Social entrepreneurship is a modern day social epidemic that is coping with a case of semantics. The terms social entrepreneur and social entrepreneurship were first used in literature in 1953 by H. Bowen in his book, “Social Responsibilities of the Businessman”. The use of these terms started becoming more widespread in the 1980s and 1990s, due to many distinguished promoters of this lexicon and concept. This group of people included individuals like Bill Drayton, Charles Lead beater, and Andrew Mawson. Michael Young; a British sociologist and politician, coined the phrase ‘meritocracy’ in 1958, in his book “The Rise of Meritocracy”. Ironically, he emerged as the leading promoter of social entrepreneurship. In the 1980’s, journalist turned Harvard academic, Daniel Bell (his analysis of the end of ideology, post-industrial society, and the cultural contradictions of capitalism formed the stance of a generation of scholars and political leaders) elucidated Young as the “world’s most successful entrepreneur of social enterprises”.

The vast gazebo of social entrepreneurship, it seems, embodies, embraces, embeds and engulfs almost everything in the universe. More than 20 years ago I made a transition from careers as clinician and TV anchor and departed from the pursuit of monetized profits and exalted profile to utilise my creativity and empathy to work with selected disadvantaged communities. I strived and still strive to cause(at least some) disruption by enabling them to dare to dream, and pedantically correct their unjustified societal condition and position. I branded my professional identity as a civic entrepreneur that is now known as social entrepreneur. In the past it was offbeat and scrawled; now though, it is a fashion mainstreamed. It stays scribbled.

Philanthropists, social activists, environmentalists, and other socially-oriented practitioners are now referred to as social entrepreneurs. Skilfully or otherwise, (stupidity has the same side effects)the developmental aid model is being applied on ‘social’ and ‘entrepreneurship’. Thus; any celebrity, charity worker, NGO owner or artist can be a social entrepreneur in Pakistan.

Unbeaten marketing or convincing charities, no matter how identical in appearances, are certainly not social entrepreneurship

These social entrepreneurs, broadly operate within the boundaries of two business strategies; non-profit with earned income strategies and for-profit with mission-driven strategies. The synchronised fame and confusion, in comprehension of the term is indeed attention-grabbing in the social media era. The fine lines between social business and social entrepreneurship, as well as the wall between business and entrepreneurship have also gone astray. Marketing undoubtedly, brings better luck in social entrepreneurship and is often seen as the missing element there. However, unbeaten marketing or convincing charities, no matter how identical in appearances, are certainly not social entrepreneurship.

Beyond the bewilderment of boundaries, there is an unexplored and unattended spectrum of intellectual queries on the horizons of society, and all forms of entrepreneurship. In the age of new media, idealism partnered with social media on topics of democracy, egalitarianism, and participation are practically ignored (perhaps on purpose) by those pulling the strings.

Coming from a generation that actually went to an academy to learn basic computer skills, I continued to firmly believe that digital technology will make the world equal and is an actual game changer, till I came across Professor Alice Marwick’s “Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity, and Branding in the Social Media Age” in 2013. The book has bluntly exposed the myths of meritocracy and entrepreneurship. According to her verdict, digital elitism inculcates an air of superiority and a universality of experience that truly only applies to a very small number of the world’s most privileged individuals and “it does not reconfigure power; it entrenches it”. This is accurate, but such veracity is not resonated in a vast majority of incubation and accelerators of elite academia that have rashly rehabilitated business lessons into social entrepreneurship.



This acquisitive world neither runson merit nor on equality. Social entrepreneurship’s in its authentic version has a spirit that insists on handing over the command and control to the wretched. How can new yardsticks of merit be constructed for a world with an improved status quo? This may be a laughable question; but the urge to create business models that are drivers of change, should remain the prerogative of genuine social entrepreneurs from generation Y.

I am not drawing any conclusion, but my impressions so far are more in alignment with those who affirm that in its current form, social entrepreneurship is a part of capitalism and the existing order, rather than an alternative outside of it. As a dividend of today’s creeping social development, social entrepreneurship has transpired as the ethical face of the capitalist economy that upholds the steadiness of the ruling, economic, political and social elites.

The writer a gender expert & free thinker is also an Ashoka fellow and a serial social entrepreneur. She tweets @survivorwins.

Published in Daily Times, April 14th 2018.