Strategic sensemaking by social entrepreneurs: Creating strategies for social innovation

Michael Price, Nicholas D. Wong, Charles Harvey, Mairi Maclean

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (SciVal)
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Purpose: This study explores how a small minority of social entrepreneurs break free from third sector constraints to conceive, create and grow non-profit organisations that generate social value at scale in new and innovative ways. Design/methodology/approach: Six narrative case histories of innovative social enterprises were developed based on documents and semi-structured interviews with founders and long serving executives. Data were coded “chrono-processually”, which involves locating thoughts, events and actions in distinct time periods (temporal bracketing) and identifying the processes at work in establishing new social ventures. Findings: This study presents two core findings. First, the paper demonstrates how successful social entrepreneurs draw on their lived experiences, private and professional, in driving the development and implementation of social innovations, which are realised through application of their capabilities as analysts, strategists and resources mobilisers. These capabilities are bolstered by personal legitimacy and by their abilities as storytellers and rhetoricians. Second, the study unravels the complex processes of social entrepreneurship by revealing how sensemaking, theorising, strategizing and sensegiving underpin the core processes of problem specification, the formulation of theories of change, development of new business models and the implementation of social innovations. Originality/value: The study demonstrates how social entrepreneurs use sensemaking and sensegiving strategies to understand and address complex social problems, revealing how successful social entrepreneurs devise and disseminate social innovations that substantially add value to society and bring about beneficial social change. A novel process-outcome model of social innovation is presented illustrating the interconnections between entrepreneurial cognition and strategic action.

Original languageEnglish
Article number12
Pages (from-to)292-311
Number of pages20
JournalInternational Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour & Research
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 12 Sept 2023


  • Social entrepreneurship, Social enterprise, Social innovation, Theory of change, Sensegiving, Sensemaking


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