Improving the World and Seizing Opportunity
Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership spring lecture series welcomed
J. Gregory Dees to the University of
Illinois on March 1. An accomplished educator in social entrepreneurship,
Dees is currently an adjunct professor of social entrepreneurship
and nonprofit management at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business.
The lecture began with a brief definition
of social entrepreneurship. The technical definition is limited
to simply "starting a business with a social purpose,"
but Dees asserted that this dry definition "doesn't capture
the spirit of finding new and better ways to do things."
that spirit is what excites Dees about entrepreneurship, who noted
that it takes a certain type of person to be a successful entrepreneur.
You must have keen creative skills and a knack for seizing whatever
opportunity is presently available. Entrepreneurs are change-friendly,
innovative, resourceful, and oriented towards generating a valuable
product or service. A good entrepreneur must find new methods, new
markets, and new ways of doing things. Dees referenced Google, which
invented a new algorithm for internet search relevance.
While private entrepreneurship is designed
to benefit individuals or private parties, the goal of social entrepreneurship
is to improve society. Where
a private company measures its success in revenue generated for
the business, a social organization's success is defined by social
impact. This has the potential to be greatly rewarding for large
groups, but problems arise concerning the definition of social benefit.
What is good? Dees used the example of abortion, which may be considered
an invaluable service by some, but evil by others.
Social entrepreneurship groups are often
but not always not-for-profit organizations, although Dees stated
that it was appropriate for such a group to generate revenue only
as long as its primary goal was social improvement, and decision-making
was based on its goals. Because
not-for-profit organizations typically raise most of their money
through personal donations, it is important for the donor to feel
connected to the group. Dees mentioned the Nature Conservancy and
Greenpeace, environmental groups that have different methods of
achieving the same goals. The Nature Conservancy appeals to more
quiet, non-confrontational environmentalists, while Greenpeace caters
to the activist. Clear group personas are necessary to ensure steady
donations because, as Dees says, "philanthropy is a difficult
source of funding to rely upon."
for Entrepreneurial Leadership offer entrepreneurial programs,
services, and resources to faculty and graduate students on the
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus.