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Supporting entrepreneurs and the self-employed - Social entrepreneurship

A social enterprise combines entrepreneurial activity with a social purpose. Its main aim is to have a social impact, rather than maximise profit for owners or shareholders.

Businesses providing social services and/or goods and services to vulnerable persons are a typical example of social enterprise.

According to the latest figures available, the "social economy" employs over 11 million people in the EU, accounting for 6% of total employment.

Challenges and policy response

Access to finance

Access to finance is one of the main obstacles to the growth of social enterprises, as identified in the Social Business Initiative (SBI) adopted by the Commission in 2011.

Therefore, the Commission:

The Commission also supports social enterprise via the European Social Fund.

Mapping social enterprises in the EU

In the Social Business Initiative, the Commission identified the need to obtain:

  • complete information on the state and development of social enterprises in Europe
  • evidence for further developing the policy framework.

Therefore, the Commission launched an in-depth study on social entrepreneurship, published in November 2014, mapping the reality of social enterprise in the EU 28 and Switzerland using a common definition and approach.

The study gives an overview of social enterprise eco-systems across countries, including factors constraining their development.

According to the study, social enterprises are an important driver for inclusive growth and play a key role in tackling current economic and environmental challenges. Yet, only eight countries have a policy framework in place to encourage and support the development of social enterprises.

This study is a starting point for developing a comprehensive map of social enterprises in Europe. The situation changes rapidly and therefore an up-date was started in 2016 with seven countries (FR, BE, SP, IT, IE, SK, PL).

Towards an enabling eco-system:

The Social Business Initiative invites Member States to develop environment, which enables social enterprises to start and develop. In cooperation with the OECD the Commission has prepared policy briefs and a compendium of good practices, with policy pointers for  those engaged in improving their national policy environments.