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 13: Implications for research, policy, and practice

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

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


The zoo concept incorporates an element of design while accommodating organic development and diversity. Thus the zoo metaphor allows us to flesh out the nature of social enterprise diversity itself, including the different legal forms, the various political and economic environments in which social enterprises operate, the diversity of governance structures that oversee social enterprise, the different combinations and varieties of social purpose and market success that social enterprises can embody, the diverse resources that can sustain them, and the alternative approaches to innovation or theories of social change they may adopt. We argue here that the emergence and nature of social enterprise can be understood by extending market failure theory to include the new niches in the social economy that social enterprises fill. Looking to the future, the social enterprise zoo metaphor suggests a rich agenda of research questions including: How can social efficiency be improved by altering the mixes of animals in the zoo and the ways in which each species or subspecies is nurtured and protected? Where should the fences be placed to separate some social enterprise animals from others, and what rules, regulations and incentives should constitute these fences? To what extent can zookeepers actually control what happens in the zoo? What might be the unintended consequences of policies designed to alter the zoo, or exert control over it? And how can we better assess the societal impacts of the social enterprise zoo?

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