Social entrepreneurs are often held up as today’s heroes. They are feted at the Clinton Global Initiative conference, grace the cover of Fast Company, draw adoring crowds at Harvard Business School confabs, and even appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Yet for all of the adulation, our understanding of the value that social entrepreneurs bring to society remains fuzzy, and in some instances, even controversial.

Many of those who believe that social entrepreneurs play a vital role say that the...


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