Published in: Journal of Business Venturing, 33: 333-350.
Cited as: Bacq, S., & Alt, E. 2018. Feeling capable and valued: A prosocial perspective on the link between empathy and social entrepreneurial intentions. Journal of Business Venturing, 33: 333-350.
Empathy is a key trait distinguishing social entrepreneurs from traditional entrepreneurs, and an important antecedent of social entrepreneurial (SE) intentions. Yet, little research explains the mechanisms through which empathy motivates SE intentions. We argue that studying the link between the prosocial trait of empathy and the prosocial outcome of SE intentions requires a prosocial lens that traditional entrepreneurial intent theories cannot offer. Building on prosocial motives research, we propose that empathy explains SE intentions through two complementary mechanisms: self-efficacy (an agentic mechanism), and social worth (a communal mechanism). We find support for our hypotheses in a study of 281 university students.
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Future research should:
1) consider multiple facets of empathy other than the affective one (i.e., cognitive), and mechanisms other than agency (i.e., communion), in addressing the important question of how empathic individuals form intentions to engage in social entrepreneurship.
2) explore different settings in which individuals get to interact with and feel valued by potential beneficiaries, not only in terms of the geographical setting but also in terms of the length of interaction with potential beneficiaries, as well as contrasting individual work to teamwork. An experimental design may suit that type of research objective.
3) elaborate on the development of SE intentions in light of recent work indicating a generational decline in empathy among North American university students.
4) extend this work to the field of social entrepreneurship by examining the role of SE self-efficacy in enabling social worth.
5) explore social worth as a fertile construct for the development of future metrics of non-economic outcomes and phenomena not easily monetized.
6) investigate the effect of negative emotions that emerge from responsivity to the negative experiences of others on SE intentions.
7) also look at the role of emotions, such as situational empathy, in predicting SE intentions. Does situational empathy vary after exposure to concepts, stories, and knowledge related to social entrepreneurship, thereby raising SE intentions? Is this effect contingent on the type of course—lecture vs. experiential—or on the context—on-campus vs. field-based?