The Social Enterprise Zoo

The Social Enterprise Zoo

A Guide for Perplexed Scholars, Entrepreneurs, Philanthropists, Leaders, Investors, and Policymakers

Edited by Dennis R. Young, Elizabeth A.M. Searing and Cassady V. Brewer

The Social Enterprise Zoo employs the metaphor of the zoo to gain a more comprehensive understanding of social enterprise – especially the diversity of its forms; the various ways it is organized in different socio-political environments; how different forms of enterprise behave, interact, and thrive; and what lessons can be drawn for the future development and study of organizations that seek to balance social or environmental impact with economic success. Recommended for students, researchers, policymakers, entrepreneurs and managers of social purpose organizations.

Chapter 4: Habitats in the zoo

Janelle A. Kerlin, Thema Monroe-White and Sandy Zook

Subjects: business and management, entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, non-profits


The prominence and character of social enterprise differs substantially among countries around the world. This chapter takes a macro-institutional approach to identifying the nature of country habitats that influence social enterprise. These habitats vary by a country’s level of economic development and the nature of its civil society. Five diverse countries are examined in depth – Argentina, Italy, Zimbabwe, Sweden and the USA – illustrating that countries actualize social enterprise differently in response to differences in their institutional contexts. Large-scale statistical analysis based on a sample from 54 countries also reveals that the size of a country’s social enterprise sector can be attributed to country-level institutional factors including economic competitiveness and size of the welfare state. Further, intermediate factors such as the presence of different kinds of entrepreneurial opportunities in a given habitat are found to influence social enterprise. Specifically, social enterprises appear to have a stronger presence in countries with high human development scores compared to countries with greater unmet social need. Thus it is the institutional capacities of countries, not their need-based opportunities, that most strongly determine the incidence of social enterprise though other evidence suggests that low- and middle-income country social enterprise activities, when present, are more aligned to address the social needs found there.

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