Social Entrepreneurship (SE) is a popular area of research and practice. An analysis of the existing literature reviews on SE reveals a dearth of studies classifying the existing SE literature into multiple research themes and further presenting popular and less popular research themes. With the aim of bridging this gap, this study presents a systematic review of 188 peer reviewed SSCI journal articles published in last decade. It presents an overview of recent SE research, classifying it in five main themes while identifying the thrust areas of research in
each. Based on identified research gaps, we provide future research directions, contexts and methodology.
In this context, scientists conducted a review of articles on SE published during 2007–2018 by examining those focused on social entrepreneurial activities, clustering these articles to filter major themes and sub-themes while identifying the popular and less popular research themes.
This study goes a step further by exploring the research methods used and providing an overview of research studies conducted
in different geographic locations and the journals publishing them.
The remainder of this paper is structured as follows: Section two deals with the methodology of the Review Process. Findings and Discussion are reported in section three. Section four is dedicated for providing future research directions, followed by implications for
policy makers and limitations of the study in section five.
From the perspective of theoretical implications, this study offers an overview of existing scholarly research, and research themes of greater and lesser popularity in the SE domain along with the research gaps in each. Thus, the study provides a quick snapshot of research conducted in the field of SE with the thrust areas in each theme. In addition to providing an overview of recent high-impact SE research, this study also discusses contextual settings and research methods used by SE researchers in the recent past. The present study further provides important implications from a practical perspective. The most-reported challenges faced by social entrepreneurs include difficulty in accessing funds, the absence of a legal framework, a shortage of suitable support structures for social enterprises, and a lack of training programs. As discussed, the social objective of the SEs creates greater challenges in measuring firm performance as opposed to the commercial entrepreneur who relies on quantifiable measures like financial indicators, market share, customer satisfaction, and quality (Hynes, 2009). Hence, the measurement of impact, essential for attracting impact investors, becomes an issue. Between for-profit and not-for profit SEs, not-for profit SEs stand a better chance than for-profit SEs to raise investments because they serve a very large market through offering a broader social good at their core (Estrin et al., 2016). On the other hand, for their counterparts (for-profit SEs), impact investment becomes a crucial source of funding. The government can promote impact investment by providing legal protection for these funds, most of which are based outside domestic markets (GIIN & Dalberg, 2015). Unfortunately, SEs, especially those operating from developing countries, do not get any institutional and legal safeguards (Frank & Shockley, 2016). There are three prominent challenges for social enterprises: access to resources, establishing the legitimacy of their operations, and organisational effectiveness.
Social networks are likely to influence each of the abovementioned challenges because they broadly affect the economy in three ways: controlling the quality and flow of information, building trust among the actors and acting as a source of rewards and punishments (Granovetter, 2005). Therefore, SEs leverage their social networks when faced with a resource or technology constraint. This has direct implications for innovation because such tie ups with network partners provide cost-effective solutions to SEs (Dufays & Huybrechts, 2014).
Because of a lack of awareness, private business firms usually do not recognise the existence or impact of social enterprises as legitimate partners. This is where institutional support can be instrumental in connecting SEs with competent partners in domestic and foreign markets.
One such initiative taken by the European Commission called for proposals to establish a “Challenge Platform” to mobilise SEs and SMEs to jointly address topical societal challenges (Galitopoulou & Noy, 2018). For-profit SEs generate part of their income by operating in the market to scale up social impact and making their social operations sustainable. Many such SEs who wish to scale from qualifying for and participating in the public procurement process face major challenges in terms of specific pre-qualification requirements. To lift this barrier, policy makers may learn from an initiative taken by European Union (EU) that introduced social clauses within the existing regulation and encouraged local authorities to use them (EC Directive 2014/24/EU).
Therefore, policymakers must develop a holistic institutional and regulatory environment for SEs to smooth the process of social innovation to achieve sustainable and relevant outcomes for society and organisations.
Government bodies and policymakers may also find this study useful in identifying the thrust areas of government involvement to encourage SE activities in a particular destination. Although a rigorous methodology was employed to conduct the systematic literature review, there are certain limitations of this study.
Researchers and policymakers should consider the following limitations while using its results. First, a protocol was developed to extract samples of articles from the relevant online databases. A set of keywords was used in the protocol for this purpose. However, potential articles may not have been filtered as they might not have the search key terms in their text. Moreover, other relevant articles published in those journals (not SSCI indexed journals) might have been overlooked.
Second, books, book chapters, and conference proceedings were not included in the sample used in this study, as it only considered peerreviewed articles published in high impact factor journals to ensure quality. Lastly, although the classification of SE research themes was the result of a systematic step-by-step process, all extracted themes may not be mutually exclusive. This is because of the presence of some hybrid sub-themes and the interrelation among various other subthemes.
Despite these limitations, this review study provides a picture of more popular and less popular research themes in the SE research domain.
Gupta, P., Chauhan, S., Paul, J., & Jaiswal, M. (2020). Social entrepreneurship research: A review and future research agenda. Journal of Business Research, 113, 209-229.
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