Research on social entrepreneurship was, in its initial phase, driven in the USA and Europe by practitioners and researchers partly with common approaches and understandings and partly with some major distinctions. As such, the field is composed of a mixture of common trends and backgrounds, on the one hand, and of a considerable amount of variation in the ways social entrepreneurship is emerging, on the other hand; this variation is the result of changing balances and relations between state, market and civil society in the provision of welfare services and work integration in the USA and Europe.
After defining social entrepreneurship, we will first discuss two common features in the current intensive interest, among academics, experts and policy makers, in social enterprises and social entrepreneurship as a way of renewing the welfare state and most of all a way of reframing the balance between the three sectors – state, market and civil society. We will then stress some basic variations between powerful mainstream discourses of social entrepreneurship in respectively the USA and Europe. Finally we will conclude by emphasising that benefits can be gained, from both the common trends and the variations, by developing a method of transatlantic social entrepreneurship learning.