First, we start by framing performance in the context of sustainable social impact, this being the ultimate goal of any social enterprise. In doing so, we avoid attempting to arrive at a common definition of ‘sustainability,’1 but instead focus on key characteristics exhibited by successful social sector organizations, namely their commitment to achieving (1) deeper social impact, (2) blended socio-economic value, (3) increased efficiency and (4) greater adaptability. We further demonstrate that the lack of these characteristics would negate any pretense of sustainability (although we certainly do not imply that their existence is all there is to sustainability).

We then apply these performance criteria to the social enterprise methodology, describing how social enterprise practitioners have addressed the challenges common to all social sector organizations along the four performance criteria.

Second, we make the case for an integrated social enterprise methodology. We start by demonstrating that social sector organizations, regardless of their performance, face common challenges in four strategic areas—we call them strategic lenses: how they engage their stakeholders, mobilize their resources, develop their knowledge, and manage their culture. We then conclude that each strategic lens has a role to play in each of the four performance criteria, potentially creating a complex series of synergies and tensions calling for an integrated approach across all four strategic areas to achieve the organization’s performance objectives.

Next, we conduct an analysis of how social enterprise practices seen through these four strategic lenses can potentially impact organizational performance. More importantly, we seek to show the integrative relationship between key performance criteria and social enterprise practices seen through the four lenses—a shift in organizational practice seen through any of the strategic lenses will impact (positively or negatively) the organization’s performance across the key criteria. Thus, we combine key performance criteria with the four strategic lenses to arrive at an integrated framework that we hope will further the development of social enterprise methodology as a means for achieving optimal performance in social sector organizations.

  • 1. This is an important ongoing debate but not the purpose of this framework.