Siri Terjesen believes social enterprises are a catalyst for change. "There are so many problems in the world, and we can't rely on governments to solve them all. Private social businesses inspire people to find solutions themselves."
Terjesen first became interested in the topic of social entrepreneurship while writing a case study on a social venture in Chennai, India. The World Bank-sponsored project developed a device to more effectively capture rats that were destroying the city’s crops. Ultimately, it transformed the lives of the Irula people, an indigenous agricultural tribe, by instituting a healthier and more efficient way to catch the rodents.
"Social entrepreneurship is about people starting any initiative that has a social, environmental, or community objective," Terjesen explains. "It could be students who are starting a product that’s based on recycled materials. Or a group working to find a solution to irrigation problems in their neighborhood."
Terjesen’s experiences in India got her thinking. If such an impactful project existed in just one city of a country, how many people were running social ventures globally?
The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor’s (GEM) Social Entrepreneurship Report, set to release in early June 2016, seeks to answer this question. As a co-researcher on the project, Terjesen assisted in developing a survey that determined the number and type of social entrepreneurs in different populations. The report polled 167,793 adults in 58 countries, making it the largest comparative research study of social entrepreneurship in the world.
"The majority of social entrepreneurship research is case-based, meaning it's just one study about a particular business and place," says Terjesen "This report looks at a lot of populations, which allows us to collect data that represents many different people."
GEM, a membership organization dedicated to entrepreneurship research, supported the study by allowing Terjesen to utilize their international network of nearly 90 countries. She and her colleagues Niels Bosma, Thomas Schøtt, and Penny Kew worked with GEM to interview random populations from different countries by phone or face-to-face. “This report is only possible through GEM’s extensive global network,” she says.
Because the report surveyed a large number of people in many countries, Terjesen and her co-authors had to be very strategic about which questions were included. “Every question costs money, so you have to have a really good reason for including anything. If you don’t have a complete rationale, you might be spending money asking something that you’re not even getting the right answer for,” she says.
The report’s conclusions have important implications for entrepreneurs, researchers, and policy-makers alike. About 3.2% of the world’s population is starting social ventures, with 5.75% of the total US population involved in social start-ups. This indicates a substantial amount of the global population are social entrepreneurs, validating this as an important topic for researchers and policy-makers.
The report also uncovered an important statistic on women in business. In commercial entrepreneurship, men outnumber women 2:1, especially in developed countries like the United States. In social ventures, both genders are almost equally represented, suggesting that social entrepreneurship is a top business field of interest for women worldwide.
"This is important research that I hope others will investigate, too. It can influence policy makers by showing them what populations of social entrepreneurs look like. In this way, it has the potential to make a very large impact globally," Terjesen says.
Terjesen will join Kogod this fall as an Associate Professor and the Research Director of AU’s new Center for Innovation in the Capital. She will help develop the Center through her entrepreneurship research and expertise. “We couldn’t be more thrilled Terjesen is joining our faculty,” says Melissa Bradley, Director of the Innovation Center. “Having a tenured professor with her research and teaching experience is a great asset to AU.
Terjesen is also excited to join the Center’s faculty, and the AU community as a whole. “I’ve always admired American University. I’ve already had several interactions with students, and have been really impressed with how entrepreneurial they are,” she enthuses.
Most of all, Terjesen is enthusiastic about supporting social ventures with her work. Through her continued research at AU and beyond, she will help define, grow, and advance the social entrepreneurship sector.
“I love to make a difference,” Terjesen says. “I want to continue providing rigorous, impactful research that’s relevant to the world.”