fbpx MDES 24 – Design for Social… Business? — PCA

MDES 24 - Design for Social... Business?

MDES with Muhammad Yunus at the pre-Global Social Business Summit panel

For this week, I am choosing to share a little bit about social business. Why? Because, strange though it may seem, it actually plays a significant role in this masters program. You’ll find that, through partnership with MakeSense, which has a significant focus on the incubation and encouragement of social business endeavors, the world of social entrepreneurship will be opened up to you.

Further, other classes like design studio, professional practices, ethics and social and urban governance all address business in some way. Whether it’s how you make money as a design professional, or how we deal with modern capitalism as designers, this emerging concept of ‘social entrepreneurship’ or social business will come up.

Paris too has a unique stance on the subject of social business. Mayor Anne Hidalgo of Paris has partnered with Muhammad Yunus: a Nobel Peace Laureate and considered one of the fathers of modern social business, to make Paris the Social Business capital of the world, and have their sights specifically set on the Paris 2024 Olympics, for which both have partnered with the French Olympic Federation and the International Olympic Committee to design the first ‘social business games’. It’s because of this partnership and initiative that I have structured my thesis research question the way I have: How might we design a sports-based refugee integration program to be sustained on a social business model?

So what is a social business? That I could give a super simple and direct response! It is a relatively new term and can be viewed as interchangeable with social enterprise, and sometimes gets confused with Corporate Social Responsibility and revenue-generating non-profits.

The first academic definition came from a scholar, Greg Dees, at Duke in 1998. He focused attention on defining the actions of the social entrepreneur:

“Social entrepreneurs play the role of change agents in the social sector, by:
Adopting a mission to create and sustain social value (not just private value),
Recognizing and relentlessly pursuing new opportunities to serve that mission,
Engaging in a process of continuous innovation, adaptation, and learning,
Acting boldly without being limited by resources currently in hand, and
Exhibiting heightened accountability to the constituencies served and for the outcomes created.”

Since then, this definition has been adapted, affirmed, challenged, and built on by an overwhelming number of academics and business professionals. See below for a helpful chart by the Social Innovation Center that adapts on Dees’ work distinguishing social entrepreneurship from other sectors.

It should be noted that these definitions will vary country to country. In the EU alone a number of legal designations exist in individual member states that do not apply to others.The underlying premise is that the business or enterprise generates social and monetary capital.

What is most relevant to this MA in Design for Social Impact program at Paris College of Art is a specific definition that comes from Muhammad Yunus, as his model is used by MakeSense and the newly founded (November of 2017) Social Business Center of Paris.

His definition consists of 7 key principles:

1. Business objective will be to overcome poverty, or one or more problems (such as education, health, technology access, and environment) which threaten people and society; not profit maximization
2. Financial and economic sustainability
3. Investors get back their investment amount only. No dividend is given beyond investment money
4. When investment amount is paid back, company profit stays with the company for expansion and improvement
5. Gender sensitive and environmentally conscious
6. Workforce gets market wage with better working conditions
7. …do it with joy (Yunus Centre, 2015, webpage).

The underlying premise behind Yunus’s definition is to modernise and reshape modern capitalism, which is widely acknowledged to be a contributor to social injustice and wicked problems of the world. Social business is one approach to redesigning a system that makes a positive social and environmental impact.

I hope that this special post helps clarify (or introduce!) a concept that, if you’re interested in the program, will come up when you’re here. It may even be a subject that plays an integral role in your thesis or your future post-graduation!

In my next post, I’ll share a bit more about my thesis and the social business development there – stay tuned!


Dees, J. G. (2017). 1 The Meaning of Social Entrepreneurship. In Case Studies in Social Entrepreneurship and Sustainability(pp. 34-42). Routledge.

Yunus Centre. (10 June 2015). “The Seven Principles of Social Business.” SocialBusinessPedia [webpage]. Retrieved from http://socialbusinesspedia.com/wiki/details/156/the-seven-principles-of-social-business