Lecture at Danube University: Social entrepreneurs as explorers of future business

On October 11, I was invited by Willibald Gföhler, head of Danube University’s Center for Finance and Global Business, to talk about social entrepreneurship to this year’s MBA students, who attended the managerial economics class with Dale Lehman – an interesting class I remember well from my own MBA studies. The lecture was part of Danube University's Fireside chat series.  

The discussion taking place after I presented some facts and figures mainly centered on distinguishing the concept of social entrepreneurship from regular or traditional forms of entrepreneurship, the motives of social entrepreneurs, and how their motives distinguish from CSR, the responsibilities of the corporate world, politics, and consumers to make change happen.

Here’s an attempt to provide some short answers. Social entrepreneurs might be distinguished from traditional entrepreneurs in that they are driven mainly by a mission to specifically resolve a social and/or ecological problem by applying business methods. Thus they connect social/ecological responsibility with profitability, aiming to achieve triple bottom line results. Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a related concept as far as it deals with social and ecological issues resulting from corporate behaviour. However, if I was asked to differentiate I would answer that social entrepreneurs act upon a comprehensive understanding of the interlink between society, environment, and business, while CSR often is a reaction to potential negative consequences resulting from the business a corporation conducts.

From where I’m standing social entrepreneurs are pioneers who experiment with new economic thinking. They dismiss incumbent economic theories and assumptions, they understand the idea of business differently, they apply new methods, they explore possibilities. Naturally, as with every rather new and seemingly revolutionary topic that challenges common beliefs and knowledge, the extent of opinions among both the participating students and faculty members ranged from broad consent to fierce decline. Arguments covered the whole spectrum, bringing forward arguments from “free markets resolve all the problems if one just lets them” to “we need to rethink business based on ethics”.

It’s great to get an opportunity like this one discussing with bright and open minds. They contribute greatly to learning what kind of counter arguments to expect when presenting social entrepreneurship to an audience who are new to the topic. They are also a big chance to raise awareness for alternative economic thinking – alternative to mainstream economics still taught undisputedly all over the world. We are grateful and appreciate the opportunity and the open mind of Danube University offering their students a possibility of reflection and critical thinking outside the usual box.

The Good Tribe says thank you!

Michael Bauer-Leeb

Download Michael's Keynote from the lecture (PDF, 5,5 MB).

Fitting to the topic of the evening we were generously hosted by Monika Seyrl, founder of Kre:ART, at her studio in the center of Krems. Kre:ART is dedicated to promote sustainable business, for instance by selling design products made of waste and providing education to children teaching them to make art out of waste. And we had an all-organic buffet, provided by Danube University.