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 5: Ecologies within the habitats of the zoo

Elizabeth A.M. Searing, Jesse D. Lecy and Fredrik O. Andersson

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


The complexity of organizational ecology is similar to that of the natural world, with networks of individual and environmental characteristics that are both dynamic and unique. The emergence of several new species within the social enterprise zoo signals that the social enterprise context contains resources sufficient to sustain growth and innovation of new organizational types. This chapter explores the species-level dynamics that dictate daily life in the niches of the social enterprise zoo. In particular, the three phases of niche development are discussed – emergence, expansion, and maturity – and two case studies of social enterprise activity – microfinance and school vouchers – are analyzed. Organizations (animals), resources, institutions, and a host of other factors influence the ebb and flow of enterprises in the social enterprise zoo. The zoo, and each of its habitats, must therefore be understood as whole complex systems rather than just collections of specific organizational animals or species.

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