Social enterprises contribute to addressing today’s key social challenges – including poverty, social exclusion and unemployment – as well as overcoming gaps in generalinterest service delivery. They also promote sustainable development and new ways of doing business, drawing on local assets and supporting job creation while generating tax revenues and triggering more efficient government spending. As social enterprises generate value that benefits local communities and society at large, scaling their social impact is in the interest of today’s decision makers at all levels.
Social enterprises are mainly concentrated in specific niches – particularly in local contexts – and are not evenly spread within and across countries (European Commission, 2014). Not only is their potential far from fully realised, but fast-growing and increasingly diversified social needs and environmental concerns call for a bolder presence of social enterprises. Public policies should therefore acknowledge social enterprises’ capacity to generate value for the community and support their scaling efforts as a key objective.
When considering scaling social impact, the following questions should be addressed: does the service or product offered by the organisation have a significant impact on the problem it aims to solve? If the answer is “yes”, would it be possible to have the same effect on a larger scale, by including different beneficiaries or clients, as well as people (e.g. local communities) who benefit indirectly from social enterprises’ activities – potentially in different geographic locations? This leads to a key question for policy makers: how can policies contribute to this process of scaling social enterprises’ social impact?
This policy brief will address this question in two steps. First, it will illustrate a number of strategies currently being used by social enterprises to scale their impact. Second, it will discuss the challenges encountered in this endeavour and the policy responses that could help overcome them.
Table of Contents
COMPARING THE SCALING PATTERNS OF SOCIAL ENTERPRISES AND CONVENTIONAL ENTERPRISES
Scaling objectives: Social impact versus profit maximisation
Specificities of goods and services delivered by social enterprises
Collaborative relations among stakeholders
STRATEGIES FOR SCALING THE IMPACT OF SOCIAL ENTERPRISES
Scaling impact through expansion
Scaling impact through replication
Scaling impact through partnerships
Scaling impact through knowledge sharing
CHALLENGES AND POLICY RESPONSES FOR SCALING SOCIAL ENTERPRISES AND THEIR IMPACT
4. Networks’ special role in scaling impact