15 Social Impact Research Topics You Want to Read

For 15 years, CASE has been studying the social impact field and how social entrepreneurs can leap the chasm from innovative idea to sustainable impact. Greg Dees, one of our founders and a pioneer in the study of social entrepreneurship, was one of the first to ask what is social entrepreneurship and how can it thrive? Since the writing “The Meaning of Social Entrepreneurship” in 2001, we’ve continued to explore these questions and share our findings with others also wanting to scale social impact.

Did you know that you can find this social impact research here in our Knowledge Center? From white papers to articles to interviews, there’s a wealth of information for anyone wanting to better understand social entrepreneurship. In celebration of 15 years of CASE research, we’ve rounded up our 15 most popular entries from the Knowledge Center. Since the launch of the Knowledge Center, thousands of users from over 100 countries have watched interviews with social impact leaders, read cutting-edge research on topics such as impact investing and tri-sector leadership, and gained a deeper understanding of social entrepreneurship.

Learn something new today with these 15 pieces on social impact:

The Meaning of Social Entrepreneurship – J. Gregory Dees

The “father of social entrepreneurship education”, Greg Dees’ pioneering paper introduced the world to social entrepreneurship and how it can make an impact.

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The Process of Social Entrepreneurship: Creating Opportunities Worthy of Serious Pursuit – Ayse Guclu, J. Gregory Dees, Beth Battle Anderson

For social entrepreneurs, an “attractive” opportunity is one that has sufficient potential for positive social impact to justify the investment of time, energy, and money required to pursue it seriously. Our model breaks the opportunity creation process into two major steps. See what they are in this landmark paper.

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Framing a Theory of Social Entrepreneurship: Building on Two Schools of Practice and Thought – J. Gregory Dees and Beth Battle Anderson

One of the first papers to provide a theory-building process for the social entrepreneurship field, looking at both the practical and intellectual considerations for the growing social impact movement.

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Designing Your Business Model for Social Impact – Catherine Clark and J. Gregory Dees

From starting-up through scaling, social entrepreneurs are constantly redesigning their business models to increase their financial stability, efficiency and ultimate impact. Building on their global study of social entrepreneurial business models, Cathy Clark and Greg Dees offer lessons about the best ways to navigate the redesign process.

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For-Profit Social Ventures – J. Gregory Dees and Beth Battle Anderson

Traditional sector boundaries are breaking down as societies search for more
innovative, cost-effective, and sustainable ways to solve social problems and provide socially important goods, such as education and health care. One result has been a rise in the number of social entrepreneurs who want to combine a social purpose with a for-profit organizational structure. This paper is designed to help would-be for-profit social entrepreneurs understand and address the challenges of using a for-profit organization to serve a social objective.

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The Social Enterprise Spectrum – J. Gregory Dees

With the boundaries between philanthropy and commerce blurring, this note briefly gives nonprofit managers and social entrepreneurs a framework (the Social Enterprise Spectrum) for thinking creatively about structural options in the social sector.

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Scaling Pathways Series – Erin Worsham, Catherine Clark, Robyn Fehrman

What does it take to scale social impact? As we seek to create solutions to widespread, seemingly intractable problems, such as poverty and climate change, answering this question is as urgent as ever. To inform the actions of social entrepreneurs and the strategies of funders who support them, the Innovation Investment Alliance and CASE created Scaling Pathways. Take a look at how three social ventures have scaled their impact and what others can learn from their experiences.

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Nonprofit Geographic Expansion: Branches, Affiliates, or Both? – Jane Wei-Skillern and Beth Battle Anderson

Nonprofit organizations often move into new territories by establishing local branches, affiliates, or a combination of branches and affiliates, resulting in a plural form. This paper presents data from a survey of U.S. nonprofit leaders who have experience with or are considering expanding their organizations via branches, affiliates, or both.

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Identifying the Drivers of Social Entrepreneurial Impact: Theoretical Development and an Exploratory Empirical Test of SCALERS – Paul N. Bloom and Brett R. Smith

The scaling of social entrepreneurial impact is an important issue in the field of social entrepreneurship. While researchers have focused relatively little theoretical and empirical attention on scaling, a recently proposed set of drivers of scaling – incorporated into what has been labeled the SCALERS model – may provide guidance for new theoretical and empirical work on scaling of social impact.

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Double Bottom Line Project Report: Assessing Social Impact in Double Bottom Line Ventures – Catherine Clark, William Rosenzweig, David Long and Sara Olsen

In the past few years, as the lines between grantmaking and investing have begun to blur, the idea of measuring social return concurrent with traditional financial accounting has caught on among investors, funders and entrepreneurs. This paper looks at the “Double Bottom Line Project”, supported by Rockefeller Foundation’s ProVenEx fund, and its effects on social impact.

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Aligning Capital with Mission

The Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private foundation dedicated to improving the lives of America’s children and families, engaged InSight at Pacific Community Ventures — with research support from CASE — to conduct the first comprehensive third-party evaluation of its Social Investment Program, a $125 million allocation from its endowment dedicated to mission investing.

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Impact Investing 2.0: The Way Forward – Insight from 12 Outstanding Funds – Catherine Clark, Jed Emerson and Ben Thornley

This report was created in partnership with InSight at Pacific Community Ventures and Impact Assets, and identifies twelve high-performing funds that have seen both financial and social returns on their investments, making an evidence-based case for a new 2.0 era of impact investing.

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Opportunities and Challenges for Global Health Impact Investors

A collaboration between CASE, IPIHD, Calvert Foundation, and Investors’ Circle, produced as part of the Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator at Duke with funding from USAID, this project set out to understand the landscape of current sources of debt and equity financing for global health enterprises in India and East Africa. Interviews with investors revealed two main challenges – a need for more coordination between active parties working in global health, and a mismatch between available capital and on the ground needs.

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Healthcare Innovation in East Africa: Navigating the Ecosystem – Patricia Odero, Sylvia Sable, Jennifer Cook, Krishna Udayakumar

Navigating the healthcare ecosystem in East Africa can present a challenge to many of these burgeoning entrepreneurs. The SEAD team took a look at the ecosystem to discover the role of public and private sectors in spurring innovation, challenges with the health financing market in Kenya and Uganda, and what innovation environment and support systems are currently in place in the two countries.

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Fundraising for Global Health Social Enterprises: Lessons from the Field – Lila Cruikshank, Catherine Clark and Richard Bartlett

This report identifies common challenges and emerging best practices for fundraising in the global health field, drawing on interviews with investors and global health social enterprises (GHSEs). The mistakes and recommendations identified here are derived principally from the authors’ work with investors and innovators affiliated with the International Partnership for Innovative Healthcare Delivery (IPIHD) and the Social Enterprise Accelerator at Duke (SEAD).

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