Social Entrepreneurship: Key to Sustainable and Inclusive Growth in Asia-Pacific

Prof. Subhanjan Sengupta (View Full Profile)
Coordinator, Doctoral Programmes

Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship, Sustainability and Strategy, BIMTECH

Social entrepreneurs are those entrepreneurs who use innovation with risk to generate business models for addressing societal and environmental needs that are not yet being fully addressed through existing governmental or non-governmental interventions.

The primary purpose of these enterprises is to create social value, while satisfying on the economic value creation for the sustainability of the firm and the social mission.


Social entrepreneurs, symbolizing the altruistic version of entrepreneurship, are community based, socially innovative in mobilizing and scaling up existing assets of the beneficiary groups, and trying to strike a balance between being “market-oriented” and “socially-based”.

While some of us may be already familiar with what social enterprises mean in general, it may be interesting for you to know what researchers across the Asia Pacific region have found about social enterprises.

East Asia

In East Asia, it has been found that “necessity” and “shared destiny” as two primary conditions activating the inception and development of social ventures. In China, it is closely linked to its rural entrepreneurial cause, that played a crucial role in the economic transformation of China post-reformation.

During that time, entrepreneurs had engaged much with institutional bodies in policy reformation. The Guangcai Program had motivated private entrepreneurs adopting social entrepreneurship.


In Taiwan, social enterprises are created mostly to address unemployment and for poverty alleviation. They also helped in creating an institutional collectivism in the country.

In Japan, for-profit ventures have been seen to be driven not just by economic motivation alone, but by societal motivation as well. There, social entrepreneurship is perceived more as organisational social entrepreneurship.

In South Korea, citizens’ movements and the government played a proactive role in inception and scaling of social businesses.

South-East Asia

In this part of the world, there has been a strong association between education and social entrepreneurship, as community development sensitization through education was a socially entrepreneurial ingenuity. Such trends have been observed in Philippines and Malaysia.

Social entrepreneurship education itself has been a rising trend.
In Cambodia, social entrepreneurship helped battle the socio-economic disaster from the civil wars of the 1970s.


Innovation in educating and training poor and vulnerable youth in necessary skillsets had been a major social entrepreneurship opportunity. To deal with household economic conditions in rural Indonesia and Thailand, community-based enterprises are the social enterprises, because the community acts as both entrepreneur and enterprise to meet the socio-economic requirements.

South Asia

In India, organisations like Ashoka Foundation have played an important role in enabling many social entrepreneurs, creating a community of charismatic entrepreneurs using business orientation to generate social reformation, a movement creating pathway by using market principles for social innovation.

Social entrepreneurship in India and Bangladesh has been able to differentiate social entrepreneurship from social activism. While the former is a direct action for transformational impact by bridging the market and the social, social activism indirectly creates social change by influencing others to take actions.


Social enterprises in Australia and New Zealand had also been some of the best in the region and the world. Social enterprises in this region has played an active role in facilitating settlement of non-English speaking emigrants in Australia, as well as strengthening the presence and contribution of indigenous communities.

Capacity to work with diverse people, financial self-sustainability, favourable contextual forces, and democratic and participative decision-making, have been found to be some of the enabling factors in past research. Social entrepreneurship has also been found to have strong linkages with well-being in the healthcare sector. Increased social capital, capacity building and community empowerment, have been very distinct outcomes of the social entrepreneurship ecosystem in the region.


 Overall, the entire Asia Pacific region has seen an increasing social entrepreneurship movement that is here to stay, and will soon need movements in the policy structures to come up with distinctive legal identities and policy/regulatory frameworks for further enabling social enterprises to bring a bottom-up change thorough localised solution oriented interventions.

(These insights were very brief for the purpose of this blog. They are based on a research article by the author which discusses in detail about social entrepreneurship in the Asia Pacific region. The article is available in the Social Enterprise Journal by Emerald Publishing.)

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