In view of urgent social and environmental problems, it is important to understand the political dynamics that may promote sustainable development and to identify the agents that make changes in this direction happen. We examine the role and authority of a new type of actor that has recently emerged on the global stage—the social entrepreneur, who tackles social and ecological problems with entrepreneurial means. We consider them as agents that perform functions and provide services that have been considered to be the sole authority of states. For instance, the provision of water services has long been considered an exclusive task of the state. The water sector therefore serves as a good example to explore how these agents come up with their own missions and political agendas. Via an illustrative sample of social entrepreneurs from around the world, we explore their relation to water governance in general and the hydraulic mission in particular. We propose that their innovative potential serves as their main source of authority. Their local embeddedness along with their educational efforts, participatory goals, and accreditation as “social entrepreneur” provide additional sources of authority.
Keywords Social entrepreneurship – Legitimacy – Authority – Agency – Social accountability – Innovation – Water governance