Social Enterprise Trends in 2016

Read the trends for 2017

As I reflect on how the social enterprise ecosystem has grown and shifted over the past year, I found myself looking forward to consider how it might continue to evolve.

Below are my best ‘hunches’, and hopes, for how the landscape will take shape in 2016…

Entering the Mainstream

Having had an ear to the social entrepreneurship scene for the past 8 years, I know first hand it can be easy to forget how this idea of doing good while doing well has still been fairly on the outskirts of mainstream.

Despite growing enthusiasm among those ‘in the know’, over the past few years the road from ‘largely unknown’ to ‘more prevalent’ has been a steep one.  Even in 2015, the majority of media covering social enterprise were looking at it as a novel approach, squarely focused on highlighting shining success stories and addressing exactly “what is social entrepreneurship?”.

In 2016, I think this will continue but the dialogue around social enterprise among the masses will deepen and truly enter the mainstream.

More Depth

Along with this entry into mainstream, in 2016 I predict the global discussion will begin to tire of the debate around terms and definitions within social entrepreneurship.  Although those conversations will remain necessary and useful, they will also expand into new, deeper, territory.

There will be demand for more depth around the specifics of social enterprise – outlining best practices and practical applications for every skill set from marketing to evaluating impact.  This movement has already taken place within circles of those familiar with social enterprise, but everyone (beneficiaries, clients, social entrepreneurs and the greater public) will all benefit from greater depth in the social enterprise dialogue.

Expanded Ecosystem

As the discussion moves deeper into these topics, service providers will create a wider spread of specialized services to help social entrepreneurs succeed.  On the same token, organizations and professionals supporting social entrepreneurs will refine their teaching and resources to meet the growing specialized needs of social entrepreneurs.

The entire ecosystem of service providers will become even more well-connected as it evolves to keep up with the demand, and acts to connect social entrepreneurs to the right resources at the right time.  This expansion of offerings is already showing as greater numbers of University programs aimed at Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship launch to meet student demand.

More Connection

If watching the Global Social Entrepreneurs Lab grow organically over the last year is any indication, 2016 will bring even more meaningful connection between social innovators.

Social entrepreneurs have always craved connection with each other, but it seems only recently that a tipping point has been met.  The prevalence of people interested in social entrepreneurship is finally at the level where they are able to start connecting with the right people and the right time with greater ease.

There are countless formal and informal communities connecting all over the world, locally and globally.  If the last 2 years were the phase of random collisions between like-minded social entrepreneurs, 2016 will bring greater cohesion and the opportunity for purposeful connections.

These connections between peers in social enterprise are increasingly important for the health of the sector.  As social entrepreneurs experiment and grow the field of best practices, this knowledge needs strong, reliable channels and venues to transmit key insights and knowledge.


More (Talk About) Failure

As more people grow interested in and practice social enterprise, we will be gifted with a more open discussion of failure.

The shining success stories profiled and celebrated were a necessary step in growing excitement around the vast potential of social enterprise.  But with more and more social enterprises starting up, in order to keep the momentum and make sure results show positive and increasingly meaningful impact, conversations will need to get into the nitty-gritty details. And with the nitty-gritty details comes failure.

2016 will bring a greater need for open discussion (and celebration) of failure.  This way lessons learned and practical knowledge can be shared and used to propel forward into designing social enterprises that will take their impact to the next level.

More Flexibility

They’ve done it again.  The social enterprise and impact investing thought-leader,, introduced a groundbreaking concept called Lean Data.  It’s early days, but I have the feeling they have succeeded in reviving perhaps the most yawn-worthy, yet absolutely crucial, practice in the non-profit and social enterprise sector – impact measurement and evaluation.

Once an expensive, drawn-out, and plain-old complicated practice, Acumen’s Lean Data approach marries the best of Lean Startup principles with the realities and context of cash-strapped social enterprises.

I believe this smashing of convention with such a simple yet powerful approach will be the first step in giving non-profits and social enterprises permission to do things differently.  It’s a shining example of how ‘keep the essential, discard the traditional’ thinking can revolutionize how non profits and social enterprises not only evaluate impact, but how they think about innovation, adaptation, and operations overall.

More Collaboration

Perhaps the trend I am most excited about… more collaboration.  This prediction is a culmination of the above trends reinforcing social enterprise as a viable option for addressing the most intractable social issues faced by the globe today.

Call me an optimist (because I am one!) but this trend feels inevitable.  As social entrepreneurs gain confidence, witness positive results in achieving impact, and grow support for their work, it’s seems a natural progression that we will see more collaboration in the sector.  Whether that be between individuals, organizations, or individuals and organizations, these efforts will serve to scale impact by leaps and bounds.

There you have it, seven social entrepreneurship trends that I can see taking shape in 2016!

Now it’s your turn. How do you think the social enterprise landscape will shift and transform in 2016?  Let me know in the comments below!



  • Excellent article….I see few more trends:

    a) Social enterprises will become more of a necessity as inclusive growth eludes us;
    b) Investment flows will happen in to this sector as “more, more” is replaced with the feeling of “more than enough” – this slow, but steady shift from greed to lesser greed will drive this shift

    regards, ravi

  • Apologies, I missed on trend – I see more and more governments will make CSR mandatory on companies as it has become in India for corporates of a certain size.

    • The Sedge

      Reply Reply October 8, 2016

      Thanks for sharing these trends Ravi! I completely agree – both CSR and social enterprise are becoming more and more (and will eventually be) the norm. Also love your addition of investors looking to use their dollars more for good than for personal payoff.

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