SOTA Review

Are Social Enterprises Different?

ERC SOTA Review No 30

Associated Themes
  • Productivity and performance

Over the past decade, much has been made of the growth in the number of social enterprises – businesses with primarily social or environmental aims – as an organisational form (c.f. Teasdale et al, 2013; Kerlin 2010). This is not limited to the UK nor to Europe. Such growth has been discussed in relation to the aftermath of the global financial crisis, even allowing for politically motivated definitional changes (Teasdale et al, 2013). Calls to ‘do capitalism differently’ have continued since the financial crisis, with recent social activism typified by the Extinction Rebellion movement, indicating that market failure associated with the environment and long-term social problems are neither being dealt with by the market nor political systems that focus on the short-term (Economist, 2019). Social enterprise has been touted as the solution to some aspects of such failure and yet much of the early academic literature debated exactly what determined social enterprise status. Empirical analysis of performance, longevity and success will be at best partial and at worst confused without a clear understanding of which enterprises are social and indeed whether this matters or not. This review summarises the dominant arguments in the social enterprise literature and looks at the direction for future research.