In Research


Year: 2018
Published in: Journal of Social Entrepreneurship
Cited as: Rasheda L. Weaver (2018) Re-Conceptualizing Social Value: Applying the Capability Approach in Social Enterprise Research, Journal of Social Entrepreneurship, 9:2, 79-93


In an effort to develop a unified perspective of the term social value, this paper argues that it should be viewed through the lens of the capability approach. A sample of 34 empirical research articles that apply the capability approach are examined to increase understanding about how it may be applied to measure social value. Findings reveal that the capability approach is commonly used in empirical research for: human well-being assessment; core needs identification; and measurement of capability dispersion. This paper argues that the capability approach is particularly appropriate for measuring capability dispersion, which most relates to social value creation.


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Support Organisations

Social entrepreneurs and organizations (e.g. business incubators) or government entities aiming to use social enterprise to advance community development may be using the capability approach for core needs identification. Results from this paper reveal various ways (e.g. surveys, interviews, focus groups) the capability approach is used to assess core areas of human need in order to specifically design social interventions with beneficiary needs in mind. Practitioners seeking to do this work may consider using Nussbaum (2004)’s central list of human capabilities or Weaver (2017)’s list of central social capabilities as a basis for knowing universal needs influencing human development. Both lists outline core human needs, but Weaver (2017)’s list is an adapted version of Nussbaum (2004)’s list that was developed for use by researchers and practitioners.

Future Research

1) Future studies should explore ways to develop a definition of social value that is founded on the capability approach, as well as ways to measure social value using the capability approach. Such a definition would aid discussions about social value vs. social impact in the sense that there would be a distinction between whether social enterprises can foster capabilities and/or functioning.
2) Various studies suggest social enterprises are a tool for combating multidimensional poverty (Mair and Marti 2009; Seelos and Mair 2005), but few empirical studies explore this. Future research should explore the multiple dimensions of poverty that social enterprises, as a form of business, seek to address, along with the efficacy of their work.
3) Recent studies have found that the social and economic activities of social enterprises may substantially vary by country. Future studies may use the capability approach to assess how geographic context influences the kinds of social problems that social enterprises target (e.g. do social enterprises disperse some human capabilities more than others based on context?). One way to do this is to use the capability approach with global measures of social enterprise activities like the GEM. For instance, the GEM may be combined with Weaver (2017)’s Social Capability Measure, which examines the kinds of social issues that social enterprises target, their social programmes, their target beneficiaries, and the number of beneficiaries they serve annually.
4) Other studies should explore additional ways that the capability approach may be used in social enterprise practice.