In recent years, social enterprises have increased progressively in size and relevance and have attracted significant interest from diverse stakeholders—including researchers, policymakers, public administrations, international institutions and financial intermediaries—in most European countries. Yet, social enterprises are less visible than their diffusion would warrant, and many stakeholders struggle to understand their nature.
To follow up its Social Business Initiative (SBI) and to strengthen the visibility and recognition of the social enterprise, the European Commission ordered a study to "map social enterprises and their ecosystems in Europe". The first study was published in stages over 2014 and 2015. The present mapping study updates the 2014-2015 study in light of the rapidly changing landscape. Moreover, it contributes to advancing the estimation of the overall number of organisations that can be understood as social enterprises and to identifying country commonalities and variations.
To accomplish these goals, the 2018-2020 mapping study has involved diverse actors: more than 70 researchers including national researchers, members of the advisory board and experts in specific fields such as statistics, and more than 750 stakeholders who contributed critical insights. This complex framework has enabled the updating of 28 country reports for EU Member States and the production of seven baseline country fiches for non-EU countries (Albania, Iceland, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Norway, Serbia and Turkey) for a total of 35 national reports. Additionally, it has allowed for the analysis of more than 100 concrete examples of good practices of social enterprises operating in diverse fields of general interest, and it has contributed to 50 exploratory case studies in 11 countries.
Various challenges have emerged during the study, particularly the strong country- specificity of the social enterprise phenomenon, which reflects diverse traditions and institutional contexts, and the rapidly evolving policy frameworks relevant for social enterprises in the diverse countries.