First highlights of in-depth study of 27 social enterprises

SEFORÏS has recently concluded a first survey of social enterprises in 9 countries. The aim was to enrich the understanding of social enterprises by conducting 27 in-depth case studies, 3 per country. The cases gather information about governance, finance, innovation, impact and context at the heart of these social enterprises. The formal analysis is still in preparation but some insightful preliminary conclusions can already be highlighted. 

What's the impact?

As the field is still expanding in countries like Hungary, Russia or Portugal, social entrepreneurs express their desire to learn more about social impact measurement.

Sharing vs. Competitive

In Spain, Sweden and UK, competition seems to be rising between social enterprises that emerge from different sectors. On the contrary, sharing is sizeable within and across sectors and the perception that sharing important strategic information could be disadvantageous, in terms of competence, is, at a first glance, not widespread.

Profit sometimes an issue

One topic about Chinese social enterprises that has come up during this research is the issue of profitability—how Chinese social enterprises can handle the issue of profits and how profits are treated in their operational model. It's especially interesting given that many Chinese social enterprises legal status (Private Non-Enterprise) explicitly prohibits them from "engaging in profit making activities" (rather than just prohibiting annual profits).

Internal ≠ external

In Spain and Germany, there seem to be differences between the formal structure set up and the internal "soft" mechanisms used to balance between social/commercial goals. Early insights show that social enterprises are compelled to choose a given organizational form in order to be able to develop their commercial activities, but internally, they preserve a different, more informal and flat organizational form. The external organizational form is used to interact with external actors and allows them to access different financing sources and the internal organizational form allows to better organize the task and coordination of the people involved.

Towards regulation

Social entrepreneurs from Russia and Germany speak about the lack of knowledge in order to initiate any legislative changes, not knowing who to approach and what procedure to follow.

In Belgium, according to the city officials, in the past years, more attention has been paid to the social entrepreneurship sector, e.g. city invested in the development of a new site for the social economy enterprises. They think the social economy should become fully self-sustainable (without having to depend on subsidies). Similarly, in Spain, we see more and more initiatives from regulators, at regional and national levels, to promote and help develop social enterprises.

The power of networks

Networks seem to be of vital importance in accessing resources. Network connections are for instance important in accessing human capital – recruiting employees & board members. Networks and social capital become more and more important for the development and growth of social enterprises. These networks not only promote social enterprises but allow for the replication of their models in related/unrelated domains, creating strong bonds at regional and national level.

Even if this part of the SEFORÏS research survey has reached its end, we will continue to monitor the activities of all the social enterprises included in the study, in order to follow up and investigate on the different emerging trends at national and international levels.

Testimonials form social entrepreneurs that participated in the study:

I am convinced that social entrepreneurs make a huge impact regarding social innovations in Europe. The results that are generated in the context of SEFORÏS do contribute to gain attention as well as awareness of politicians and decision makers within the political fields.
— Rose Volz-Schmidt, founder and CEO of wellcome (Germany)

About wellcome:
wellcome is one of the first social franchise organizations in Germany and offers support to young families in the first months after a baby is born. wellcome connects families with volunteers who help by taking care of the baby or elder siblings . With this concept, wellcome provides an answer to many of the challenges that derive by current demographic and social trends in Germany. This includes the declining availability of inter-generational support, rising mobility and the loss of neighbourhoods.

Engaging in this research project has proved unexpectedly encouraging. Taking the time to genuinely review what we do and why we do it has also sharpened our thinking.
— Richard Nicol, CEO of Midlands Together (UK)

About Midlands Together:
Midlands Together is a social enterprise (CIC) established in 2013. They buy refurbish and sell empty properties. Their aim is to create jobs for people who have been in prison. They provide training and support through mentors dedicated to seeing employees succeed.

Many of us working at Volontärbyrån, were interviewed about our business during the participation in the case study. It is always exciting and instructive to reflect on your own operation with the help of others; in this case SEFORÏS.
— Maria Alslander, CEO of Volontärbyrån (Sweden)

About Volontärbyrån:
Volontärbyrån works to encourage volunteering. Through facilitating for people and organisation to find each other at their internet-based matching-site; by spreading deep knowledge; customising packages for enterprises desiring happy employees, they both strengthen and renew the civil sector engagement.

Our mission is to generate a model for social, environmental and economic transformation. Participating in SEFORÏS makes us feel in a good company, and helps us reflect on ourselves and share knowledge.
— Oriol Costa Lechuga, CEO of Dynamis (Spain)

About Dynamis:
Dynamis is a Living Lab for Sustainability, generating synergies between Enterprises, Citizens, Universities and Public Administration through social innovation and technology.