Gregory Dees' legacy is the academic field of social entrepreneurship

mhankerson@newsobserver.comDecember 21, 2013 

— A founding faculty member of Duke’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship, Gregory Dees, died Friday from respiratory failure. He was 63.

Longtime colleague Paul Bloom said Dees had been dealing with illness for a while, but he always seemed to recover.

“It’s pretty shocking he didn’t come back this time because he always seemed to rebound,” Bloom said Saturday. “It’s a really tough loss for a lot of people.”

Dees was considered the father of his academic field, social entrepreneurship. He helped launch Stanford University’s Center for Social Innovation and received the first lifetime achievement award in social entrepreneurship education in 2007.

He was one of the earliest scholars to begin defining the field with his essay, “The Meaning of ‘Social Entrepreneurship’ ” in 1998. Even now, his definition is one of the most widely accepted in social entrepreneurship circles, said Matt Nash, the executive director of Duke’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship.

“It’s a real loss, both a personal loss (and) an important loss in the social sector,” Nash said. “(Dees) was a real guiding light for innovative approaches in addressing social issues.”

With the help of colleague Beth Battle Anderson, Dees co-founded CASE in Duke’s Fuqua School of Business in 2001. The center focuses entrepreneurial efforts on projects that will have the most social impact.

Dees “was a tremendous colleague and a great friend,” Vice Provost and Director of Duke’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative Eric Toone said in a news release. “What he built at Duke was impressive, and his impact on social entrepreneurship was enormous.”

Just last year, CASE received a $10 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development to launch the Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator at Duke to help identify and develop solutions to global health care issues. Dees was the co-director of SEAD.

Nash and Bloom said they have no doubt the social entrepreneurship field will keep growing, mostly because of the work Dees did during his lifetime.

“The field has matured enough so it’s not relying on a single intellectual leader, although having him around would have been great and a wonderful thing for the field,” Bloom said.

“There are enough people engaged because of his recruitment of them,” he said.

And although Dees was well-known academically, his personal connections will not be forgotten either.

“He was so kind and humble,” Nash said. “For being such a well-known, well-regarded academic, he didn’t bring the ego to the table. He wanted to be a colleague. He was just a pleasure. He was a wise leader but also a friend.”

Hankerson: 919-829-4826; Twitter: @easternwakenews

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