The Role of Social Enterprise and Hybrid Organizations

Ofer Eldar, The Role of Social Enterprise and Hybrid Organizations, 2017 Colum. Bus. L. Rev. 92 (2017).

Recent years have brought remarkable growth in hybrid organizations that combine profit-seeking and social missions. Despite popular enthusiasm for such organizations, legal reforms to facilitate their formation and growth— particularly, legal forms for hybrid firms—have largely been ineffective. This shortcoming stems in large part from the lack of a theory that identifies the structural and functional elements that make some types of hybrid organizations more effective than others. In pursuit of such a theory, this Article focuses on a large class of hybrid organizations that has been effective in addressing development problems, such as increasing access to capital and improving employment opportunities. These organizations, which are commonly referred to as “social enterprises,” include microfinance institutions, firms that sell fair trade products, work integration firms, and low-cost sellers of essential goods and services such as eyeglasses, bed nets, and healthcare. The common characteristic of social enterprises is that they have a transactional relationship with their beneficiaries, who are either purchasers of the firms’ goods or services or suppliers of inputs (including labor) to the firm. The essence of this Article’s theory is that through these transactions, social enterprises perform a measurement role; that is, they measure or gather information on their patron-beneficiaries’ abilities to transact with commercial firms (for example, workers’ skills, borrowers’ creditworthiness, and consumers’ ability to pay). That information permits social enterprises to tailor the form and amount of subsidies to the specific needs of individual beneficiaries. This “measurement” function makes social enterprises relatively effective vehicles for allocating subsidies as compared to traditional donative organizations and other forms of hybrid organization, in particular firms that pursue corporate social responsibility policies. Thus, the measurement function can serve as the basis for designing a legal form for social enterprises.

© Ofer Eldar

Forthcoming 2017 Colum. Bus. L. Rev. 92 (2017).

Author Information

Associate Professor, Duke University School of Law.