Consensus on the definition of social entrepreneurship: a content analysis approach

Yenchun Jim Wu*, Tienhua Wu, Jeremiah Arno Sharpe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: This study aims to reach academic consensus on key factors and boundaries used in defining the concepts of “social entrepreneurship” (SEsh), “social entrepreneur” (SE), and “social enterprise” (SEV). This study also explores the complex relationships among social/business enterprises, definitional categories and factors, missions, and impacts on effectiveness of practices and organizing for venture success. Design/methodology/approach: Content analysis is conducted on articles published from 1998 to 2016 in peer-reviewed academic journals in the fields of management and organization. Furthermore, 80 articles are obtained and analyzed in terms of factors and frequently used terms for unified definitions and their intertwined linkages. Findings: The unifying factors for the definitions of SEsh, SE, and SEV include primary mission and processes and resources. Strong linkages are observed between SEsh and actors, SE and characteristics, and SEV and organizational form. Results indicate that definitional categories and factors share numerous joint terms that can be used to propose unified definitions. This study identifies the effective interactions of variables among social mission, capabilities to manage resources and processes, entrepreneurial characteristics of actors, and forms of ventures in a process that provides potential for organizational sustainability and impact maximization. Research limitations/implications: This paper contributes to research by identifying clear and agreed-upon factors and traits as boundaries to propose definitions that can advance the legitimacy of social entrepreneurship as an academic field worthy of future exploration. Practical implications: The findings emphasize social mission that achieves public benefits while preventing mission drift. Economic value and choice of organizational form can advance the fulfillment of objectives and governance practices. This study also presents the key influencing factors at various stages of an entrepreneurial process to determine how these concepts interact to increase the likelihood of organizational emergence and survival. Originality/value: This work is the first to systematically review management and organizational literature on the key factors and terms that constitute the distinct definitions of SEsh, SE, and SEV and help clarify their complex relations in an entrepreneurial process.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2593-2619
Number of pages27
JournalManagement Decision
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 2020 Dec 12


  • Content analysis
  • Definition
  • Primary mission
  • Social enterprise
  • Social entrepreneur
  • Social entrepreneurship

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business, Management and Accounting(all)
  • Management Science and Operations Research


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