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Understanding the Diversity of Social Entrepreneurs Bianca Stumbitz ESRC Social Enterprise Research Capacity Building Cluster Centre for Enterprise and Economic Development (CEEDR) Middlesex University Business School The Burroughs London NW4 4BT E-mail: B.Stumbitz@mdx.ac.uk Paper prepared for the 2nd EMES International Conference on Social Enterprise Trento, 1-4 July 2009 The support of UnLtd, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Office of the Third Sector (OTS) and the Barro
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    Understanding the Diversity of Social Entrepreneurs Bianca Stumbitz ESRC Social Enterprise Research Capacity Building ClusterCentre for Enterprise and Economic Development (CEEDR)Middlesex University Business SchoolThe BurroughsLondon NW4 4BTE-mail: B.Stumbitz@mdx.ac.uk Paper prepared for the   2nd EMES International Conference on Social EnterpriseTrento, 1-4 July 2009 The support of UnLtd, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), the Office of the ThirdSector (OTS) and the Barrow Cadbury UK Trust is gratefully acknowledged. All views expressedare those of the author. This paper complements other work on social entrepreneurship anddiversity being carried out at Middlesex University as part of the Third Sector ResearchCentre funded by ESRC, OTS, and the Barrow Cadbury Trust.    2  Abstract  This paper examines leading debates regarding the definitions and characteristics of socialentrepreneurs and is based on a literature review undertaken in preparation of a PhDwhich will focus on the experience, potential and support needs of older socialentrepreneurs. It will be argued that despite the growing policy interest in the potential of social entrepreneurship to tackle social exclusion and deprivation, only little empiricalevidence currently exists on the personal characteristics of social entrepreneurs. Thepaper will show that social entrepreneurs are a highly diverse group in terms of age,gender and ethnicity and that their experience cannot be separated from the wider socio-economic, cultural and educational background in which they are embedded. The paperconcludes that, in order to be able to effectively support social entrepreneurs, it is of vitalimportance to develop initiatives that meet the specific needs and reflect the diversity of the group. Consequently, there is an urgent need for research on particular groups of social entrepreneurs, such as younger, older, ethnic minority and women socialentrepreneurs. Introduction Social entrepreneurs have recently become a subject of attention in academia and politics(Nicholls 2006b, Borzaga & Defourny 2004) in the context of a changing welfare state,weakening social bonds and against a background of economic crisis. According to thesurrounding rhetoric, social entrepreneurs have a special talent to satisfy unmet and oftenunrecognised social needs and are one of the major sources of innovation (Leadbeater1997). They have  been described as „heroes‟ (Seelos & Mair 2005; Jones et al. 2007;Ogbor 2000), who have the potential t o „change the whole of society‟ (Drayton 2002) and„to make the world a better place‟ (Dees et al. 2001; UnLtd website).However, despite the growing policy interest in the potential of social entrepreneurship totackle social exclusion and deprivation, little empirical data is currently available on thepersonal characteristics of social entrepreneurs. The rhetoric is, as will be shown, to alarge extent based on assumptions rather than empirical evidence. It will be argued that  3 the implication for the effectiveness of programmes and initiatives developed to supportsocial entrepreneurs is that they often fail to meet the specific needs of this group.Some research evidence suggests the level of social entrepreneurship amongst youngpeople, women and ethnic minorities is higher than in mainstream entrepreneurship(Harding 2006). It has, therefore, also been argued that socially entrepreneurial activity isan important way of engaging these, often marginalised, groups in the labour market and,hence, reduce social exclusion (Harding 2006; Bridge et al. 2009).The aim of this paper is to draw attention to the importance of acknowledging thediversity of social entrepreneurs. It will be shown that it is impossible to discuss theexperiences of social entrepreneurs without looking at the wider socio-economic, culturaland educational background in which they are embedded. In order to be able to developinitiatives tailored to the needs of social entrepreneurs, there is an urgent need for researchon the diversity within the group.The first section of this paper will provide an overview of the key debates regarding thedefinitions and characteristics of social entrepreneurs. The second section will stress theimportance of looking at the diversity of social entrepreneurs, illustrated by the context inwhich different groups of social entrepreneurs operate. What is the Discourse on Social Entrepreneurs?  Among the plethora of descriptions and definitions of social entrepreneurs, two key areasof interest can be identified in the literature: 1) the presentation of social entrepreneurs as „heroes‟ and 2) commonalities and differences between „mainstream‟ and socialentrepreneurs. The following two sections will give an overview of the related debates.   Heroes with Entrepreneurial Talent? Great claims have been made regarding the potential of social entrepreneurs. It has beenargued that they seem to have a special talent which allows them to cut down apparently  4 insoluble social problems to „bite - size pieces‟ . Thus Seelos and Mair (2005: 243)characterise social entrepreneurs worldwide as follows: […] they all challenge the status quo and our conventional thinking about what is feasible.Often, the complexity, scale, and scope of the world’s environmental and social problems andchallenges seem overwhelming, tempting us to resign ourselves and doubt the capabilities ofour institutions to improve things. Nevertheless, inspired entrepreneurs have shown us newpaths and solutions, basing their designs on local needs rather than on the centralizedassumptions of large institutions about what needs to be done. In this context, Thompson (2006) differentiates between people who are running social enterprises or are socially enterprising and the „true‟ social entrepreneurs wh o committheir lives to the mission underlying their work.Sweeping assertions of this nature find their peak in the discourse on the socialentrepreneur as „ hero ‟ . It has been suggested in existing literature that socialentrepreneurs all share very special and rare characteristics which lead to them being  presented as heroes with „entrepreneurial talent‟ (Seelos & Mair 2005; Jones et al. 2007;Ogbor 2000). These very specific personal traits are said to be shared by only a smallpercentage of the populat ion and essential for the „hero‟ to “organize the unive rse around him” (Ogbor 2000: 618). However, as will be illustrated in the next section, so far there isno consensus on what exactly these traits are (Ahl 2004). In addition, the heroic rhetoric isto a large extent based on assumptions. Where empirical research has been undertaken, ithas mostly been in the form of case studies, using a small sample (Peattie & Morley2008).Spear (2006) and Amin (2009) found in their studies that the picture of the social entrepreneur as „heroic individual‟ may be nothing but a myt h. According to Amin(2009: 9) “the majority of key individuals are directors, answering to a board of trustees or management committee”. He also points out that they “are   „career‟ profession als or experienced social economy actors […] and are rarely solely responsible for the success of the organization” (ibid.: 9-10). Both Spear (2006) and Amin (2009) draw attention to thefact that successful social enterprises are often led by teams. Furthermore, based onevidence from an ethnographic study of social enterprises in Bristol, Amin (2009: 2)points out that “life in the social economy is pretty unglamorous, sometimes slow or  without future promise, and often hard work for relatively small gains ”. Consequently, he

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