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Quinlan School of Business

3 tips for social entrepreneurs

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Dawn Harris is leading the way in social enterprise research.

Money isn’t everything, especially in social entrepreneurship. So why not emphasize the human side of things?

That is the question put forth by Dawn Harris, PhD, associate professor of management at Quinlan, in her latest article, "The Role of Human Capital in Scaling Social Entrepreneurship: How Can Social Entrepreneurship and Human Assets Contribute to the Growth of Business?"

Cases in point

The article, recently published in the Journal of Management for Global Sustainability (from the International Association of Jesuit Business Schools), focuses on two case studies: Solar Sister of Uganda and E-Health Point of India. Solar Sister sells alternative-fuel lamps in a country largely reliant on kerosene—a combustible liquid often within easy reach of children. E-Health Point provides clean water and healthcare services in rural India.

In interviewing directors of these businesses, Harris and her research partner, Yasemin Kor, built a model for how human assets can contribute to a company’s operations and mission. In it, they outline three critical components:

  1. Human capital acquisition: skill development; getting the right people for the job
  2. Human capital development: training, motivating, and rewarding employees
  3. Human capital retention: preventing unwanted turnover

Harris says these organizations face particular challenges that make human assets valuable.

“Social ventures often have resource scarcity,” she says. “For example, the legal setup is often weak where these businesses are operating. So human assets have to function differently; they have to learn quickly and have a strong entrepreneurial drive.”

Greasing the wheel

There are other considerations to take into account when looking at this model, Harris adds. First, it is important to consider specialized skills, not just generic skills and education. Second, it is essential that informal training and incentives are promoted. Last, in the recruitment stage, the skill sets of the candidates should be assessed alongside their values, and how well each aspect fits with the social venture.

“We wanted to start building a model so that social entrepreneurs don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Harris says.  “We want to continue to expand on this in our future research.”


Want more? Read Harris's article in the Journal of Management for Global Sustainability.

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