Social Entrepreneurship as a Vehicle for Sustainability

Accelerating the Transition to Equitable Post Fossil-Carbon Societies Stages

Click here to download Social Entrepreneurship as a Vehicle for Sustainability

1-4 November 2015 in Barcelona, Spain

Workshop Organizers:
Nikolay Dentchev, Vrije Universiteit Brussel and KULeuven
Romana Rauter, University of Graz
Rupert Baumgartner, University of Graz
Yulia Snihur, Toulouse Business School
Jan Jonker, Radboud University Nijmegen and Toulouse Business School

Social entrepreneurship has gained substantial importance recently (Austin, Stevenson, & Wei-Skillern, 2006). This is the result of well-known initiatives such as, for example, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (42.3 billion USD Asset Trust Endowment), Ashoka (network of 3,000 social entrepreneurs from 70 countries), and the Schwab Foundation (giving platform to the leading 260 social entrepreneurs on the World Economic Forum). But most importantly, social entrepreneurship is appealing with its attention to social and environmental issues. Profit generation is not their main focus, the resolution of sustainability challenges are. And social entrepreneurs approach these challenges as if they were business opportunities. In this sense, they build business models that provide solid and self-sustaining solutions to well-targeted problems facing society and the natural environment. In this endeavor, social entrepreneurs depart from the concern of human values, equality, and ethics. Having higher ethical standards at the heart of their business models implies that social entrepreneurs are good examples and inspirations for socially responsible businesses.

Academics have started to study business models more scrupulously in the last 15 years. Several definitions of business models have been proposed in the literature. Amit and Zott (2012: 42) define the business model as “a system of interconnected and interdependent activities that determine the way the company does business with its customers, partners, and vendors.” Casadesus-Masanell and Zhu (2013: 464) define new business models as the “search for new logics of the firm, new ways to create and capture value for its stakeholders, and focusing, primarily, on finding new ways to generate revenues and to define value propositions for customers, suppliers, and partners”. Markides (2006: 20) speaks of the discovery of fundamentally different business models in existing businesses: “To qualify as an innovation, the new business model must enlarge the existing economic pie, either by attracting new customers into the market or by encouraging existing customers to consume more.” Teece (2010: 172) mentions that “the essence of a business model is in defining the manner by which the enterprise delivers value to customers, entices customers to pay for value, and converts those payments to profit.” As explained in a recent literature review, most scholars agree that the business model emphasizes a system-level, holistic approach to explaining how firms do business, that is how value is created and captured (Zott, Amit, and Massa, 2011).

The business models of social entrepreneurs are in the first place oriented to resolving social and environmental issues. In this vein, profit generation is not always the predominant concern of social entrepreneurs. The missing centrality of profit generation in the business models of social entrepreneurs poses some intriguing questions for researchers. Business models have been described as tools for creating and capturing value (Zott, Amit, and Massa, 2011) in the received literature. In the words of Magretta (2002: 87), one of the “fundamental questions every manager must ask is: How do we make money in this business?” This perspective on business models is quite widespread in both management theory and practice. From this perspective, the result of value creation is often evaluated, either implicitly or explicitly, by the financial bottom line of businesses. Even the well-known strategic management perspective of Porter and Kramer (2011) on shared value creation, with a simultaneous attention to economic and social progress, acknowledges that “our recognition of the transformative power of shared value is still in its genesis.” In other words, it is not yet well studied or understood how alternative business models of social entrepreneurs function and how social entrepreneurs manage to create value without always generating only profit in their ventures. Examples of B-corporations, cooperatives, hybrid organizations, NPOs and NGOs could provide valuable insights on the matter. Although social entrepreneurs create value and earn money at the same time, the priorities might be in a different order compared to classic for-profit business models. Our call-for-abstracts aims to encourage contributions to the knowledge of the mechanisms behind business models of social entrepreneurs that enable solutions to social and environmental issues.

Types of contributions solicited

We welcome theoretical, conceptual and empirical contributions. In addition, we would like to encourage scholarly studies from a broad variety of methodologies (e.g. qualitative and quantitative), and from a broad variety of scholarly disciplines (e.g. management, entrepreneurship, environmental studies, organization theory, to mention a few). This call for papers stimulates scholars to elaborate on, but not limit themselves to, the following research questions:

  • Although profit generation is not the focus of social entrepreneurs, no initiative can be developed without a financial budget. What is (or should be) the balance between financial and non-financial bottom lines in the business models of social entrepreneurs?
  • Are business models of social entrepreneurs different from classic for-profit business models? If so, how? Based on which criteria can we (or should we) describe a business model of social entrepreneurs as successful?
  • What are the similarities and differences between business models with main objective profit generation and business models main objective resolving social and environmental issues?
  • What are the mechanisms driving successful business models in social entrepreneurship?
  • How can social entrepreneurs realize “shared value creation” for different customers and partners involved in their business models?
  • Assuming a keen stakeholder attention to the value generation process involved, how do social entrepreneurs coordinate between stakeholders with diverging focus in individual bottom lines (financial and non-financial)?
  • How can social entrepreneurs scale their business models to provide higher impact?
  • Are there limitations to scaling the business models of social entrepreneurs?
  • To what extent are business models of social entrepreneurs solving but also at the same time creating sustainability issues?
  • What is the role of governments in stimulating and/or controlling social entrepreneurship?
  • Is there a specific stakeholder network that could support business models development by social entrepreneurs? Are some countries better at developing such a network than others?

In our endeavor to solicit contributions, we first would like to acknowledge the recent special issues dedicated to the topic of business models and sustainability1. With this workshop we would like to stimulate further knowledge development on social entrepreneurship as a vehicle for sustainability.


Workshop participants are invited to submit abstracts of 500 words by May 29 2015 via the conference website:

These abstracts will be reviewed by the workshop organizers. After receiving review, you will be invited to develop a conference paper. All workshop participants will receive the papers, with request to read them in advance and to provide feedback. In addition, will share during the workshop relevant references, theories, case studies, data sources, etc. that might be supportive for the further development of the papers. Overall, we aim at creating a constructive environment for developing sound ideas in preparation for a scholarly contribution.

Presented papers will be considered for publication in a Special Issue in the Journal of Cleaner Production.

Contact Information of the Workshop Organizers

Prof.dr. Nikolay A. Dentchev, Assistant Professor at Vrije Universiteit Brussel & KULeuven Belgium.
E-Mail:; M: +32.(0)477.91.71.21 (corresponding wokshop organizer)

Dr. Romana Rauter, Post Doctoral Researcher at the Institute of Systems Sciences, Innovation and Sustainability Research (ISIS), University of Graz, Austria.

Prof.dr. Rupert Baumgarter, Head of Institute of Systems Sciences, Innovation and Sustainability Research (ISIS), University of Graz, Austria.

Prof.dr. Yulia Snihur, Assistant Professor at Toulouse Business School (TBS), France.

Prof.dr. Jan Jonker, Full Professor at Nijmegen School of Management, Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands & Toulouse Business School (TBS), France.


Amit, R., & Zott, C. 2012. Creating Value Through Business Model Innovation. MIT Sloan Management Review, 53(3).
Arevalo,  J.A.,  Castelló,  I.,  de  Colle,  S.,  Lenssen,  G.,  Neumann,  K.,  &  Zollo,  M.  (2011). Introduction  to  the  special  issue:  integrating  sustainability  in  business  models. Journal of Management Development, 30(10), 941-954.
Austin, J., Stevenson, H., & Wei-Skillern, J. 2006. Social and commercial entrepreneurship: Same, different or both? Entrepreneurship: Theory & Practice, 30(1): 1-22.
Boons, F., Montalvo, C., Quist, J., & Wagner, M. (2013). Sustainable innovations, business models and economic performance: an overview. Journal of Cleaner Production, 45, 1-8.
Casadesus-Masanell, R, Zhu, F. 2013. Business model innovation and competitive imitation. Strategic Management Journal 34(4): 464-482.
Magretta, J. 2002. Why business models matter. Harvard Business Review, 80(5): 3-8. Markides, C. (2006). Disruptive innovation: In need of better theory*. Journal of product innovation management, 23(1), 19-25.
Osterwalder, A. 2004. The business model ontology: A proposition in a design science approach University of Lausanne.
Porter, M. E., & Kramer, M. R. 2011. CREATING SHARED VALUE. Harvard Business Review, 89(1-2): 62-77.
Schaltegger, S., Hansen, E.G., & Lüdeke-Freund, F. (2014). Business Models for Sustainability: Entrepreneurship, Innovation and Transformation. Call for Papers for a Special Issue of Organization & Environment.
Svensson, G., & Wagner, B. (2011). Transformative business sustainability: Multi-layer model and network of e-footprint sources. European Business Review, 23(4), 334.352.
Teece,  D.  J.  (2010).  Business  models,  business  strategy  and  innovation. Long range planning, 43(2), 172-194.
Zott, C., Amit, R., & Massa, L. (2011). The business model: recent developments and future research. Journal of Management, 37(4), 1019-1042.
Wells, P.E. (2013). Business Models for Sustainability. Cheltenham, Northampton: Edward Elgar.

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Supporting Publications
Intellectual Contributors
The Creativity and Sustainability Forum
Organised by
  • Clean technology centre
  • Wines of Alentejo