I have written here many times on social entrepreneurship. What always interests me on the topic in the writings of others is that the focus is always on the "social" and rarely on the "entrepreneurship".
There are approximately 6 million tax filing corporations in the U.S. and over 1.5 million non-profit foundations. What these statistics indicate to me is that our love of small businesses in the U.S. carries over to a love of small foundations. The proliferation of small foundations most likely reflects the limitations of individual donors. In other words people set up foundations to match the size of the personal resources they can contribute and typically must prefer not to combine efforts with others to create larger foundations. I am not making a value judgment here but merely presenting a bit of logical deduction. (I am sure Africa or South Asia would welcome 1.5 million small foundations).
The proliferation of non-profit foundations appears to carry over to social entrepreneurship, where many organizations target smaller objectives. However, one of the fundamental concepts of entrepreneurship is to target large market opportunities. It is this focus on large opportunities that separates entrepreneurship from small business management or self-employment. In the case of social entrepreneurship the large opportunity is a large social need.
A simple rule may help to determine if the organization is pursuing a sufficiently large opportunity to warrant the label "social entrepreneurship". If a reasonably sized for profit corporation, say $50 million in revenue or more, could finance the project out of cash flow, then the project is probably not social entrepreneruship. Any company this size could finance a very worthy project, such as a soup kitchen for the homeless in Miami...all they need is the will. Probably no single company could finance the eradication of Malaria in Africa. This project requires a disruptive approach so common in entrepreneurship and a cash flow that does not include a return to shareholders.
I am not criticizing or discouraging people from doing smaller social ventures--every bit helps. I am just encouraging people to address the big problems, use social entrepreneurship as the model and put your 80 hour work weeks into big problems. It is yet to be proven that social entrepreneurship can significantly address a big problem, but I am betting that it can.
Note: there are other characteristics required for a project to meet the definition of "social entrepreneurship", but today I am just addressing the "large market opportunity".