Social entrepreneurship in the US and importance of interdisciplinary collaboration

Muge Akpinar-Elci and Mehmet Serkan Tosun stand together in front of the Nevada "N" statue on campus Muge Akpinar-Elci
Dean, School of Public Health

Mehmet Serkan Tosun
Director, Ozmen Center for Entrepreneurship and International Business Programs

There are at least three important things that can be said about entrepreneurs: they take risk to create new ventures, they are innovators, and they start and run businesses that have good potential to succeed. All these can be used to describe social entrepreneurs as well. Greg Dees from the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke University defines social entrepreneurship as “the process of recognizing and resourcefully pursuing opportunities to create social value.” Dees portrays social entrepreneurs as “innovative, resourceful, and results oriented.” Social entrepreneurs are usually leaders in their communities and work towards making a social impact.

Social entrepreneurship depends on a number of factors and there is wide variation among different countries. It is important to note that a high degree of entrepreneurial activity in a country does not necessarily mean high degree of social entrepreneurship. United States is usually thought to be one of the best countries for entrepreneurs. In a recent ranking, CEOWorld Magazine lists the United States as the most entrepreneurial country in the world. In the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor’s 2021/2022 Global Report that was released at the Dubai World Expo recently, the United States was ranked third among high-income countries in total early-stage entrepreneurial activity. It is different, however, when it comes to social entrepreneurship. According to a Thomson Reuters Foundation poll from 2019, the United States is not in the top 10 list for best countries to be a social entrepreneur. In fact, the United States is ranked 32nd among 44 countries that are included in the survey. It is ranked particularly low in “access to investment” (41st) and “government support for social entrepreneurship” (35th). Only 37.5% of the respondents indicated that the “government policy supports social entrepreneurs,” and only 16.7% of the respondents indicated that “it is easy to sell to the government.” Only 39.58% indicated that the “general public understands what social entrepreneurs do.” It is particularly worrying that a large majority of respondents pointed to a lack of public understanding of social entrepreneurship. Social entrepreneurs can and do play an important role, considering especially the health crisis associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The United States ranks low on many health indicators compared to other high-income countries. Although public health persistently generates innovative approaches to promote health and wellness, possible solution of this issue might be creation of strong interdisciplinary collaboration. Without the unique contribution of all fields inside and outside of healthcare, population would not be given the opportunity to have the highest quality of life. Social entrepreneurship in public health may provide the opportunity for large-scale maintenance with high-quality results and a long-term solution. Constantly changing healthcare should adapt to fast changes and social entrepreneurship approaches might help this adaptation. Perhaps including social entrepreneurship into the fields of public health allows the strengths and skills of public health practitioner to be enhanced.

The COVID-19 pandemic, like climate change or inequality and injustice, impacted life beyond health. Receiving governmental reliefs and services were difficult among socioeconomically disadvantaged communities. This situation makes social entrepreneurship approaches even more vital. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, this approach allowed individuals to figure out how to best maintain productivity in lockdown; those who flourished during this time really focused on how to make the most of the resources available. As everyone became more resilient, society moved towards normalcy. Social entrepreneurship aims to find opportunities that allow growth and sustainability; this adaptability is what can assist society to continually bounce back or at least head towards a positive trajectory. However, we need to find ways to increase public awareness regarding social entrepreneurship. Having an inclusive and interdisciplinary collaboration between academics and other professionals would be a good first step.