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Designing and implementing Turkey's first green and social entrepreneurship survey (4/6)

Part 4: Defining social enterprises or how to set boundaries for our survey?

In part one of this blog series I described the benefits of a social enterprise survey. In part two and part three I discussed our approach to identify potential respondents and collect a sufficient number of responses. Now I want to look at how social enterprise criteria can help us to target the right kind of organizations for this survey.

With this research I do not aim at providing an all en-compassing definition of social enterprises or entrepreneurship in Turkey. I believe that a wide range of interpretations and definitions are possible depending on the perspective and the purpose for which the definition is needed. However, I am aware that I need to operationalize the term ‘social enterprise’ (and for the survey I will focus on the organizational level rather than the individual entrepreneur or entrepreneurship) in order to ensure a sound analysis and credible results. In doing so, I face a real dilemma: While ensuring effective targeting of organizations for data collection and analysis, it is important to keep the survey sufficiently inclusive in order to take the diversity of players in a nascent, relatively small sector into account. (See: Lyon and Sepulveda of TSRC, UK highlight this dilemma in other mapping studies e.g. 2009, 2010).

We all know that there are a multitude of definitions of social entrepreneurship (and social enterprises and entrepreneurs), each emphasizing a combination of different criteria and interpretations. Figure one compares the use of these criteria in thirty social enterprise definitions. I synthesized these criteria into the following dimensions, which I considered to be most relevant for my research; social and environmental impact, innovation, and sustainability.

The combination of all three dimensions will guide the research team in filtering out organizations that are completely out of the focus of this research.

1. Social and environmental impact

Not surprisingly, in any definition of social entrepreneurship the ‘social’ is an essential element. There are important nuances, however, in terminology (e.g. social goal, social purpose, social mission, social value creation, social impact, social change, public good etc.) and interpretation. For example:

  • Intended impact level: Is the focus on products and services to address market failures (incremental), on markets to reconfigure existing market structures and patterns (institutional), on politics to change the cognitive frames around markets to alter social systems (disruptive)?
  • Ultimate end purpose: Satisfying basis needs or ending poverty, allowing for self-expression and self-realization, moving beyond GDP and creating well-being and happiness (some countries like the Kingdom of Bhutan have declared officially as being the ultimate goal for their society measured in the ‘Gross National Happiness (GNH) Index’),
  • Intentions versus actual effect: Is there an intention to create a meaningful social and environmental impact? Should there also be evidence of tangible social and environmental impacts, or effects, for the ultimate target populations or areas?
  • Social versus environmental objectives: Some people do not consider social enterprises addressing an environmental problem (waste, climate change, energy efficiency) as ‘real’ social enterprises. In their opinion social enterprises work with people, while the environment is seen as a separate dimension in the social-environmental-economic triangle.

Implication for the survey: I will focus on organizations whose objective is to intentionally create both a social and / or environmental impact being aware that I do not have a way to measure the actual effect or impact of the organizations we explore. We leave it open to respondents to define what the ‘social’ means to them and at which level they want to generate and impact. However, social enterprises with an environmental objective are considered social enterprises and will be included in the survey (referred to as green enterprises).

2. Innovation

A review of the literature and discussion with practitioners confirms that the concept of social entrepreneurship is often linked to an imperative of innovation (17 out of 30 social enterprise definitions use ‘innovativeness’, see figure 1 below) in addition to the creation of social impact or social change.
Figure 1: Frequency of criteria in social enterprise definitions based on Schmitz and Scheuerle (2012).
That makes sense to me: I believe innovation is critical for social entrepreneurship – and arguing from the perspective of my research – offers significant potential for policy interventions. I am in good company : starting from Dees (1998) to Ashoka founder Dayton (2002) to Bornstein (2004) or Martin & Osberg. Innovation is also closely linked to social change with innovation being the ‘spark’ that leads to the latter’s long term consequences. In line with Geoff Mulgon (2006, 2008, 2012), I define innovation as making new ideas work for products, services, and processes. Social innovations would then be ‘innovations that are both social in their ends and in their means’ (G. Mulgon in Nicholls et al.,2012: Social Innovation). Mulgon also stresses the importance of relationships and partnerships in social innovation.


Implication for this survey: I will focus on organizations that are innovative in terms of products, services and processes (combined with the aim to achieve a social and environmental impact, see discussion above).


3. Sustainability

Sustainability regards an organization’s capacity to endure over time and to maintain or deepen its impact. It is not only about financial sustainability but also the viability of the business model, the organization’s operations, and meaningful interactions within its eco-system. Sustainable social enterprises show some or all of the following features:

  • Minimum or time bound full dependency on short term and unpredictable donor funding,
  • Diversified sources of funding,
  • Involvement in trading of products and services on a continuous basis,
  • Charging directly or indirectly for products and services, or for some subset, even if fees are less than market rates, or costs, wholly or partially subsidized by third parties (as opposed to advocacy activities or the redistribution of financial flows (like many foundations),
  • Scalability of business model and strategy for diffusing social innovation and deepening impact over time,
  • Entrepreneurial and professional management of the organization, and
  • Strong partnerships and collaboration with funders, suppliers, customers / beneficiaries.

Summary: For this survey I would be looking for organizations that intentionally pursue a social and / or environmental objective; are able to declare in what way they are innovative; and are committed to the financial and managerial sustainability of their organization.