First impressions: How Social Entrepreneurship differs in 8 EU countries, China and Russia

Before diving into the extensive qualitative and quantitative research ahead – notably the 25 case studies and 1000 surveys- we tried to effectively take stock of the state of social entrepreneurship in the participating SEFORÏS countries

Our aim was to collect useful facts, figures and trends about social entrepreneurship in each of these countries and this in relation to our 5 core topics of study: context, organization, impact, financing and innovation. In addition, we sought to feel the temperature of the public debates, public opinion and alive myths. You can readily download the full reports online – structured either by country or by topic. Below, we highlight just a few of those insights: things that we felt were intriguing, warranting further scrutiny.


  • Contrary to what the popular discourse suggests, only a minority of social enterprises so far have adopted the 'social purpose' legal clause or cooperative legal form
  • Few Belgian social enterprises are active in the domain of education, health or social work in comparison with other European countries. Yet we face enormous problems of unequal outcomes by socio-economic status in these domains.
  • About half of all social enterprises engage in activities whereby they employ and/or train people from disadvantaged backgrounds.


  • Social enterprises are mostly active in the domain of social service provision.
  • The debate about the future of the welfare state and the role of social enterprises is very much ongoing. A strong welfare state like that of Germany may well have slowed down the rise of social enterprises compared to other countries with a more liberal welfare system such as the UK.
  • There seem to be ever louder calls for more cooperation between social entrepreneurs, established welfare state organizations and policy makers.


  • The concept of social enterprise began to surface in 2004. Most of social enterprises in China are in their early development stage and so far have demonstrated limited potential for job creation.
  • About half of all social enterprises today seem to make use of social impact measurement tools like SROI and CBA. This is a very high percentage compared to monitoring and measurement practices elsewhere.
  • Two-thirds of social enterprises seem to be located in Beijing or Shanghai. So there is a strong metropolitan area effect.


  • Many social enterprises rely heavily on grants and are not financially sustainable.
  • The use of social impact measurement tools seems rather low.
  • Many social enterprises are finding it difficult to recruit talented people to work for their organization and the level of acceptance of the phenomenon 'social enterprises' in the market remains fairly low.


  • Social entrepreneurship in Russia is in a transition period. The level of social entrepreneurial activity in Russia is among the lowest worldwide, only 1,2% of the adult population undertake it. But discussions on the definition and a growing awareness and public interest for social entrepreneurship are emerging.
  • Many social enterprises serve socially deprived people.
  • Women clearly seem to be more often running a social enterprise than men.


  • Spain was the first European country to adopt the legal form 'social economy'.
  • Social enterprises tend to be mature: the majority is over 10 years old.
  • In order to lower the levels of unemployment and social exclusion, work-integration, training and education programs have been developed and reflect a huge current social challenge.


  • There is an increasing diversification in the social enterprise sector both in target groups (more on education, integration) and financing sources (crowdfunding, impact investment)
  • The mean age of the sector is over 15 years, but there is an increasing rejuvenation of the sector with many small social enterprises popping up.
  • There is an increasing awareness of the social enterprise sector, with a growing number of awards, articles in the media, grants, and political debates related to social entrepreneurs.


  • Awareness of the concept is clearly on the rise, emerging from practice as social initiatives take place.
  • Societal challenges related to aging population and unemployment (exacerbated by the financial crisis) are key areas for social innovation and entrepreneurship initiatives.
  • The phenomenon of social entrepreneurship seems very concentrated around Lisbon and Porto.


  • There exists very little data on social enterprises besides SELUSI data (This, by the way, holds true for many of the countries we study….).
  • Mainly non-profit organizations are active, which carry out business activities in a complementary manner.
  • Important EU grants have helped the growth and development of social cooperatives


  • The need to measure and demonstrate social impact is increasing. More initiatives are focusing on providing impact measurement support and standardizing the processes.
  • Lack of, or limited access to, financing and funding is the most common barrier to start up and to grow a social enterprise according to social entrepreneurs.
  • The government remains heavily involved in the field of social entrepreneurship. Examples of this are: improving the legal form for social enterprises, enabling a stronger social enterprise support ecosystem, creating demand for the services of social enterprises, etc.