Wharton Social Entrepreneurship

Wharton Social Entrepreneurship, launched in 2001, is a global field research program that examines the use of social impact business models to address societal challenges. We believe that entrepreneurship can be a powerful tool in solving social problems around the world and that entrepreneurs can build businesses that simultaneously earn income and tackle social problems in novel and effective ways.

This model of solving societal ills is built on the idea of creating self-sufficiency rather than dependency in the beneficiaries. A successful social enterprise creates a ‘virtuous cycle’: as the company and its earnings grow, so too does its positive social impact; and as more societal problems are alleviated, greater numbers of people can join the mainstream of global citizens living above the poverty line.


Ian MacMillan
Dhirubhai Ambani Emeritus Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship



thompson1James Thompson
Co-founder and Director, Wharton Social Entrepreneurship




The Social Entrepreneur’s Playbookplaybook

Co-authored by Ian MacMillan and James Thompson, The Social Entrepreneur’s Playbook offers a proven, tough-love approach to launching a successful social enterprise.

Buy The Social Entrepreneur’s Playbook here. Penn students, faculty and staff can access the e-book through the Penn Libraries.

Filled with accessible frameworks and tools, as well as inspiring stories of social entrepreneurs, the book is a must-read for any aspiring social entrepreneur, as well as philanthropists, foundations, and nonprofits interested in doing more good with fewer resources.



I am working on my second social enterprise. I’ve had the incredibly good fortune of being under the tutelage of Profs. MacMillan and Thompson for over a decade. The Social Entrepreneur’s Playbook is my bedside bible. No amount of experience negates The Playbook.

Everything I’ve learned, for better or for worse, has been concisely written and contained within the pages of the Social Entrepreneur’s Playbook. In this rather chaotic and changing, albeit rewarding world called social entrepreneurship, I’ve finally found one constant set of rules to play by.

Thank you Professors for giving me my North Star.

Alicia D. Polak
Executive Director
The Social Entrepreneur’s Playbook creates disciplined means to answering the many questions of scale. And while there is a host of tangible direct “return” the book informs our thinking on a daily basis. Today we think differently about the “problems” we are solving and how best to fashion solutions.

We are enormously grateful for this straightforward, well-thought-through effort to advance the practice of social venture development. And we encourage others to apply its helpful question and answer workbook approach to all concepts in development. We will no doubt save much time, energy, and scarce capital by honing our visions and plans to make successful decisions as we forge our businesses.

Ginger Thomson
Executive Director
Lewa Wildlife Conservancy USA

Current Research Themes:

How does a social entrepreneur pursue social impact and financial goals simultaneously?

What are the Challenges of pursuing enterprise creation under conditions of great uncertainty?

Student Social Entrepreneurs

Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship is a leader in supporting entrepreneurial social impact by attracting and supporting student entrepreneurs who aim to use their venture’s success to solve social problems. Recently, students participating in Penn Wharton Entrepreneurship’s co-curricular programs have explored ventures that address a broad range of social issues including: pure drinking water, solar energy, access to eyewear, micro-finance, non-profit fundraising, community development, food security, energy conservation, youth education, women’s livelihood initiatives, and teenage girls literacy.

The Jacobson Social Impact Prize ($10,000) is awarded to the Startup Challenge Semifinalist team with the best example of social impact in their venture.