Defining the Universe of Social Enterprise: Competing Metaphors

Dennis R. Young, Jesse D. Lecy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


After more than a decade of research the debate over social enterprise definitions and classifications continues. EMES network in Europe argues that there is an ideal type of social enterprise to which all ventures should aspire. The spectrum approach emphasizes the trade-off between pure profit-making and social impact, locating organizations on this continuum. The Schumpeterians take innovation as its central focus, arguing that the disruption of the status quo is an important differentiator. We argue that each falls short of providing an adequate framework for future research, policy, and practice. Instead we offer an alternative metaphor, that of a social enterprise zoo; many different “animals” combine social and market goals in substantially different ways and each species has distinct environments and needs. Using the metaphor we consider the important components of a meaningful research agenda and examine the place of social entrepreneurs within the social enterprise zoo.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1307-1332
Number of pages26
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 1 2014


  • Nonprofit
  • Social enterprise
  • Social entrepreneurship
  • Taxonomy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Strategy and Management


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