A research centre at Massey University, which aims to spread the message that innovation is about more than just profits, is to be officially launched this week.

The New Zealand Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Research Centre is the first of its kind in this country, the university says.

Economist Anne de Bruin, the centre's founder, said social entrepreneurship related to innovations that benefited society.

"We need to understand that innovation is not only about science, technology and business but also about social issues," she said.

De Bruin added, however, that profit-making businesses could become involved.

"Even corporates could be innovatively contributing to society through things like green entrepreneurship and eco-entrepreneurship," she said.

And being socially innovative did not need to hurt a company's performance.

Social innovation also related to not-for-profit organisations, she said.

De Bruin said Ray Avery, who was named New Zealander of the Year in February, was a good example of a local social entrepreneur.

Avery has set up intraocular lens laboratories in Nepal and Eritrea that supply 16 per cent of the world's market for the lenses.

Avery's organisation, Medicine Mondiale, operates as a business - not a charity - with the profits going back into research and development.

De Bruin said the new centre will be interdisciplinary, incorporating the work of sociologists, economists and psychologists.

The centre is already conducting a case study on Wellington Zoo, which focuses on the various factors that contribute to the success of not-for-profit organisations.