Creating conditions to help social enterprises flourish
By delivering educational tools and establishing a Europe-wide network of institutions, academics and practitioners, EU-funded researchers are strengthening the role that social enterprises play in addressing social challenges, and helping to foster integration. The project also wants to encourage a new generation of social entrepreneurs to flourish.
© Robert Kneschke - fotolia.com
Social enterprises which might employ disadvantaged people, bring goods and services to remote communities or help fund educational projects through sales put their social mission at the very core of their business plan. In doing so, they play a key role in fostering social cohesion and advancement.
Nonetheless, achieving sustainable growth can be a major challenge.
To address this, the EU-funded FAB MOVE project is developing an online teaching tool designed to help prospective social entrepreneurs establish themselves and make a positive difference within their communities. The package contains country reports and case studies of successful initiatives, an online checklist and questionnaire for budding entrepreneurs as well as other useful information about incubators, networks and funding possibilities.
“The issues facing social enterprises can vary significantly,” explains project manager Katharina Obuch of the University of Muenster in Germany. “At the beginning, social entrepreneurs need to turn their idea into a concrete business plan, raise seed capital and access key stakeholders and networks. Later, they need to be able to measure and prove their impact in order to secure long-term support. Many social enterprises fail at this point. There is also currently a lack of knowledge about how social and economic environments influence social enterprises.”
The project is focusing on equipping social enterprises with the knowledge and skills necessary to grow, as well as educating policymakers about the role social enterprises can play in providing benefits to society. For example, social enterprises can complement government action in preparing society for upcoming challenges such as demographic change, rising healthcare costs and integration of refugees.
The tools being developed in this project will not only help social entrepreneurs excel, but also create the right conditions to enable social enterprises to operate effectively.
“In these difficult economic times our research can offer new ideas and solutions on how to balance increasing service demands with decreasing budgets,” adds Obuch.
A centre of excellence
Another goal of the FAB-MOVE project is to establish the EU as a centre of best practice in social entrepreneurship. This is being achieved through fostering exchanges of social entrepreneurs, from a diverse range of professional backgrounds university students, senior researchers and social entrepreneurs, for example. To date, some 28 academic and non-academic partner institutions have initiated a total of 167 staff exchanges between themselves, lasting from between 1 to 10 months.
“Building a large network of researchers, practitioners and stakeholders all with a wide range of interdisciplinary backgrounds will enhance knowledge about the current challenges facing social enterprises as well as ways to promote successful initiatives”, says Obuch.
The project is encouraging lead researchers to pinpoint crucial success factors to maximise social impact. The first results country and comparative reports on social enterprises in FAB-MOVE partner countries were discussed at a mid-term meeting in May 2017, and shared with local social entrepreneurs. These findings will contribute towards the final publication of the online teaching tool. The project is due for completion in December 2018.
“Partners are also already discussing ways of continuing this collaboration after the end of the project,” says Obuch. “Besides, the various networks that have been built between individual seconded staff members and their host institutions have already opened up new possibilities for future research stays, joint publications and research proposals.”
FAB-MOVE was funded through the EU’s Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions programme.