Rebels Without a Cause? Beyond Heroic Social Entrepreneurship in Davos

A man walks outside the main entrance of the Congress Center, on the eve of the opening of the 43rd Annual Meeting of the Wor
A man walks outside the main entrance of the Congress Center, on the eve of the opening of the 43rd Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum, WEF, in Davos, Switzerland, Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013. The overarching theme of the meeting, which will take place from 23 to 27 January, is "Resilient Dynamism". (AP Photo/Keystone, Laurent Gillieron)

The grand narrative of social entrepreneurship is everywhere: heroic individuals build innovative solutions to transform the texture of the world's social fabric. What have we learned in a decade of emergent debate on the topic? What are the effects of a topic nobody, be it policy makers, professors, students, or parents, can avoid touching upon one way or another?

A decade ago the topic was eclectically discussed, infusing small circles of dispersed professional communities such as development experts, nonprofit managers, and small elites of foundation visionaries and its beneficiaries. Today professional communities, career trajectories, and financial and political resources navigate around the topic.

Social entrepreneurship diffused through a multiplicity of linguistic labels. Definitional roundtables in community gatherings, business school classrooms, grantee evaluations, youth clubs, and even venture capital board roams became spaces to discuss viewpoints on society and entrepreneurship. Its ambiguous multiplicity served as a neutral and optimistic bandwagon for the many lucky, working or wanting to work in the 'industry' of social innovation, to justify their actions.

The innocence of social entrepreneurship, however, is over. How and where will and should these discussions take place in a decade or so in the future? The concept needs a reflective debate on its political causes and effects by focusing on the little, more complex stories that are, in our opinion, at the heart of social entrepreneurship, illustrating the inherent tensions that come to the fore in the practical reality of changing the social. To survive, the social entrepreneurship 'movement' needs to prove its reflective capacity and work on the political implications inherent in what it proclaims -- to be the 21st century engine of societal change.

Those most affected by its signaling is the next generation. We grow up to become uncynical, myopic followers of an idealistic type of neoliberal dogma that drives how we engage with the social and, even more important, with ourselves and personal life and career trajectories.

The concept's survival lies in its strength by those who practice, preach, and diffuse the concept in praxis, for years by now, and thus skeptical about its hegemonic forces through its grand, often times superficial, but nevertheless enrolling narrative.