Interview with Greg Dees, Center for Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship

November 19, 2011

Greg Dees is co-founder of the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke University.

Social entrepreneurship is kind of a buzzword right now, but it’s not a new idea. When and how did social entrepreneurship develop?

It’s hard to pinpoint where it emerged. We tend to credit Bill Drayton and Ashoka with the rise of the concept around 1980. He was using the term “innovators for the public,” but they didn’t fully latch onto the term “social entrepreneurship” until later. At the same time, Michael Young in England had started a number of ventures. He was talking about social innovation. There’s some dispute about which of the two gets the most credit.

It was percolating during that time, during the ’80s, when we had Reagan as president here and Thatcher in Britain, and there was a spirit of cutting back of government. There was an idea that we need innovative approaches to social problems, many of which arise outside of government channels.

Does social entrepreneurship reflect a fundamental shift in the way society thinks about giving?

It needs to, if it’s going to last. We need to get beyond traditional notions of simply giving for charitable purposes. We need to think about giving for problem-solving purposes. Not just giving to those providing temporary relief — which is important — but we also need to find more permanent solutions that minimize the problems of the future. We need to minimize chances of people being hungry in the future, rather than just feeding them. We need to find sustainable solutions to the problems, which shifts the way we think about giving time, energy and money in this arena.

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