When we consider what constitutes a business, we tend to think of an entrepreneurial individual who sets up a company based on an identified gap in the market with the goal of making a profit (O’Hara, 2011). This is interesting considering that the majority of ECEC settings in Ireland are private for-profit businesses. Indeed, 74% of ECEC settings are private for-profit businesses and only 26% are community not-for-profit organisations (Pobal, 2021).
Perception of an Entrepreneur
Some private ECEC businesses are larger chain offerings who may report sizeable profits after tax and this model is what may initially spring to mind when the words business, entrepreneur and ECEC are put together. There are numerous definitions of what it means to be an entrepreneur and the term is usually closely linked to the idea of innovation, neither of which would usually be associated with the ECEC sector.
A Different View
If entrepreneurship is viewed through a slightly different lens, perhaps all ECEC professionals are potentially exhibiting an entrepreneurial and innovative spirit, regardless of the profit or not-for-profit status of their organisation. By striving to maintain and exceed the quality standards within Síolta the National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education in Ireland and continually innovating emergent and inquiry-based curriculum design to meet the unique needs of all children, I would argue that all such ECEC professionals are innovative entrepreneurs. Indeed, many theories exist that support this view of entrepreneurship as one that is not solely based on the need to form a new business venture or a revolutionary business practice and alternatively suggest that finding new ways of doing things which improve the service offering of an organisation is demonstrative of both entrepreneurship and innovative. Baron (2012) suggests that once these characteristics are evident then so too is entrepreneurship.
The Caring Entrepreneur
ECEC professionals are always striving to find more effective ways of representing the
child’s voice, developing strategies for fully inclusive practice and engaging effective partnerships with parents for instance. Thus, improving the quality of their ECEC offering for all stakeholders. When such innovative practices which support growth in any form are undertaken, then an entrepreneurial mindset is surely exhibited (Shane, 2003). Gallagher (2017) coined the term “caring entrepreneur” to describe this view of the ECEC professional.
Not Driven by Profit
The image of the “caring entrepreneur” aligns with studies which found that ECEC professionals are not necessarily driven by the goal of profit making but are instead driven by the opportunity to find ways to make a difference in the lives of the children and families that they care for (Moloney and Pettersen, 2017). A famous theory on entrepreneurialism was suggested by Schumpeter (1947) as a process of revolutionising a business from the inside through a process of destroying old structures and replacing them with newly created ones. Schumpeter called this process “creative destruction”, old ways are destroyed to make way for newer, better offerings which allow an organisation to evolve. Within the ECEC sector we are constantly striving to enhance our service and provide children, families and communities with an improved offering by engaging in cycles of planning and assessment for example and ongoing processes of continual professional development.
Juxtaposition of the reluctant entrepreneur
Some within the ECEC sector may be reluctant to consider themselves entrepreneurs and innovators as they may feel that such terms are linked with the marketisation of care as a commodity and therefore juxtaposed with their alignment to the caring nature of
their role (Gallagher, 2017). However, if the entrepreneurialism of the ECEC professional is focussed on making innovative strides forward in the fundamental elements of their quality and curriculum with each unique child’s interests, rights and needs at the core then perhaps their image of themselves as a “caring entrepreneur” may align their entrepreneurial and innovative nature with the fundamental caring nature of their role.
About the Author:
Paula Walshe is an ECEC trainer and placement assessor in the further education and training sector and a freelance writer. She currently holds a BA (Hons) in Early Childhood Education and will complete her studies for a Master’s Degree in Leadership for ECEC in 2022. Paula has extensive ECEC experience in both pedagogical practice and ECEC management. You can learn more about Paula’s work at her website (www.thedigitalearlychildhoodeducator.ie), where she writes a weekly blog on current topics in Early Childhood Education and Care in Ireland and provides useful professional and academic resources for students and professionals in this sector. Paula is also one of the creators of an ECE community of practice based on Twitter: ECE Quality Ireland (@ECEQualityIRL) / Twitter
Baron, R.A. (2012). Entrepreneurship: An Evidence Based Guide. Northhampton, MA. : Edward Elgar Publishing.
Gallagher, A. (2014). Caring Entrepreneurs? Childcare Policy and Private Provision in an Enterprising Age. Environment and Planning A: Economy and Space, 46 (5), pp. 1108-1123.
Gallagher, A. (2017). The Business of Care: Marketization and the New Geographies of Childcare. Progress in Human Geography, 42 (5), pp 706-722.
Moloney & Pettersen 2017, Early Childhood Education Management - Insights into Business Practice & Leadership. New York: Routeledge.
O’Hara, B.J. (2011). Entrepreneurship in Ireland. Dublin: Gill Education.
Pobal. (2021). Early Years Sector Profile Report 2019/2020. Dublin: Pobal.
Schumpeter, J.A. (1947). Socialism, Capitalism and Democracy. New York: Harpers & Bros.
Shane, S. and Venkataraman, S. (2000). The Promise of Entrepreneurship as a Field of Research. Academy of Management 25, (1), pp. 217-226.