Interactive webinar on Social Enterprise: Interdisciplinary Views across Erasmus University

An Interactive webinar on “Social Enterprise: Interdisciplinary Views across Erasmus University” was organized in collaboration between Vital Cities and Citizens (VCC), ESSB/DPAS, DRIFT, RSM and the Impact Centre Erasmus on the 13th of January 2021. We invited academics and students from Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) and other universities to discuss our Erasmian perspectives on social enterprise and to explore ways for further exchange and cooperation. This blog summarizes the webinar and shares the main resources.

The webinar consisted of four main sections spread over three hours. We began with short presentations by Philip Marcel Karré, Tine de Moor, Karen Maas and Flor Avelino, each introducing one aspect of social enterprise. Each of these contributions was followed by a World Café discussion, using break-out groups with 3-5 people who discussed questions posed by the speakers. The webinar ended with a plenary Q&A session where the participants shared some comments and questions. 
In this blog, we summarize the main points of the presentations and discussions. We also share the resources from the webinar including the video recordings of the presentations, the presentation slides and publications/links/events relevant to the topic of social enterprise. 

#1 "Introduction on social enterprise and its hybrid character” by Philip Marcel Karré

Philip Marcel Karré introduced the topic of the webinar. Philip is assistant professor at the Department of Public Administration and Sociology of Erasmus University. He looks at social enterprise as part of his wider research on hybrid organizations and governance. Social enterprises mix economic and social value creation and are seen by many as promising tools to create social innovation in dealing with wicked societal problems. Yet, there is confusion about the concept of social enterprise as they come in many forms and sizes. What they all have in common is their hybrid character mixing the institutional logics of state, market and society. This hybridity is their strength, as it encourages synergy and innovation, but also their weakness, as it leads to ambiguity and confusion. The question is, how the strengths of social enterprise can be used, while its weaknesses are kept in check.

#2 “How can citizens’ collectives be seen as social enterprises?” Tine de Moor

Tine de Moor is professor of Social Enterprise and Institutions for Collective Action at the Rotterdam School of Management (RSM). She asked the question whether and how citizens’ initiatives can be seen as social enterprises. These institutions for collective action come in many guises, e.g. citizen collectivities or community-based enterprises. Examples are forms of mutual insurance and platform cooperatives. Worldwide we see a new wave of such citizen collectivities, mainly cooperatives. These are autonomous associations of persons, united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise. The cooperative form has distinctive advantages for social enterprises, mainly in the fields of funding and governance. The cooperative form cannot only help social enterprises in generating income, but also in helping them be more innovative and resilient as well as drivers of broader societal change.

#3 “How can the impact of social enterprise be measured?” Karen Maas

Karen Maas is professor of Accounting and Sustainability at Open University and Academic Director of Impact Centre Erasmus (ICE). She presented several business models that can be used by (social) enterprises to translate their social purpose into measurable impact for society. While it is clear what the impact is that profit only businesses want to achieve, such organizations hardly exist, at least not in Europe. For firms with a hybrid character, mixing social and economic values, it is much more challenging measuring and managing their impact. These organizations share several goals and hence also generate different forms of impact. Organizations are often not really clear about the impact they are aiming for and how serious they take it (impact as a means or as an end in itself). In result, those organizations are not transparent about the impact they actually have on society, defined by Karen as the effect (positive or negative) the organization has on society on the economic, environmental and social dimension. It is therefore time, according to Karen, to measure this impact appropriately and to include their progress on impact performance in their performance systems. 

#4 “How can social enterprises be viewed from a multi-actor power perspective?” Flor Avelino

Flor Avelino is associate professor at the Department of Public Administration and Sociology of Erasmus University and senior researcher and lecturer at the Dutch Research Institute for Transitions (DRIFT). As theme-lead of Sustainable Just Cities for the Vital Cities and Citizens (VCC) initiative, she is particularly interested in understanding how people are empowered to contribute to just sustainability transitions at a translocal level. Flor discussed the transformative potential of social enterprises from a multi-actor power perspective. Underlying societal challenges that we are facing today, there are many problematic power relations including oppression, inequality, exploitation and extractivism. The question is how and to what extent social enterprise challenges these problematic power relations, but also how they may (unintendedly) reproduce them. Here it is important to distinguish between power relations at  the macro-level of society (e.g. between state and market) and power relations at  the micro-level (e.g. between large companies and small entrepreneurs). Even if social enterprises are not necessarily challenge macro-level power inequalities, they can still have transformative potential in improving micro-level power relations. The ultimate question is how social enterprises that aim to contribute to just sustainability transitions, be mainstreamed and gain power while maintaining their transformative potential.

World Café sessions

In the world café sessions, participants discussed the following questions: (1) Can the cooperative model help to create more resilient social enterprises by engaging citizens as members? (2) Can impact measurement help to create long term value for Social Enterprises? And (3) How and to what extent are social enterprises challenging and/or reproducing existing power relations? 

Points brought forward in these discussions were among others the importance of the democratic dimension in cooperative social enterprises. Participants also discussed the need to not only measure the impact of social enterprise in quantitative (monetary) terms but to focus on societal impact as well. However, impact measurement is time and resource consuming and many social entrepreneurs lack the right methods and techniques for doing so. Social enterprises want to achieve impact in the long run, but this outcome of their actions is often difficult to predict. Last but not least, participants emphasized how important it is not to instrumentalize social enterprises for pre-defined goals, be they described by governments or researchers, but rather to understand the goals that social enterprises themselves have. 

Organizers

Vital Cities and Citizens (VCC), ESSB/DPAS, DRIFT, RSM and the Impact Centre Erasmus.

Resources from the webinar

  • List of shared publications. Feel free to add links and publications (by yourself or others) that are relevant for research on social enterprise! 
  • Presentation slides can be found when you click on the arrow under each of the four subheadings.