Abstract

Social entrepreneurial (SE) intentions, or an individual’s intentions to pursue a social mission by engaging in commercial activities, is a subject of growing interest in entrepreneurship research. Building on entrepreneurial intentions research, scholars have explained SE intentions by (1) adopting a mix of the theory of planned behavior (Ajzen, 1991) and the entrepreneurial event model (Shapero and Sokol, 1982), and (2) adding empathy as one of the key antecedents that captures the “social” aspect of SE intentions (Forster and Grichnik, 2013; Hockerts, 2015).

However, two limitations characterize this current understanding of the “social” in SE intentions. First, by only adopting theories used to explain “traditional” entrepreneurship intentions, we are missing on the role of prosocial motives among aspiring social entrepreneurs (Bolino and Grant, 2016; Shepherd, 2015). Second, although empathy is considered to be a distinguishing behavioral attribute between social entrepreneurs and traditional entrepreneurs (Mair and Noboa, 2006), not all empathic individuals will develop a career interest in SE. What mechanisms, then, help catalyze an individual disposition to feel and react to others’ experiences into intentions to engage in SE? To address this question, we propose that empathy—i.e., a disposition to understand others’ points of view (perspective-taking) and to experience feelings of warmth and compassion (empathic concern) (Davis, 1983)—translates into intentions to engage in SE through two complementary mediating mechanisms: self-efficacy (an agentic mechanism), and social worth (a communal mechanism).

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