Social Impact

Wharton Social Entrepreneurship Research


The Wharton Social Entrepreneurship Program, launched in 2001, is a field research program intended to examine how to use business models to develop projects which, in turn, serve as tools to address societal challenges. The basic thesis of the program is that many social problems, if looked at through an intra / entrepreneurial lens, provides opportunity for an entrepreneur to build a business that earns income and simultaneously attends to the societal challenge.

If successful, the outcomes of such intra / entrepreneurial efforts may well create a ‘virtuous cycle’: the greater the profits made the greater the incentive for the business creator to grow the business. The more societal problems are alleviated, the greater numbers of beneficiaries can join the mainstream of global consumers. One of the foundations of our program is the principle of self-sufficiency rather than dependency.

Current Academic Research Question:

What are the challenges of pursuing enterprise creation under conditions of near-Knightian uncertainty?

Current Practical Research Question:

How does a Social Entrepreneur pursue social impact and financial goals simultaneously?

For a more detailed exposition of the program, our approaches, and mini cases, please see the publications, “Making Social Ventures Work” and “Business Models: Creating New Markets and Societal Wealth”. For an overview of past and current projects please see the case descriptions below.


About us

"Wharton is positioning itself to combat social problems by mobilizing business in ways that create self-sufficiency for the poverty-stricken of the world, rather than generate dependency. We will be drawing on the talents of the entire University community to conceive of and generate business-driven solutions with significant impact."

Ian MacMillan, Dhirubhai Ambani Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship; Professor of Management; Director, Sol C. Snider Entrepreneurial Research Center

“Given recent profit-seeking excesses and global financial turmoil, how to trade off manifold objectives may be a future business model problem for even the most capitalistic firms...” (2009)

James Thompson, PhD; Director, Wharton Social Entrepreneurship