Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion

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.

Challenges and policy responses

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.

Measuring the social impact

Social enterprises aim to make a positive impact on society. One of their challenges is to make this impact visible and tangible and to measure it. There are plenty of measuring tools available, but the approaches are diverse and comparability is compromised. Therefore the Commission's expert group on social entrepreneurship (GECES) produced a report proposing key principles to be followed when measuring social impact:

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, mapping the reality of social enterprise in the 28 EU countries and Switzerland, using a common definition and approach. The study gives an overview of social enterprise ecosystems across countries, including factors constraining their development.

This study is a starting point for developing a comprehensive map of social enterprises in Europe. The situation changes rapidly and therefore an update was launched in 2016 with seven countries: France, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Ireland, Slovakia and Poland.

Towards an enabling ecosystem

The Social Business Initiative invites EU countries to develop an environment which enables social enterprises to start and develop. In cooperation with the OECD, the Commission has published policy briefs, a compendium of good practices and in-depth country reviews, with policy pointers for those engaged in improving their national policy environments:

The European Commission and the OECD have also jointly developed a Better entrepreneurship policy tool, which can act as a catalyst to improve entrepreneurship policies in a city, region or EU country. The tool covers the policies supporting entrepreneurship by people from vulnerable groups, as well as social entrepreneurship.

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