Book launch: “Innovation and Scaling for Impact. How effective social enterprises do it” by Christian Seelos and Johanna Mair

Johanna Mair & Christian Seelos

During our first international SEFORÏS Conference in Birmingham, Prof. Johanna Mair, Professor of Organization, Strategy and Leadership at the Hertie School of Governance, Academic Editor of the Stanford Social Innovation Review and Scholar at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society gave a keynote on innovation processes,  scaling capacity and social impact of social enterprises.

The insights of over 10 years of research are now gathered in the new book “Innovation and Scaling for Impact. How effective social enterprises do it”, published by Stanford University Press and co-authored with Christian Seelos, Adjunct Professor at the Hertie School of Governance and a Visiting Scholar at the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society.

The book draws on four in-depth case studies of social sector organizations that represent innovation archetypes. Issues such as learning processes in organizations, innovation pathologies and the relationship between achieving social impact, innovating and scaling are furthermore all highlighted and thoroughly discussed in the book.

A copy of the book can also be ordered online.

A more detailed overview of the book can be found here.

Funded PhD-studentships available at Aston University to pursue a PhD in Social Entrepreneurship

Aston Business School offers ESRC-funded PhD studentships as part of the Business and Management pathway in the Midlands Graduate School Doctoral Training Programme. More information about the programme can be found here. The deadline for application is Jan 24th. Please note that due to ESRC rules only UK or EU citizens can apply for this scheme.

If you are interested please contact Prof Ute Stephan or Dr Emma Folmer for discussion of social enterprise-related PhD proposals.


Discover 6 social enterprises fighting housing and energy poverty

Universal access to affordable and modern energy services is critical to sustainable development, the World Bank states. According to its World Development Indicators improvements over the past two decades led to 85 percent of the world enjoying access to electricity in 2012. Yet, 1.1 billion people are still without. Likewise, The EU estimates 11% of its inhabitants may have to deal with energy poverty. An important opportunity, as well as a challenge, may be provided by the way we deal with urban development, now and in the future. An estimated 60 percent of the world's population will live in urban areas by 2030. Access to adequate housing with resilient energy infrastructures will be ever more key to sustainable and healthy (urban) life. This triggered us to look into what some of the social enterprises we have surveyed do in these closely, interlinked domains. Below you will find links to six social enterprises from China, Germany, Portugal and the UK. It shows they myriad ways social enterprises try to achieve social impact in regards to housing and energy poverty.

Grwp Cynefin (Wales)

Grwp Cynefin is a housing association in North Wales offering affordable housing in rural communities. It aims to be a catalyst for positive social change in communities in Wales. They have projects around preventing domestic abuse and homelessness as well as projects around housing, employment and language.

Mobisol (Germany)

Mobisol provides low-income customers in developing country with solar energy systems for their homes. Depending on the size of these systems, they provide enough energy for various home appliances but also small businesses of the home owners which help them generate additional income.

Nottingham Energy Partnership (UK)

NEP provides an independent body to drive forward the climate change agenda. They are a platform for climate change prevention partnerships, working across all sectors within Nottingham. Within this role they work with partner agencies with the aim of alleviating fuel poverty and educating the public about energy efficiency, ensuring that those most in need achieve affordable warmth and a better quality of life.

Qi Chuang – Elderly Home Renovation Program (China)

Qi Chuang started its elderly home renovation program after two years of site visits to community care centers and the homes of elderly persons who live alone or are poor. They found various alarming safety concerns in 6 out of 10 homes they visited, including uneven floors, important passages and bathrooms without handrails and corroded wiring. They also discovered that in homes where the furniture is weighted or fixed in place, the fall rate is lower compared with homes with no renovation. As of March 6th,2015, the program had evaluated 137 homes and renovated 94 homes, in addition to improved hall passages in 3 public housing compounds for the elderly.
Website: (Chinese)

Solarkiosk (Germany)

Solarkiosk targets bottom-of-the-pyramid communities where they operate the Solarkiosk E-Hubb, an energy center that can serve as an energy and business outlet for these communities using solar power.

TESE (Portugal)

TESE is a Non-Governmental Development Organization (NGO) that aims to support the sustainable development of deprived communities and regions in Portugal and in developing countries through the creation and implementation of innovative responses that best promote social development, equal opportunities and quality of life. In developing countries, including Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique and Sao Tome and Principe, TESE Without Borders works in articulation with local partners, formulates and implements projects promoting the access to water, waste and energy services.

Discover 17 social enterprises that fight climate change

As the dust from the Climate Conference in Paris (COP21) settles - nearly 200 countries and 40.000 negotiators attended the meeting – we wondered about what social enterprises are doing to mitigate or counter climate change. Below you will find 17 social enterprises from Germany, Sweden, Russia and the United Kingdom that each in their own particular way wish to make a contribution to the sustainable transformation of our societies.

While climate negotiations have been going on for more than two decades, climate change does not wait for binding decisions: the atmosphere and oceans keep becoming warmer, the amounts of snow and ice keep diminishing. Droughts, floods and rising sea levels keep destroying important infrastructures, diminishing agricultural productivity and forcing communities to dislocate.

Driven by economic and population growth, anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have been increasing since the pre-industrial era and today they are higher than ever. If we carry on like this, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reminds us, we risk severe and irreversible impacts on the natural environment and with this on our food supplies, jobs and homes. We know what the reasons for climate change are and we know that it is time to act.

But what about the role of companies? The Harvard Business Review recently published an article entitled " Corporations will never solve climate change" stating that "The reality is that voluntary corporate greening measures don't achieve scale, and therefore aren't climate solutions." Social enterprises may deserve a second look.

As our 17 examples show – and there are many more examples - social enterprises develop solutions on the ground: they create awareness, change attitudes, change patterns of behavior and consumption and develop innovative technologies and solutions. Through this, they contribute to paving the way towards political decisions and hopefully to a shift towards a more environmentally and socially sustainable communities and societies.


1. CO2 Online

CO2 online assists private households in decreasing their consumption of energy and with this lower their CO2 emissions. At the same time, consumers benefit from lower energy bills.

2. Jyoti

Jyoti designs products such as clothing and accessories out of recycled, ecologically, and equitably produced materials. The earnings enable the funding of literacy and education programs with emphasis on labor and women's rights, as well as the provision of health insurance. Together they develop individual projects that deal with finding future permanent and self-employment opportunities, where they can apply their newly acquired skills. At the same time, Jyoti addresses issues of overconsumption, and resource waste in Germany, creating awareness about how consumption impacts lives and the natural environment.

3. Polarstern

Polarstern provides exclusively green energy to customers in Germany and, together with them, enables households in Cambodia to build their own biogas digesters that generate biogas from implement livestock and human waste. Their story gives insights into how intersections between agribusiness, green energy, micro-financing and international collaborations work on the ground.


SOLARKIOSK has pioneered and scaled up a solar-powered technology design and an inclusive business model that are tailored for the specific needs of communities that aren't connected to the electricity grid. It includes local entrepreneurs as franchise partners who provide clean energy services and affordable solar products.

5. Yesil Cember

Yesil Cember works with immigrant communities in Germany who often remain disconnected from environmental protection efforts. Environmental groups have failed to integrate the Turkish community as well as other immigrant populations into their efforts. This results in key segments of German society not yet embracing environmental concerns as one key shared challenge facing the country. Yesil Cember, develops Turkish information material, provides training on environmental protection at Turkish community centers, and trains women as local multipliers promoting collaboration between German environmental organizations, Turkish migrant associations, state agencies, Turkish and German media corporations, and other relevant stakeholders.


6. Экологическая вахта Сахалина (Sakhalin Environment Watch)

The mission of Sakhalin Environment Watch is nature conservation, environmental protection and ecological protection of the rights of citizens. Their most recent action concentrated on the oil spill liquidation in Nevelsk in 2015.

7. Экологический центр Дронт (Environmental Center Dront)

The mission of the Environmental Center Dront is to study wildlife, environmental protection, environmental education, hence contributing to a better world. One of their most recent projects is called 'Defend your ecological rights', it's goal is the assistance to citizens in the protection and realization of their ecological rights. The project was created to ensure that anyone who wishes to protect their environmental rights can obtain the necessary information on the legal mechanisms and direct assistance in the preparation of documents.

8. Ростов – город будущего (Rostov - City of the Future)

Rostov - City of the Future guides people towards a more environmentally friendly lifestyle by helping them collect and separate waste properly. Every month the organization runs campaigns to promote waste collection and separation.


9. Beat Food for Progress

Beat Food for Progress created the Bean Paste Beat made from 100% organic beans. The new plant-based ingredient was created to power a high impact green protein switch. Beat helps you transition from lots of meat and a little beans to... lots of beans and a little meat. Without leaving a bean taste or look, it can be used as a supplement of meat replacement in popular dishes such as hamburgers, meatballs, meat sauce, soups, sauces and gratins or even in the dough pizza, bread and cookies. Beat Food For Progress wishes to stimulate health and play a role in guaranteeing food security for a growing world population.

10. BeeUrban

Pollinating insects are crucial for human survival. Every third bite we eat is pollinated by a bee. Bee Urban offers interactive environment services in urban areas in the shape of beehives, gardens for biodiversity and habitat for pollinating insects and birds. Bee Urban targets companies, municipalities and other organizations that want to improve their environmental performance and their environmental profile in a concrete, interactive and innovative way. Bee Urban develops services to inform and disseminate knowledge about bees and biodiversity and how it is an integral part of sustainable urban development and human well-being.

11. Boodla

Boodla builds ecological house gardens and school gardens as a way to create a sustainable future, both socially and environmentally. Our gardens are something between a vegetable garden and a playground. The aim is to help people to co-create their surroundings and get to know each other while they grow their own vegetables, hence creating ecological and social value.

12. Kindness food

Kindness Food wishes to promote a healthy, green lifestyle via their website and presentations. Kindness Food develops knowledge on organic food health. The company defines KindnessFood as fair food that is kind to your body, mind, the environment and all animals.

13. Live Green

Live Green Production has built a community of environmentally committed enthusiasts, produced five green music festivals and fashion shows, organized youth parliaments in the countryside and horror theater in the suburbs, educated young leaders and changemakers and created several businesses working on social impact.

14. Plantagon

Plantagon International is the global innovation leader in the sector urban agriculture. Plantagon's resilient food systems minimize the need for land, water, energy and pesticides. The environmental impact is very low, and if the products are delivered directly to consumers in the city, the transportation costs are also minimized. Plantagon develops innovative solutions to meet the rising demand for locally grown food in cities all around the world. We minimize the use of transportation, land, energy and water – using waste products in the process but leaving no waste behind.

15. Re:wake design

Re:wake design is a jewellery brand that transforms used paper into colorful, one of a kind jewellery. Women from underserved communities in Kenya individually craft each piece, so that they may create individual savings and realize their entrepreneurial aspirations. Re:wake design empowers women from impoverished areas so that they not only become economically independent, but contribute to their communities, too. This is achieved by helping them acquire skills, providing them with economic opportunity, and assisting them in establishing their businesses. "Wanawake" means "woman" in Swahili. The name Re:wake Design represents the reawakening of dreams within women.


16. Food Cycle

FoodCycle is a national charity that combines volunteers, surplus food and spare kitchen spaces to create tasty, nutritious meals for people at risk of food poverty and social isolation. Food Cycle runs over 24 projects across the UK, united by the simple idea that food waste and food poverty should not coexist.

17. Worn Again

Worn Again started in 2005 with creating footwear made from recycled materials and has continuously sought out bigger, better solutions to the challenges of textile waste. From recycling Worn Again evolved to upcycling corporate textiles, turning waste materials like end of use uniforms into fashion products. Currently Worn Again is in development of an innovative fibre to fibre recycling technology for clothing and apparel with the aim of returning recaptured raw materials back into the clothing supply chain as new.

Facing unexpected challenges – social entrepreneurs and the refugee crisis in Germany

The number of people living as refugees from war or persecution exceeded 50 million in 2013, for the first time since World War II. Currently, Europe is facing a refugee crisis that poses a "dramatic challenge" for dedicated aid organizations, states and civil society as a whole. As António Guterres, head of the UN refugee agency states, the biggest influx of refugees into Europe for decades requires a "massive common effort" and break with the current fragmented approach. "Exceptional circumstances require an exceptional response. Business as usual will not solve the problem".

In the last months, thousands of refugees have crossed the border to Germany. 800.000 refugees are expected to arrive in 2015 and the state is struggling to provide shelter and support. At the same time, the situation has triggered a strong public response, from civil society, faith-based organizations, NGOs and individuals alike.

The current situation in Germany provides grounds for us to observe and reflect on how different types of actors - state actors, welfare organizations, civil society organizations and social enterprises - mobilize and organize to face emergent and unexpected social challenges and provides us with insights into the potential part social enterprises can play in a country where the state has a particularly strong and pronounced role in social service provision.

The reactions that social enterprises generate are diverse: while they are received with excitement by some, others warn not to release the state from its responsibilities and commercialise welfare.

As discussed in earlier research, Germany is not usually named when examining countries offering substantial support to social enterprises. It is rather well-known for the entrenched role and responsibility of the state in providing social welfare. The history of the modern German welfare system began mid-19th century and builds on a strong emphasis of social service provision by the state and by six major social welfare organizations[i]. In this context, private actors involved in social service provision can be viewed with suspicion and therefore, the reactions that social enterprises generate are diverse: while they are received with excitement by some, others warn not to release the state from its responsibilities and commercialise welfare. The supporters see social enterprises as a way to tackle unresolved social problems in innovative ways, to adapt social service provision to the rapid social changes of the last decades, to foster citizen engagement and to make social service provision more efficient. The skeptics emphasize the importance of not just focusing on "sexy" problems and "niche" beneficiaries and not making social welfare a self-fulfilling project for individualists.

Social entrepreneurial initiatives

The refugee situation provides an example of how different types of actors can productively complement and coexist in tackling social challenges: while the state and social welfare organizations tend to deliver services that are aligned with and responsive to national policies (such as legal counselling services or providing emergency accommodation), social entrepreneurial initiatives develop their services based on challenges they see surfacing locally and often act on the spot: they provide opportunities for local cultural exchange and integration, complement organized mass accommodation with private hosting, open opportunities for income generation beyond (or before) the formal labor market, provide easily accessible language courses and psychological support. In Berlin, for instance, Cucula supports refugees to build their own professional future, Multitude provides German lessons, Flüchtlinge Willkommen provides private housing for refugees, Kiron University provides university classes and Sharehaus Refugio provides housing, coaching and support initiatives.

The current developments may be an example of how the German social system may transform into a more flexible, adaptive and responsive one, as different actors with different approaches to solving social problems co-exist and (ideally) complement each other in handling emerging challenges.


Developments and debates are ongoing and intriguing questions are left to be answered: Do challenges such as the refugee crisis provide an opportunity to rethink our ways to cooperate to solve social problems moving beyond the question of WHO should tackle them but rather HOW we can tackle them best as a society? Are German social enterprises a niche solving problems left unresolved by the state or are they triggering changes in the way welfare is being provided? How do social welfare associations and social enterprises learn from each other and complement each other? What kind of middle ground will the optimists and the skeptics reach and what will this mean for welfare in Germany? And last but not least, how will politics be a part of all of this?

We are very curious to receive your views, experiences and maybe even answers to all of these questions.

[i] Jansen, Stephan A./ Heinze, Rolf G./ Beckmann, Markus (Hg.): "Sozialunternehmertum in Deutschland - Analysen, Trends und Handlungsempfehlungen" Wiesbaden 2013 (Springer VS)

Photos courtesy of UNHRC: