Beyond Markets: Entrepreneurship in the Civil Society

By Pablo Munoz

Entrepreneurship, as a societal phenomenon, is not embedded in those abstractions we call markets, but rather in what we do daily, oftentimes unintentionally and even accidentally, simply as a result of just doing stuff.


In recent years, we have witnessed an array of individuals and communities in the civil society, who are mobilising identities, extant resources and entrepreneurial spirits towards new organisational forms that enable improving their wellbeing and reshaping their realities. Entrepreneurs can always create ventures to help others in non-financial ways, their start-ups not only generate gains but also contribute to others by focusing their attention on future-oriented issues and solutions.1

Unlike command and control development favoured by exogenous actors, entrepreneurship in the plural sector is a socially and territorially embedded process, where social issues are owned and solved from the ground-up by means of collective venturing, driven by a sense of realisation and a desire to repair local circumstances. These new civil society ventures are posing challenges to the current functioning of markets and support tools. Mixtures of informal and formal mechanisms, unbounded labour, non-economic transactions, purpose-driven profit, collaborative governance and ownership, territorial attachment, and non-scalability are some of the features local governments, established companies, formal economies and the very same field of entrepreneurship need to deal with looking forward. Before moving forward, let me take one step back to explore the problem, I argue, still prevails.


The Imaginary World of Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship is both a societal and an economic phenomenon, which is not a surprise, yet we insist to frame it almost exclusively within economics and business narratives. Perhaps the fact that entrepreneurship, as a human activity, was captured (hijacked some may say) by business schools around the world may have something to do with it.

Today and in our streets, we are witnessing the re-emergence of an old practice, where social activism, everyday entrepreneurship, informal economy, sustainability desires and cooperative venturing collide to create so far unseen social hybrid forms.

Within these business narratives and explanations, entrepreneurship has been treated so far as a relatively exceptional phenomenon, where gifted individuals are capable of recognising or creating opportunities, hidden to most of us, and transform virtually nothing into an operating business, in their parents’ garage (sarcasm added). The expectation is that whatever is being created should have high growth potential, ideally attractive to international formal markets and investors. Such success expectation is directly connected to exit strategies through acquisition or some other mechanism aimed at increasing the returns. This notion seems to be something desirable and has cemented the idea of what a successful entrepreneur is. 

If asked about it, certainly both policy-makers and aspiring entrepreneurs will be reluctant to state that this is actually true and applicable to the 100% of the entrepreneurial population, around 2.1 billion people in about 196 countries (yes, North Korea also has a growing entrepreneurship community), i.e. roughly 30% including self-employment, those in nascent stages and those transitioning to small business ownership. Yet, underlying this veil of doubt, the impression – and perhaps hope – that this is actually true and possibly persists; and it is in the driving seat carrying the dreams of entrepreneurs, the financial ambitions of investors and the economic promises of politicians and policy-makers.

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About the Author

munoz-webDr. Pablo Munoz is a lecturer in Business and Sustainable Change at the Sustainability Research Institute, at the University of Leeds in the UK.



1. Williams, T.A. & Shepherd, D.A., 2016. Victim entrepreneurs doing well by doing good: Venture creation and well-being in the aftermath of a resource shock. Journal of Business Venturing, 31, 365–387.
2. Mintzberg, H., 2015. Time for the Plural Sector. Stanford Social Innovation Review, 28–33.
3. Cohen, B. & Munoz, P., 2016. Sharing cities and sustainable consumption and production: towards an integrated framework. Journal of Cleaner Production, 134(A), 87–97.
4. Edwards, M. 2014. Civil Society. 3rd edition. Polity Press: Cambridge
5. Ibid.
6. Bosworth, G., 2012. Journal of Rural Studies. Journal of Rural Studies, 28(4), 499–506.
7. Boone, C. & Ozcan, S., 2014. Why Do Cooperatives Emerge in a World Dominated by Corporations? The Diffusion of Cooperatives in the U.S. Bio-Ethanol Industry, 1978-2013. Academy of Management Journal, 57(4), 990–1012.
8. Greve, H. R., & Rao, H. 2012. Echoes of the past: Organizational foundings as sources of an institutional legacy of mutualism. American Journal of Sociology, 118, 635–675.



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