Newsmakers: Greg Dees on scaling social innovation

Greg Dees, an expert on social entrepreneurship who teaches at Duke University, will be in Portland Friday.

Greg Dees, an expert on social entrepreneurship who teaches at Duke University, will be in Portland Friday. 

Starting a business is difficult. Keeping that business afloat can be herculean. Both can be markedly more challenging for social entrepreneurs.

"We know from business entrepreneurs that keeping a business alive is a challenging task," says Greg Dees, the founding faculty director of the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. "Layer on top of that a social mission that can limit your options and it becomes even tougher."

Dees should know. He's spent the past three decades studying, teaching and practicing social entrepreneurship at institutions including Duke, the Yale School of Management, Harvard Business School and Stanford University's Graduate School of Management. In addition, he chairs the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council for Social Innovation, and has published more than 60 articles and spoken at Davos on the topic.

He’ll share his thoughts on social innovation Friday at the Pacific Northwest College of Art in a presentation titled “The Open Solutions Society: Taking Social Entrepreneurship Seriously.”

So how can a social mission limit the choices a social enterprise can make? In multiple ways, according to Dees, but it typically involves balancing an organization’s mission with the need to generate revenue.

"Sometimes going into the most challenging market is not necessarily the smartest way to do business because you may be out of business in a year and then you’re not helping anyone,” says Dees.

One way around the thorny issues that can arise when launching a social enterprise is to put innovative ideas to work inside a larger organization.

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