The aim of this paper is to contribute to a coherent understanding within public policy of social innovation, social enterprise and social entrepreneurship.  These are terms that are used regularly but are contested, in that, there is no single agreed definition of their meanings.  However, this is not such a major issue for policy as there is only a requirement to understand how these mechanisms can be used.  A key message is to focus on the key social issues and challenges being addressed, not on the mechanism being used to address them.  Social innovation and social enterprise are not an end in themselves, they are a means to an end.  It is easy to be distracted by the technical terms and new phenomenon but they are mechanisms to be used to achieve a goal; in this case addressing the social challenge identified.

The paper goes on to outline a practical process for social innovation.  It recognises the integration of the innovation process and mainstreaming/commercialisation process.  It outlines the practical steps that can be taken at the community level to develop new solutions.   There is a need for greater social innovation infrastructure to facilitate the development of this sector.  The development of social innovation hubs and philanthropic trusts based in the community, not just in third-level institutions, is needed.

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I have worked in enterprise development and support in a number of roles over the past 20 years.  One question that has always interested me is how can you create a culture that fosters entrepreneurship and enterprise development?  Having seen the Irish entrepreneurial culture develop, grow, bust and re-emerge and also by working with entrepreneurs from many cultures and consulting in countries like the Czech Republic, I have always been interested in the process of creating the culture behind the economic process.  This is a difficulty for many trained in economics as they have been inculcated in the neoclassical economic model which is underpinned by several assumptions such as culture, social interaction and motivations other than profit motive are isolated from the analysis, or ‘with all other factors being equal’.  However, culture does matter and very much affects how a society, country or region promotes a culture of entrepreneurship.  Some years ago I wrote a detailed literature review on enterprise and entrepreneurship and one of the areas I focused on was entrepreneurial culture.  So, this article will continue by setting the context in which this issue is being discussed with a literature review and will then move to a discussion on the practical policy implications.  In particular, I wish to emphasise that creating an entrepreneurial culture is best created by not trying to achieve a model of best practice or adopting someone else’s.  It is created by taking the broad free-market framework and adopting it to local circumstances.  It is created by accepting that one is engaging in a process that requires ongoing institutional and policy change as the city, region or country develops along the pathway to progress.  It is achieved by recognising that political leadership is important and a broad consensus of the path of development is necessary.  An independent and consistent legal system is a precursor to an entrepreneurial culture and creating a culture in which this process in enabled will take long-term policy commitment, and, in many cases, an evolution in the local culture as it changes to accept the culture of entrepreneurship within its traditional cultural norms.

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