Social enterprises and their ecosystems in Europe

in InternationalResearch


The European Commission published a report on “ Social enterprises and their ecosystems in Europe”, , developed in the framework of Business Initiative, to reinforce the visibility and the recognition of social enterprises in Europe. It is an update of a study made in 2014-2015, mapping social enterprises and their ecosystems in Europe, constituted of a compilation of 35 national reports, concerning 28 Member-States, and Albania, Iceland, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Norway, Serbia and Turkey.

One of the main problem pointed out by the study is the variability in the definition of social enterprise, which is not harmonised at the EU level. To bypass this difficulty, it has been decided to use an operationalized definition based on three dimensions: social, entrepreneurial and ownership and governance. ENSIE is used as an example of an organization proposing a sectorial definition of social enterprise, as an enterprise with the goal to implement a policy strategy such as social inclusion. The key criterion for defining such undertaking would therefore be the inclusion of disadvantaged workers and/or persons with disabilities. However, Work Integration Social Enterprises (WISEs), which work for the integration through work of disadvantaged people are identified as one of the three areas of intervention for social enterprises, together with social and health services and the fight against other societal problems.

Despite the difficulty in defining social enterprises, the first finding of the study is clear: the number of social enterprises is increasing across Europe, even if this growth is not yet fully exploited. Four pillars have been identified to strengthen their development: the capacity to self-organise, visibility and recognition, resources and research, education and skills development. These pillars are used to different extents by the States, and it is important, whatever the situation of the sector in the different countries, that each of them commits to further support the sector.

The report also highlights the difficulty of assessing the size of the social enterprises sector, this is linked to the lack of a unified definition, but also to the fact that not all States recognise the sector as such, so the set of data collected is not unified. This is particularly important to us, the lack of reliable data must be filled in order to be able to assess the real weight of social enterprises and their impact in the European economy.

Finally, the report highlights the need to develop a more coherent and balanced ecosystem for social enterprises. It is also necessary to strengthen the training for social enterprises’ different partners to raise their awareness on SE specificities. Conversely, social enterprises must be supported to prepare themselves to work with investors. This need to train potential partners in the sector, in particular funding partners, to the specific challenges of social enterprises seems crucial to us. The publication, later this year, of the updated EU competence strategy would be a good opportunity to introduce courses on social enterprises in a number of curricula.