The need to solve social and environmental problems in an innovative way and generate social value is increasingly necessary not only by the public sphere but also by private initiatives [1
]. In this sense, Horne et al. [4
] find that entrepreneurship has great potential to contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In this sense, social and environmental entrepreneurship refers to an enterprise project whose objective is to solve a social and/or environmental problem. Moreover, Maer and Noboa [5
] understand social entrepreneurship as a process that involves people (social entrepreneurs) who show a tendency toward a specific type of behavior (social entrepreneurship behavior) and who try to carry out that behavior to achieve a tangible result (a social enterprise). The application of the talent, experience, and resources of entrepreneurs in solving social and environmental problems has become a great competitive advantage in many countries [6
Despite growing interest in the concept of social entrepreneurship [8
], there is still no clear academic consensus regarding the conceptual delimitation of the term itself, as well as the most appropriate theoretical approach for its analysis, including its antecedents [1
]. Likewise, taking into account the importance of this type of entrepreneurship to mitigate the consequences of economic crises [13
], it is necessary to know how such situations affect the behavior or social entrepreneurship intentions of individuals.
Considering the above, this study had a dual objective. On the one hand, to delimit an explanatory structural model of social entrepreneurial intention, analyzing the relationships between this variable and its antecedent variables. On the other hand, the study also aimed to test the effect of a socio-economic crisis with a high level of uncertainty, such as that posed by COVID-19 on social entrepreneurial intention.
To do this, this study first defined the concept and scope of social entrepreneurship. Next, the perspective of the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB, hereafter) was used to try to delimit the formation of social entrepreneurial intention [14
]. This theory proposes that entrepreneurial intention depends on the influence that three variables have on it: personal attitude, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control [15
The structural model defined was thus empirically tested using a sample of university students, as this population is considered one of the most sensitive to the development of social entrepreneurship projects [9
]. The TPB was applied to social and/or environmental entrepreneurial intention, and the model was analyzed for two different periods: before the COVID-19 crisis, and during the pandemic period. A quantitative study was conducted using a survey of university students (University of La Laguna, Spain) obtaining a total of 558 responses: 324 before the COVID-19 crisis and 234 during the crisis period (February and June 2020). This allowed us to analyze whether the crisis had had a positive or negative impact on the social and/or environmental entrepreneurial intention of the sample.
This paper is organized as follows. In the next section, we present the theoretical context and the hypotheses to be tested in relation to the characterization of social entrepreneurial intention and the relation between crises and social entrepreneurial intentions. We subsequently describe the research model as well as sample selection and data collection before reporting the main results. Finally, we conclude with a discussion of results, theoretical and practical implications, limitations, and our main conclusions for further research.
5. Discussion and Conclusions
This work analyzed, using the perspective of Ajzen’s TPB [14
], the relationship between the antecedent variables that make up this model and social entrepreneurial intention. Subsequently, the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on social entrepreneurial intention was measured.
From the analysis of the relationships between the variables considered as predictors of social entrepreneurial intention (social entrepreneurship attitude, subjective norms, and perceived behavioral control) and the performance of the behavior (social entrepreneurial intention), it is observed that hypotheses 1, 2, and 3 are fulfilled, with hypothesis 2, regarding the incidence of subjective norms, being the one with a weaker significance.
This assumes that there is a positive relationship between the social entrepreneurship attitude of university students [80
] and their social entrepreneurial intention. In addition, there is a positive relationship between the perceived behavioral control of university students’ ability to carry out social projects and their social entrepreneurial intentions. This confirms that the more positive the perceptions about one’s own abilities are, the stronger the social entrepreneurial intention will be.
Regarding the weak relationship between university students’ subjective norms and social entrepreneurial intention, this result coincides with that obtained in previous works by various authors such as Liñan and Chen [49
], Autio et al. [46
], and Krueger et al. [47
], who used the TPB to measure the relationship between the variables that predict entrepreneurial intention. Liñan and Chen [49
] suggest the non-significance of the relationship between subjective norms and entrepreneurial intention is due to the impact that this motivational factor has on this type of decision. In this case, it seems that the altruism that motivates the development of social and/or environmental projects [21
] is more intense than the importance that the entrepreneurs themselves give to the perception of the opinions that their immediate environment has on the development of their project.
Hypotheses 4 and 5 were intended to measure the influence of subjective norms on social entrepreneurial intention through their relationship with social entrepreneurship attitude and perceived behavioral control. Both hypotheses are fulfilled, observing that there is more influence of subjective norms on social entrepreneurship attitude than on perceived behavioral control. This indicates that the perception of the opinions that people close to the individual have regarding the implementation of social and/or environmental projects affects more the attitude toward the behavior than the perception of their own ability and training for carrying out the entrepreneurial behavior.
The results that confirm hypotheses 1, 3, 4, and 5 of this work coincide with those obtained by Kruse [35
]. This author analyzes, among other things, the direct and indirect effects on social entrepreneurial intention of antecedent variables according to Azjen’s TPB [14
]. In the case of hypothesis 2, which analyzes the impact of subjective norms on entrepreneurial intention, Kruse [35
] obtains a non-significant result. Kruse’s [35
] study is applied to a total of 335 German promoters of social entrepreneurship projects. However, in the work of Tiwari et al. [48
], in which Ajzen’s TPB is applied to a sample of 390 students from the main technical universities in India, a positive impact, but of weak significance, is obtained for subjective norms in relation to entrepreneurial intention. These two different results show that the effect of the opinions from the environment (family, friends, colleagues) on social entrepreneurial intention is more relevant in people with entrepreneurial experience than in university students, with attitudes more prone to this type of initiative, in the line pointed out by Capella-Peris et al. [9
Regarding the impact of the COVID-19 health crisis, it is observed that social entrepreneurial intention decreases after the pandemic. This result is explained to the extent that, following Kasych et al. [81
], among the external barriers that exist linked to the development of social projects are those of an economic nature. It also coincides with the results obtained for traditional entrepreneurship in times of crisis (e.g., Devece et al. [55
]) for which a clear negative impact is manifested.
In summary, and according to our results and also those obtained by Kruse [35
], it seems that Ajzen’s TPB [14
] constitutes an ideal perspective to explain the formation of social entrepreneurial intention, taking into account the incidence of its antecedents, both directly and indirectly. Moreover, it is verified that the impact of subjective norms on entrepreneurial intention through social entrepreneurship attitude is more important than through perceived behavioral control.
In addition, despite the importance of promoting the creation of social entrepreneurship projects with the aim of providing innovative solutions to social and environmental problems, a situation of economic recession becomes a relevant barrier in the implementation of this type of enterprise.
In practice, the results obtained suggest the desirability of promoting the development of social entrepreneurship projects within the educational field, especially in university education, to the extent that at these ages, the promotion of social motivation may have the greatest impact. In this sense, it has been proven that the altruism associated with the social entrepreneurial intention of young people is more intense than the perceived opinions of their immediate environment on the development of their project.
The above coincides with what was pointed out by Tiwari et al. [48
] in the sense that social entrepreneurship attitude is one of the variables that should be promoted in educational systems since its impact on entrepreneurial intention is greater than perceived behavioral control.
At the same time, it is logical to think that in an economic and social crisis climate, entrepreneurial intention decreases, since uncertainty generates a negative impact on the development of such intentions. In this sense, it would be interesting to develop educational actions that promote, especially among university students, the ability to identify entrepreneurial opportunities in the social field, even in times of economic crisis, taking into account that entrepreneurship by opportunity generates a greater impact in the long-term [56
On the other hand, in the paper of Zaremohzzabieh [82
], two alternative models were proposed and then evaluated, suggesting alternative formulations of the antecedents of social entrepreneurial intention by modifying the relationships between key TPB constructs and intentions. The findings revealed that the strength of the two models enriches the TPB through additional factors. This could be an upcoming challenge for a future extension of our work.
Fiore et al. [83
] show the importance of creating teams with different competencies, cognitive and decision-making skills in entrepreneurship education. The creation of multidisciplinary teams could also be a good option for subsequent studies on social entrepreneurship.
Finally, it would be valuable to train university students in the ability to identify business opportunities despite possible situations of economic and social crises. This effort must be accompanied by public policies focused on facilitating the implementation of this type of initiative.
This study has certain limitations that open new research avenues. First, the sample used was made up of university students from one European country, as is commonly used in research into entrepreneurial intention, taking into account that higher education students could be included in the millennial generation, who share similar attitudes, perceptions, and experiences. Thus, having similar characteristics, it is possible to generalize the conclusions obtained [84
]. However, to add more value to this line of research, it is proposed to extend the analysis carried out here to broader samples in order to test the model of formation of social entrepreneurial intention among students not only from other nationalities but from different academic fields and cultural backgrounds. The results obtained would also help personalize the training linked to the development of social entrepreneurship projects to obtain better results. Second, the research has been transversally designed, obtaining data from two periods: before the COVID-19 crisis and during the pandemic period. To develop causal inferences, further empirical studies would be necessary that analyze the post-pandemic period. Finally, it would be useful to perform other studies including some control variables such as if students have previously participated in an entrepreneurship training course [85
], entrepreneurial antecedents of their parents, etc.