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John E. Tyler III

Social enterprise (SE) emerges where there are opportunities to find new ways to balance otherwise competing interests and to achieve social purposes in ways that are better than and distinct from traditional approaches. Understanding whether the zoo and its elements are achieving these purposes, making progress, or causing harm is complicated and difficult. The challenges begin with assessing essential things that cannot be measured easily or well. They continue with how SE simultaneously has social impact at so many levels: individual, organizational, communal, within and among parts of the zoo, and society as a whole. They are exacerbated by the need to account for gains in one social impact area possibly being accompanied by harm in another. Of course, being complicated or challenging or even presently unprovable is no excuse for not trying. In that spirit this chapter approaches assessing the social impact of SE, its potential, and its distinguishing character at three key levels: the broad zoo itself for which the search for assessment tools is ongoing; the specific habitats and animals for which metrics, measures, and standards might be more accessible but for which accurate cross-purpose benchmarking is still a challenge; and the broader contexts within which the SE zoo exists, including traditional business, philanthropy, and the governmental regulatory environment. It is with respect to the latter – particularly with regard to priority of purpose and public accountability – that the social enterprise zoo has had its clearest impact so far.