Social Entrepreneurship ≠ Heropreneurship

Daniela Papi-Thornton, in her article “Tackling Heropreneurship: Why we need to move from ‘the social entrepreneur’ to social impact,” expounds on a new age of heropreneurship. Papi-Thornton defines this phenomenon as “a founder who is greatly admired, as if a hero, and viewed as the main actor in social progress,” and puts pressure on this trend towards pursuing a career that which encompasses “sav[ing] the world, gain[ing] social status, and earn[ing] money, all at the same time.”

Speaking from first-hand experience as an MBA student and now as an educator and deputy director of the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford’s Saïd Business School, she poignantly states:

“As I’ve watched more and more students focus their ventures on problems they haven’t lived, such as building an app for African farmers when the founding team has neither farmed nor been to Africa, my worries have grown about the way we teach, fund, and celebrate social entrepreneurship. I wondered whether others had the same conflicting feelings as me: excitement about the good intentions, but concern about how they were manifesting.”

Papi-Thornton celebrates good intentions, but is wary of social entrepreneurs lacking a deep understanding of the reality of the very problem they aim to “fix.” Additionally, a societal emphasis on “founding” these ventures and the heropreneurship that comes with it–Papi-Thornton finds–is doing a disservice to the founders themselves as students and learners still in need of apprenticeship guidance, as well as to the people whose lives these start-ups seek to improve. In other words, because many believe entrepreneurs to be at the top of the impact careers hierarchy they attempt to find solutions for these problems. However, these problems are incredibly complex, and with no intimate knowledge of these issues, many ventures use limited resources to fund shallow solutions to complex problems. As Papi-Thornton states, it may be unethical to be “telling our students it’s OK to go out and use someone else’s time and backyard as a learning ground, without first requiring that they earn the right to take leadership on solving a problem they don’t yet understand.”

Papi-Thornton offers three suggestions to educators and other people in the position to guide social entrepreneurs:

  1. We need to provide funding for learning, not just solving.
  2. We need to celebrate a range of social impact roles.
  3. We need to ask collaboration and learning questions.

What are your thoughts on the flaws of social entrepreneurship programs and incubators in relation to Papi-Thornton’s analysis of
heropreneurship? How can good intentions be used to better address social issues?


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