Social Entrepreneurship: New models of sustainable social change – Alex Nicholls (ed)

Edited by Alex Nicholls, this new book presents a multi-disciplinary view of the emerging field of social entrepreneurship. By combining leading practitioners’ visions with academic commentary, it gives the reader a very rich exposure to the ideas currently percolating within the movement itself.

The content is in four discrete parts: perspectives, theories, models and directions. Although these are loose descriptions of the chapters they contain, this approach to the material gives us a framework for engaging with the text and thinking about the relationships between disciplines and between practitioners and academics. The goal of the book is very clear: it sets the tone for a vibrant and multi-perspective discourse. Practitioners, researchers and academics alike are invited to participate.

In the Introduction, Dr Nicholls does an excellent job of providing a context for the work, clearly identifying the drivers behind the growth of social entrepreneurship and the location of academic centres for research. Nicholls manages to synthesize effectively many key debates that have taken place at research conferences over the past couple of years. He offers a way of positioning social entrepreneurship that simplifies and addresses disagreements about definitional boundaries so that we now have a meaningful basis from which research can be developed. What shines through most in the text is the plurality of voices. There is something wonderful about engaging with Bill Drayton’s views on the citizen sector, juxtaposed with the voice of Muhammad Yunus.

However, this text is more than an aspirational statement about the merits of social entrepreneurship. The questions and challenges posed by other key contributors round out the content, and provide the rigour that underpins the grand visions. Rowena Young’s article, ‘For What It Is Worth: Social value and the future of social entrepreneurship’, raises some thought-provoking questions about the need for better ways of conceiving social value creation. Young argues for a broader lens through which to explore the impact of social entrepreneurs, and calls for better and more creative approaches to measuring impact.

Geoff Mulgan makes the important connections between government and social entrepreneurship, pointing out how the one shapes the context in which the other operates. He discusses the potential role of social entrepreneurship in contributing to the broader UK debate about public value.

Nicholls and Cho offer their ideas on structuring the field. They suggest three dimensions through which researchers can engage with social entrepreneurship: sociality, market orientation and innovation. This becomes a means by which organizational activity can be mapped. They also talk about the relationship between organizational isomorphism and legitimacy, along with the potential contribution of sociology to our understanding of social entrepreneurship.

Paola Grenier explores how human agency can influence the process of globalization, and outlines how globalization can be understood in four main spheres: economic, social, cultural and political. She also attempts to locate social entrepreneurs within civil society.

In this review, I have mentioned only five of the 17 chapters in the book; however, I hope it is evident just how rich a text this is. How one engages with the ideas presented of course depends on one’s role in the field of social entrepreneurship – as practitioner, researcher or academic. In any case, the publication is to be both enjoyed and applauded for its breadth and depth. This is a text that truly captures social entrepreneurial thinking and presents a thought-provoking landscape.

Alibeth Somers is Senior Lecturer, Associate Course Director, MPA Programme,
London South Bank University. Email

Social Entrepreneurship: New models of sustainable social change
Alex Nicholls (ed) Oxford University Press  £60
ISBN-13: 9780199283873

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