone like-minded to you who is interested in seeing how the field is evolving right now.

    Hope to hear your feedback once you visited and wishing you the best,

    Thien
    Editor, Good Generation Blog

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