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 6: Changes over the life cycles of social enterprise animals

Jesse D. Lecy and Elizabeth A.M. Searing

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


This chapter examines each stage in the life cycle of social enterprise animals and implications of life cycles for the social enterprise zoo as whole. We separate the life cycle of social enterprise organizations into five potential stages: nascent (conceptualization and market entry), newborn (the liability of newness during the first few years), adolescence (strong growth trajectories and strategies), maturation into young adulthood (when organizations reach full size and grow large), and maturity (struggles against inertia). We focus primarily on the importance of different resources and entrepreneurial and managerial activity at each stage required to maintain a thriving social enterprise organization. We examine both nonprofit and for-profit aspects of social enterprise and ask how these combine in various inhabitants of the social enterprise zoo. Though we rely primarily on nonprofit social enterprise financial data, which allows us to observe the inner workings of an entire species over time, we also examine research in other social enterprise contexts to reflect the breadth of the zoo. Several findings are worth special attention: organizations tend to grow slowly with substantial inertia in moving from one life stage to another, and growth itself is a highly challenging process, with enterprises more likely to close than to grow at each life stage. Even mature organizations are more likely to die than to successfully retrench. Overall, awareness of challenges over the life cycle of social enterprise organizations is essential for successful management of the social enterprise zoo.

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