The rise of social extrapreneurship?

posted in: Our thinking | 5

Social entrepreneurship is all the rage. Delivering social impact through enterprise is lauded by politicians, policy makers and practitioners. Not only should you do well, you should do good as well.


It is a message that resonates with many aspiring entrepreneurs as well as social organisations looking to make more impact or strapped for cash as public and philanthropic grants are increasingly like gold dust.

Social entrepreneurship is not only lauded but invested in. As the idea gained traction in the 2000s the public pound stimulated support organisations, training and academic courses as well as new financial institutions such as Big Society Capital, funds and socially motivated investors. Indeed, the public pound (local and national) has been crucial throughout the history of social entrepreneurship in stimulating creativity and momentum[1].

A notable and intensifying trend over the last decade has been the rise of social extrapreneurship, the bringing together of ideas, people and resources by working across or beyond organisational boundaries to create social impact. A good example is the growth of social incubators.

Social incubators began appearing in the USA and Canada in the late 2000s and were given an impetus in England in 2012 by the Cabinet Office’s Social Incubator Fund.

Cambridge Social Ventures, for instance, was created by three charitable organisations and a business school. It offers business advice, office space, loans and training. However, its real impact for aspiring social entrepreneurs is the growth of a ‘social ecosystem’ nestled within the wider Cambridge entrepreneurial and social ecosystems, of experienced entrepreneurs (social or otherwise), organisations, investors, students and SIE graduates who provide invaluable (and freely given) support and open doors to give our social ventures an incredible start on their journey.

Social incubators illustrate the social extrapreneurship of advocate organisations and the state. In combining ideas and resources into funded programmes, it stimulated regional and local social extrapreneurs to experiment and build new support mechanisms for social entrepreneurship.

Extrapreneurship was originally used as a concept to explain activity leading to corporate spin outs as distinct from intrapreneurship (creating new opportunities within an organisation) and entrepreneurship (creating new ventures outside extant organisations[2]) .

Dave Algoso recently highlighted the rise of a different sort of extrapreneur in the international development sector who works beyond organisational walls he argues that;

‘extrapreneurs create things in a space that transcends any one agency. Extrapreneurship is a partnership approach that goes beyond co-ordination or co-branding. It starts with the network and leverages the factors above to create a disproportionately greater development impact[3].’

While the concept of extrapreneurship did not get much traction outside the 1990s entrepreneurial literature, reconceptualised in the contemporary context captures the idea of extra-organisational action which facilitates creative combinations of ideas, people, places and resources for impact. In the social context it is a concept that compliments social entrepreneurship and social intrapreneurship.

At the Centre for Social Innovation we have seen a rise in interest in creating social impact through creating new social ventures and within corporate and public organisations amongst students[4] and our local community. Our emphasis is on social impact through any appropriate organisational form or business model rather than a particular organisational form or model.

Indeed, the opportunities to make systemic change through working within big organisations (public or private) is immense, as is the potential impact. To some it may be less attractive than the perceived glamour of the lone and heroic social entrepreneur and is potentially frustrating as big organisations are often slow to change, but the fact remains that big organisations are already having a huge impact (for better or worse) and there is an imperative to help them do better quicker – or do well and do good.

In our teaching, research and engagement we are exploring how to develop and sustain social intrapreneurship as well as social entrepreneurship. Creating a social ecosystem is one way to achieve this. An ecosystem of people, places and resources who can stimulate, support and sustain. An ecosystem that brings together social entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs. In other words, acting as social extrapreneurs.

So, social extrapreneurs can be characterised as working in and between organisations and networks not only to create novel solutions[5] but to develop a range of support and sustenance mechanisms and social change ecosystems.

Social extrapreneurs can be found in government, academia, private sector and network organisations. They shoal and coalesce in the pursuit of social impact. They pull ideas, people and resources together to create the environment for doing well and good to ensure social entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs are stimulated, supported and sustained.


[1] See Amin, A., Cameron, A & Hudson, R (2002) Placing the Social Economy for an excellent discussion on the rise of social entrepreneurship in the UK.
[5]Wallin, E (2011) Conversity of Busyland – A transnational academy for societal entrepreneurship

Neil Stott

Neil Stott

Neil Stott

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5 Responses

  1. Miceál Pyner

    Wow…. we were doing this in Shoreditch in the early 2000’s and I didn’t know what it was called… we always thought it was common sense 🙂

  2. molefe

    Thanks fot the update.
    Literature highlights that Social entrepreneurship is one of the two legs of Social Network Theory. It is a network whose outcome is to improve people’s lives as compared to that which is focuses on self improvement.

  3. Harsha Perera

    “…the bringing together of ideas, people and resources by working across or beyond organisational boundaries to create social impact…”

    In many ways, social entrepreneurship could be viewed as a sort of emerging cooperativism. It has the potential to galvanise significant grassroots level movement that changes our current economic construct – a construct that leads to the creation of large, inefficient, politically coercive and excess-profit orientated corporations. Only by looking beyond immediate self-interest and corporate profiteering can we hope to make the best of ourselves as a global community. Social entrepreneurship could be a catalyst for such change. Thanks for sharing this article.

  4. Not dreaming alone

    […] of social innovation, social entrepreneurship, social intrapreneurship and social extrapreneurship[1]; and now the first alumni of the business school’s Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation. Having […]

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