Social entrepreneur, social entrepreneurship and social enterprise: semantics and controversies

Par Francesca Petrella, Nadine Richez-Battesti

Social entrepreneurship is commonly used to qualify economic initiatives that serve social and/or environmental mission and that reinvest a large part of their surpluses in support of their mission. Even though this definition is not yet stabilized and its boundaries remain unclear, it aims to achieve both economic efficiency and social purpose. It takes place within a context of need to build new responses to societal challenges that are sustainable, socially, economically and environmentally. Although interest in social entrepreneurship is growing, it is still a controversial notion. Based on a literature survey, this paper identifies the major elements of controversy. Current debates concern the organizational forms taken by social entrepreneurship, that will be determining, among others, for the governance structure of social enterprises. Another central debate focuses on the boundaries of this notion, between market, public policy and civil society.


  • social entrepreneurship
  • social enterprise
  • social entrepreneur
  • social innovation
  • governance structure
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