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Gregory Dees: The Man Who Defined Social Entrepreneurship

Gregory Dees: The Man Who Defined Social Entrepreneurship
Courtesy the Fuqua School of Business/Duke University

In 1998, when Professor Gregory Dees wrote The Meaning of Social Entrepreneurship, the phrase was barely known, even by those running “social ventures” at the time. As Roger Martin, former dean of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, wrote in a memorial, Dees (along with a small group of like-minded thinkers) “defined the contours of an establishing field.” Dees passed away on Dec. 20 at age 63. Below are excerpts from his seminal article written while teaching at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business.

The idea of “social entrepreneurship” has struck a responsive chord. It is a phrase well suited to our times. It combines the passion of a social mission with an image of business-like discipline, innovation, and determination commonly associated with, for instance, the high-tech pioneers of Silicon Valley. The time is certainly ripe for entrepreneurial approaches to social problems. Many governmental and philanthropic efforts have fallen far short of our expectations. Major social-sector institutions are often viewed as inefficient, ineffective, and unresponsive. Social entrepreneurs are needed to develop new models for a new century.