Jon Kolko on How to Define Social Entrepreneurship

In Chapter 18 of 21 in his 2012 Capture Your Flag interview, design educator Jon Kolko answers "How Do You Define Social Entrepreneurship?"  Kolko first defines an entrepreneur as someone who takes on the risk and reaps the reward of a situation and who sees opportunity where others see problems.  He differentiates between entrepreneurs and social entrepreneurs in both the type of problem and the reward. 

Jon Kolko is the founder and director of the Austin Center for Design.  He has authored multiple books on design, including "Wicked Problems: Problems Worth Solving."  Previously he has held senior roles at venture accelerator Thinktiv and frog design and was a professor of Interactive and Industrial Design at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD).  Kolko earned his Masters in Human Computer Interaction (MHI) and BFA in Design from Carnegie Mellon University.


Erik Michielsen: How do you define social entrepreneurship?

Jon Kolko: I think it helps by defining entrepreneurship first. And so an entrepreneur to me is somebody that takes on the risk and reaps the reward of a situation. It's also somebody that sees opportunity where others see problems or issues.

And so, that is true of a social entrepreneur, too. The difference is in the type of problems or opportunities and in the type of risk and reward. A social entrepreneur’s reward may or may not be monetary and typically it is monetary and, or plus in a double bottom line context. It's monetary, sure, there's money at stake but it's also about a larger social or humanitarian issue and that can be something as big and broad as poverty or it could be something extremely simple and detailed like getting the homeless in Austin, Texas to have beds when it's lower than 32 degrees at night. But either way, it's that yes and part of the reward. In terms of the opportunity where some see issues and others see opportunity, I think it constantly has to do with that idea of theory of change that we alluded to previously of: I see the world in a certain way and I would like it to be a different way. And so, I hypothesize how I’ll get there. Working backwards, you sort of get this logic trail of if I do this and this falls into place and this other thing happens, then those on the streets won’t be on the streets when it's 32 degrees or colder.

And so, for me then, a social entrepreneur is somebody who is applying all of the same principles of entrepreneurship and a design-led social entrepreneur is taking all of the same principles of the design but the context of the problem has shifted just a little.