Log Book I: Europe

Full disclosure. It was hard writing this post. Having travelled across Europe for six months on a quest to find best practices, current trends and common challenges in social enterprise support has been one of the most rewarding, humbling, exciting, exhausting and growth experiences of my career. But sitting down and trying to capture it all on a few pages is a daunting task. I want to share all the enthusiasm, the learning, the information overload, early-morning train rides, sore feet and sugar lows with you all without making this sound like some “final report”. Because a report wouldn’t do this adventure justice. It is a snapshot at best, a flicker of an image of social enterprise support in Europe in 2015. By the time I am done typing, it will be outdated and we are ready to move on to the next adventure. This Log Book is the first in a series of snapshots of social enterprise support around the world. I am currently interviewing Social Venturers in the US and am headed down under in spring. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Here’s Log Book I: Europe.


Social Venturers

In January 2015 I set out in search of best practices and common challenges in capacity building for social entrepreneurs. Mostly, I was keen on meeting the people behind the scenes: professionals who design and implement support programs for social entrepreneurs. I call them Social Venturers. I wanted to hear their views of the sector, what works and what doesn’t; I wanted to learn more about their programs – what happens outside of websites and annual reports, I was looking for insights and connections not captured by research surveys. I wanted to hear what program teams considered current trends and challenges. I wanted to learn a lot!

After six months, I had interviewed more than 30 Social Venturers at  27 support organizations for social entrepreneurs across Europe. With my red backpack – I named him Spivet after this adventurous explorer – I got on 11 flights, slept in 23 different beds at friends’ houses, AirBnBs and hostels. I covered 3.200 km by train and another 1.150 km by car and bus to speak to Social Venturers in Ireland, the UK, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium and the Netherlands. My longest travel day took me from Edinburgh via Manchester to Amsterdam Schiphol where I caught the train to Rotterdam to interview Enviu and Outside Inc. before getting on another train to Utrecht (where I spent the night to return to Amsterdam the following day). In Amsterdam – fun fact – I marched over 10 km in one day to have three interviews across the city; that night I crashed in a hostel bunk bed exhausted. But excited.

stage and length long

I was particularly interested in speaking to organizations that offer structured capacity building for social entrepreneurs. For my research that means analyzing and interviewing 14 accelerators, six incubators, and a mix of competitions, university programs, summer schools and consultancies.

Locality matters.

Our digital age of cloud computing, social networks and mobile technology has made starting a business a lot cheaper, no doubt. We no longer face high up-front investments into brick and mortar business structures only to test and validate/belie minimum viable products. But don’t be fooled. Local support organizations and networks are key to helping fledgling social entrepreneurs off the ground. Bastian Mueller at Yunus Social Business pointed out: “Our program success hinges on supporters in the local scene to act as early adopters, mentors, customers and investors.” When I visited Oxford for a day, I experienced a thriving ecosystem of social enterprises, co-working spaces, colleges and the Skoll Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Oxford University working in synergy, making Oxford one large breathing organism of social impact. In Scotland I spoke to Lindsay Chalmers at the Edinburgh Social Enterprise Network which has managed to not only promote social entrepreneurship, but grow this sector through public awareness raising, advocacy and educating consumers about the social impact of their purchasing decisions. In 2015, Edinburgh counted 200 social enterprises employing 1,220 paid staff and over 6,000 volunteers (ESEN 2015). 94% of Edinburgh’s social enterprises generated an income equivalent to US$184m from trading activities – a close to 300% increase from 2012/13. The backbone of this strong growth trend is the support program of Edinburgh Social Enterprise Network and its partners who provide training and resources to local social entrepreneurs.

Success factors

I like asking about success factors. It doesn’t sound sexy, I agree. But my brain being wired as it is, that’s how I think about the secret sauce of social startup support. In each interview there comes the moment where I get to ask the person opposite me “So… what do you think makes a program effective in empowering social entrepreneurs?”, and while the answers vary, three themes stood out to me across all interviews in Europe: facilitation over curriculum teaching, founders’ personal development and leading by example as a support intermediary.

Facilitation. At Unltd’s Big Social in London in January 2015, the main questions circled around whether to offer generalized training to as many social founders as possible, or focus on individualized support to selected individuals. Throughout my trip I found that the majority of support organizations have embarked on a third route. They make resources accessible for founders to self-select what to study up about, and act as facilitators. “Social entrepreneurs that join our program come equipped with very different skill sets and backgrounds, so we focus on what they need help with at any given point in time.” explained Mareike Mueller at Social Impact Lab Berlin. Similar words from Richard Brownsdon at Impact Hub Westminster: “I believe in just-in-time learning. During the startup phase, founders simply don’t have the time to learn about topics that aren’t relevant to them at the time. We give them support when they need it.”

Support topics

This trend towards facilitation also shows in how Social Venturers perceive their role in working with startups. Kristina Notz at Social Entrepreneurship Akademie in Munich views her job as “asking the right questions, questions that identify the blind spots.” and otherwise “giving founders the mental space for testing and learning.” Birgit Schunke at Heldenrat – a pro-bono consultancy for social initiatives and entrepreneurs in Germany – said: “Every individual or organizations we work with come to us with a different need. Our role is not to solve their problem, but to help them develop their own ideas. We believe that founders already have the answers, we help them get to that realization, and access this knowledge.” The team around Kaat Peeters at Sociale Innovatiefabriek in Belgium takes the facilitation-approach to a whole new level: In their program, social innovators support each other. With an alternative currency-system in place, Sociale Innovatiefabriek provides training templates and content, but the actual mentoring takes place among peers. “Social entrepreneurs can better relate to each other’s challenges, make relevant connections and have credibility as mentors.” The program team supports them where necessary, while their peer-system has given rise to a tight community and strong network with external experts, both of which last way beyond the program itself.

Support services

Founder development. Kai Hockerts at Copenhagen Business School explained to me where he sees the biggest hurdle for the social enterprise sector: “We aren’t short of people from the social sector but they often lack entrepreneurial/managerial training. As a leader of any organizations you are responsible for the people around you; at the same time you can barely share your concerns with anyone (investors, beneficiaries, employees). We need to invest more in developing leadership skills.” Siobhan O’Keeffe at Social Entrepreneurs Ireland thinks along the same lines: “We focus on turning social entrepreneurs into strong leaders. In the end of the day, it is up to them to secure public approval and get a cohort of followers and supporters behind them. Most social entrepreneurs aren’t equipped for that. They must be as solid as the team they are leading to run their business.”

Practice what you preach. When Leon Reiner and his team opened their new space for Impact Hub Berlin he made a simple yet surprising observation: “We are designing the Hub according to the needs of our members. After all, customer discovery and validation is what we challenge founders to do – why shouldn’t WE?” “We try to be as customer-oriented, as we require it from our founders.”, Bastian Mueller at Yunus Social Business chimed in, “As part of this, we survey them to figure out how relevant each program component is to them. We were surprised by some of the findings.” There we have it! Practice what you preach. Be critical. Solicit feedback.

Vincent de Coninck at Oksigen Lab in Belgium and Kristina Notz raised a similar point with regard to financial sustainability. Both argued that support organizations need to be financially sustainable if that is what we expect from our founders. This is probably one of the biggest questions I came across during this trip. Figuring out business models for support organizations is top of my research list, and I can’t give you an answer yet. What I have gathered so far is that the most promising models have diversified their income streams, work with corporate partners, manage to secure government contracts and have embedded themselves in an active angel investing community. This clearly is a starting point at best. I have accepted that to-date most support organizations rely on philanthropic funding. But let’s be honest here: in order to be credible role-models to the founders we work with, we need to become a lot more creative in generating revenue.

programs and funding long

And I am only just getting started… I would love to share more of the observations and insights I came across during those six months. But they don’t fit into a list of best practices or common learnings, they lie in the space between, are a piece within the bigger picture that we rarely pause to look at. And they differ from country to country. Instead, I invite you to explore the grey area, organizational trends and personal stories on right here on this website – be my guest!

I have come across some great resources for those of you looking for larger-scale data-driven insights into social enterprise support around the world. I recommend “From Seed to Impact” by the Global Social Entrepreneurship Network, Monitor Deloitte’s “Accelerating Impact” and ANDE’s “Bridging the Pioneer Gap”. These guys have done a phenomenal job in gathering and analyzing data that informs best practices in this “industry” of support organizations. They don’t focus on Europe, but they give a good introduction of the space.

Wrapping up.

If you are still reading at this point, I feel obliged to send you on your way with some recommendations based on what I learned. I outlined at the beginning how transient this research is, how out-of-date it will be the moment it’s published. Therefore, I have boiled it down to one single piece of advice: Act like a social entrepreneur.

  • Wrap your programs around the needs of your founders,
  • create a safe space for lean experimentation, failure and learning;
  • be a facilitator and support where and when support is needed.
  • Lead by example, no more and no less.

Plug founders into your local ecosystem and you will create more than a successful support program. You will grow a living, breathing community of socially-conscious founders and supporters.

Log 03: Netherlands & Belgium in review

March 30, 2016

Log [n.]: Personal reflection

This trip was a great kick-off for Social Venturers. On the professional side, I learned about a great many different approaches to working with social entrepreneurs. I was fascinated by the stories of the Social Venturers themselves – their previous careers and why they care about the impact space. I ran anything from 45-minutes to 2-hour interviews with ten Social Venturers and one social entrepreneur within four days.

On the personal side, this trip tested my grit. Three to four interviews in one day may not sound much if you consider your work day to be somewhere between eight and ten hours. But four days in a row is ambitious and I had to realize that in order to be an open-minded active listener, I can’t cramp too many interviews into such a short time period. Noted. By the time I left Belgium, I had been on the road for over four weeks for contract work and Social Media Week in Hamburg as well as Social Venturers-related work in Scotland. In brief: I was exhausted. I spent the following week with friends where I locked myself away to gather my notes, follow up with interviewees, and sleep.


I am no ethnographer but if I had to pinpoint what struck me most about speaking to Dutch and Belgian Social Venturers, it’s their humility. The team at Kennisland, for example, sees itself merely as a facilitator. They run social labs together with their target beneficiaries, co-develop solutions, and withdraw. Social Enterprise NL: I walked past their office twice because I couldn’t find a sign indicating that these was in fact their office. I had expected a small army managing their 230 members, trainings, collaborations, agenda setting and social media. Instead I found a chatty and cheerful group of four (out of seven), with whom I felt instantly connected. And even the social entrepreneur I spoke to – Jacquelien Bunt, head of Global Seller Activation at Discovered – explained: “I’m not trying to change the world; I’m not Mother Theresa. But if I can make life a little better for those who are worse off than me, that’s great.”

In summary

Here’s what I learned:

  • Streamlining and professionalizing processes in our programs reduces transaction costs, especially when we work with third parties such as corporate or governmental partners.
  • Let’s be precise and strict about the definitions and terms we use. Speaking the same language within the sector will allow us to better position ourselves towards external parties and potential partners in other sectors. This will pay off especially in the work of agenda setting and advocacy.
  • Inviting external views on an issue and collaborating with other organizations such as think tanks can mean higher costs. But if it’s well-facilitated, it can lead to more holistic and sustainable solutions.
  • We need to be aware of gaps in our support programs. Not all social entrepreneurs fit in the pre-defined stages of maturity and may need individual support parallel to our standardized programs.

One question remains

In line with what I heard at the GSEN-Learning week in London, a central conversation revolves around: What’s the right balance between generic vs. individual programs? Do we want to reach as many social entrepreneurs as possible and run them through our programs, or do we want to pick a few and work with them individually, at a higher cost? I have come across some examples along this spectrum on this trip: Enviu crowdsources innovative ideas that may grow into social businesses; Impact Hub Amsterdam, Social Enterprise NL and Social Innovation Factory offer structured programs with personal mentor aspects, and Oksigen Lab offers individual coaching. They cover the whole spectrum from working with an entire community of social innovators to individual one-on-one support.

After these field visits, I suggest generic programs for early-stage ventures and more specialized support as they grow more mature. That way, we open the field for many early great ideas and filter them as they continue to develop through testing and validation. If our objective as a support industry is to get viable solutions to scale, then we need to understand what those who enable scaling (impact investors) look for. When I spoke to Christophe Baudin at SI2 fund he said they’d prefer selecting from a small number of outstanding concepts rather than filtering through a large number of non-investment ready ventures. If this is a role we as support organizations can play in the pipeline – supporting ventures on their way to investment readiness – I think we are serving the sector as a whole. Thoughts?


Cartography: Rotterdam

March 23, 2016

Cartography[n.]: Mapping, review

This is part one of a short series of the insights I gathered throughout my field visits in the Netherlands and Belgium. Fair to say that I got a snapshot – rather than deep insights – into the sector of social enterprise support. Nevertheless, I have gathered some of the learnings and highlights from the trip which will be presented in this four-piece-series.


Visiting Enviu was a great kick-off to my visit in the Netherlands. I loved learning about their crowdsourcing/co-creation approach to sourcing social business concepts – the big upside having a large pool of diverse ideas to solve a specific challenge. These concepts are then filtered, adapted, tested, filtered and adapted again. I think this has enormous potential for Enviu at the very beginning of the support pipeline for social enterprises. There probably is room for streamlining their crowdsourcing platform – I had trouble finding it and knowing how to get involved.

If you want to draw a crowd, you need to make it easy for them to find your platform. Click To Tweet

As Wouter said: “We are not a platform provider for crowdsourcing projects.” and I agree. But I wonder how this can be professionalized to streamline processes and increase efficiency. After all, if you want to draw a crowd, you need to make it easy for them to find it. Be aware that the interview with Wouter was focused on only one of their programs when in fact they offer much more than what we could cover during those two hours. Pop over to enviu.org to learn more about what they do!

Outside Inc.

A spin-off from Enviu, Outside Inc. aims to ignite social innovation within the corporate sector – quite a lever for large-scale change. Outside Inc. refers to their concept as CSE – Corporate Social Entrepreneurship. Rather than defining new territory, I would probably stick with social intrapreneurship and contribute to this discussion (see Ashoka/Forbes, Echoing Green, BMW Foundation), but that’s just me. After our interview and my research in CSE, here is what I have been mulling over:

As opposed to Corporate Social Responsibility, CSE is defined by Outside Inc. as maximizing positive impact (not minimizing negative ones), being part of the core business (rather than separated), and creating stakeholder value (instead of responding to stakeholder expectations), to name a few.

CSR vs

To me, this is a simplified juxtaposition. I know that we often use those to draw a line, emphasize a comparison, highlight differences. But instead of presenting CSE as everything that CSR falls short of, I would suggest giving credit where it’s due and emphasizing where CSE adds value to the well established concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (see the works of Archie B. Carroll, Dirk Matten & Jeremy Moon, etc. over the last decades). I believe CSE creates a different kind of value; one that enhances a company’s competitiveness and innovation potential. It may actually complement a company’s CSR efforts and become one of the tools in creating sustainable value. If companies abolished their CSR departments and replaced them with nothing but Corporate Social Entrepreneurship, I doubt it would fly.

CSR meets corporate social entrepreneurship - a path for sustainable business? Click To Tweet

I look at it this way: CSR helps define an ethical corporate conduct and culture, CSE is a method to spur corporate innovation; if that innovation adheres to the ethical values of the company – even better. By the way, I am not entirely sure what defines the “Social” in Corporate Social Entrepreneurship, but let’s assume Outside Inc. has an eye on that.

In short, to me, CSR and CSE are a great match – rather than opposites – for companies that want to create sustainable value in an triple-bottom-line world.

Despite the quarrels of definition that I am having with myself here, I do believe there lies great potential in Outside Inc.’s model of spurring innovation for greater good through co-creating with companies. I would love to hear more about the actual learnings from running the program and find answers to questions such as:

  • How do you effectively involve the right kind of employees and coordinate tasks of the CSE program with their daily job responsibilities? Do co-workers have to fill in for jobs that fall of the edges of program participants?
  • What kind of commitment is required from corporate leadership and employees, how can one influence the other?
  • How do you arrive at a “Central Challenge” that all involved parties perceive as such, and want to work on?
  • What does the company really get out of it? There must be tangible outputs (new products & services) as well as intangible ones (impact on company culture, learning, enhanced collaboration). How does that compare to their initial expectations? How can this process be assessed and managed?
  • What are the transaction costs in running this program for the different parties? What kind of friction develops and how does it impact the success of the program?
  • And since we are talking about success – how is it assessed in terms of company value, employee satisfaction, greater societal value? How can sustainability of the program outcomes be guaranteed?

Some of these questions seem to have been addressed in Outside Inc.’s CSE Lab #1 in May this year. I look forward to seeing what #2, #3 to #50 come up with and wha we can learn from Outside Inc. as one of the pioneers in this area.

Again and still, corporate intrapreneurship, or CSE, has strong potential in building a bridge between social entrepreneurship and the corporate sector. I look forward to meeting more support organizations that work in this field to search for answers to my questions!

Cartography: Amsterdam

Cartography: Brussels

Cartography: Amsterdam

March 24, 2015

Cartography[n.]: Mapping, review

In this second part of the review of my field visits to the Netherlands and Belgium, I share some lessons learned from Kennisland, Discovered, Social Enterprise NL and Impact Hub Amsterdam.


Though not a typical support organization, Kennisland taught me a thing or two that can be transferred to the more specific challenges of social enterprise. Quick recap: Kennisland is a think tank facilitating social innovation through civic participation. One of the tools they employ are social labs in which they bring a variety of relevant stakeholders such as government representatives, local service providers and the target beneficiaries to the same table to develop context-specific solutions to a shared community issue.

Any #SocEnt should run a social lab focused on their central issue before getting to work. Click To Tweet

In working with social entrepreneurs – and the lean start-up method is supporting this claim – I have found that they often shy away from talking to their beneficiaries and understanding the wider context of the issue they are trying to solve. I go as far as to say that any social entrepreneur should run a social lab focused on their central issue before getting to work, to understand the stakes of each party involved in or affected by this issue.

By the way, Kennisland has a brilliant website that I highly recommend checking out! Research insights, updates from their desks directly to the landing page and lots of background information with each post. Swing over to kl.nl – worth a visit!



Discovered was the first social entrepreneur I spoke to about their general incubation experience and needs, in their case at a stage between acceleration and investment readiness. This is what I took away:

#1: Classifying and categorizing start-up stages helps us get a sense for the maturity of an enterprise. But we shouldn’t be fooled into thinking that there aren’t soft borders and overlaps between those stages. Though I’m sure this seems obvious to all of us, we must keep this in mind when designing support programs, and make sure we have mechanisms in place to respond to support needs that come up in-between stages.

#2: I have come to understand that there are gaps between what support organization offer, and what the participating enterprises find valuable. Again, this is obvious, but the conversation with Discovered re-emphasized that we need to constantly assess whether the services our programs offer are what start-up and later-stage social enterprises need. What is the relation between perceived effectiveness by entrepreneurs as opposed to the outcomes programs hope to achieve?

Consult with your participants to fine-tune your #SocEntSupport to their needs! Click To Tweet

#3: An on-going discussion I have had over the last months was about the level of standardized vs. customized support for social enterprises. Part of the answer lies right here: Ask your participants to fine-tune your portfolio suited to what they need at any given point within the program.

Social Enterprise NL

Apart from trainings and services offered to members, Social Enterprise NL works in what they call Agenda Setting: The team around Stefan Panhuijsen represents social entrepreneurs’ interests in conversation with the Dutch government. In 2014, they published a policy agenda calling the  Dutch government to:

  • Recognize and acknowledge the entrepreneurial form “social enterprise”
  • Increase the availability of capital
  • Facilitate access to markets, and
  • Institutionalize social enterprise legislation and create targeted tax incentives.

Read more here (I recommend google translate!).

So far, I have not come across any other advocacy organizations for social enterprise and I wonder who takes it upon themselves in other countries. I can only speculate here but based on the social enterprise concept’s visibility and popularity as a newcomer in fields like academia or the start-up world, I assume it is a lonely job to represent the interests of entrepreneurs who fit neither in the profit-driven private sector nor into the world-saving charity category that we have so conveniently put in place.

Who are the agenda setters, advocates and lobbyists for #SocEnt in Europe? Click To Tweet

The one thing I did learn about advocating for social enterprise is: If a support organization wants to be their members’ voice, it can’t speak FOR them unless they speak WITH them, and keep a close eye on current issues and trends. I hope this list will grow substantially over the next months. But first tell me, dear readers, who ARE the agenda setters, advocates and lobbyists for social enterprise in Europe?

Impact Hub Amsterdam

My conversation with Wieke Van Der Zouwen about Impact Hub Amsterdam felt a bit like peeking through the keyhole into a whole new world of supporting social entrepreneurs through a tightly-knit network, franchise model and a pool of shared experiences and knowledge. Not to mention some exciting EU-funded research such as BENISI and Impact Hub Scaling. Impact Hubs are part of a closed network that generates a lot of know-how and best practices through their day-to-day work with social enterprises in over 60 locations across the world. But it is hard to gain access as an outsider. They do hold an annual summit called Unlikely Allies (click here to learn more about the June 2015 summit). The registration fee ranging from  EUR 1,200 to EUR 2,000 probably doesn’t allow many of us to participate. If anyone wants to throw Social  Venturers a free ticket for next year to see what it’s all about, get in touch!

What I do like about the Impact Hub model is that they lead by example in terms of financial sustainability. If you think that you can’t support social entrepreneurs unless it’s for free, think again.

Questions that I will take to my upcoming meetings with other Impact Hubs:

  • How do you organize your network-internal knowledge exchange?
  • How can the Hub Network open up and start collaborating with other support organizations?


Cartography: Rotterdam

Cartography: Brussels


Spotlight: Jiska Klein


What drives you?

The opportunity to learn new things and to have a positive impact on the world. Thereby I strive to make social entrepreneurship the norm of doing business.

Biggest SocEnt trend have you seen over the last 5 years?

With my background in international and environmental economics, I am really enthusiastic about the trend in fair chain development. This is about taking responsibility, being transparent and internalizing negative externalities. For instance, Fairphone approaches things differently by sourcing conflict-free minerals from the DRC and Tony’s Chocolonely contributes to slave-free chocolate products.

Currently reading

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (a definite must read)


I am very lucky that I can do what I really like and what feels good for me. Such as working with microfinance and social entrepreneurship projects in rural areas of India and my current activities for the supportive program at Social Enterprise NL. It is all about what you are contributing, what drives you and with whom you are surrounded. I come across a broad range of interests and perspectives. In this respect I learned a great deal from my interdisciplinary study Bèta Gamma at the University of Amsterdam, where we were trained to approach challenges from various angles and to use tools from bèta (natural) and gamma (social) sciences. Furthermore I am often inspired by documentaries, by fruitful talks at work and by unexpected meetings with people during hitchhikes through foreign countries.


Social Enterprise NL

Members with Benefits

My last visit in the Netherlands took me to Social Enterprise NL. With all the social media buzz and in line with my silent-office-experiences at Enviu and Kennisland I was prepared to introduce myself to an armada of 20 or so hard-working Social Venturers frantically typing away on their computers to make the world a better place (hush!).

In trying to blend in I walked up the stairs deliberately quietly, not wanting to interrupt and ruin some genius thought (I wanted a good start!). In my trance an energetic Stefan Panhuijsen flew towards me, hand outstretched, welcoming me to Social Enterprise NL. Good start then! He walked me into a bright red room and introduced me to the four out of seven team members. We had a good chat and I was thrilled to see that project manager Jiska Klein joined our conversation. I already knew I had more questions than time, so we jumped right in.

Paid membership builds community

Social Enterprise NL was established in September 2012 by Mark Hillen and – if you read my earlier post on Social Enterprise in the Netherlands you are familiar with this name – Willemijn Verloop. As a network organization, you can only become member if you have been operational for at least a year and gain at least half of your revenue from the market. By March 2015, they counted 230 paying members in their community – and that’s what the program is all about: community. Other than most support programs I had met until then,

Social Enterprise NL is first and foremost about building a community. Click To Tweet

As part of their Affiliate Program, members benefit from support services such as training sessions, peer-to-peer workshops, mentoring and coaching. Many of these are offered by or in collaboration with corporate partners such as Price Waterhouse Coopers. The majority of experts and mentors at Social Enterprise NL are employees of large partner companies and bring with them extensive legal and financial knowledge from their corporate background. For social enterprises that do not yet meet membership criteria, Social Enterprise NL’s program BOOST offers four program days to learn about access to finance and pitching, marketing and positioning, business modeling and theory of change.


Lobbying for Social Enterprise

Beyond, Social Enterprise NL lobbies for regulation with the Dutch government to build a more favorable legislative environment for social enterprises in the Netherlands. I got the sense that they are in a strong position to represent the needs and interests of Dutch social entrepreneurs, and can actually work as a mediator between their beneficiaries and the government by speaking both languages and provide guidance how to approach this trend that appears to be sticking around. Stefan said: “One of the central challenges in our work is trying to plan. Nobody knows yet where social entrepreneurship is headed, what the government will do, what legislation will look like. This uncertainty makes it difficult to plan long-term.”

Social Enterprise NL: A Review

On my way out, I asked for a picture of the team and it was a short moment that summed up my experience at Social Enterprise NL that day: A well-organized team always up for a laugh and obviously enjoying their work, but also busy busy busy trying to meet their members’ needs, lobbying for favorable social enterprise legislation, offering a support program, managing their partners and external communications. I look forward to meeting more membership organizations and start talking to some of their participants. I want to get a better sense of the importance of a structured content-laden support program compared to the pure community benefit. After all, members do pay to be part of this network, I want to know which factors add the most value, and what we can learn from membership organizations for other support programs.



Spotlight: Stefan Panhuijsen

Stefan Pnahuijsen

What drives you?

Contributing to a better world where people take responsibility for their environment.

Biggest #SocEnt trend in the last 5 years?

The combination of different societal goals. Taxi Electric contributes to less air pollution AND the employment of elderly, Fairphone contributes to fair mining in Congo AND better working conditions in China.


“I have always worked in small teams with really dedicated people. I think that is the most important reason why I always enjoy my work! At the moment, I learn a lot from our directors at Social Enterprise NL who bring a lot experience to the table.”

twitter @spanhuijsen


Spotlight: Isabelle Coppens

What drives you?

To make a difference for people who want to start their own projects.

Biggest SocEnt trend have you seen over the last 5 years?

Sharing Economy.

What are you currently reading?

Hoe ik verander by Shirine Moerkerken


Isabelle holds a masters in entrepreneurship and new business venturing. During her semester in Boston she got a first taste of designing social enterprise models. “It was at Babson College that I used the business model canvas for the first time.”. Back in the Netherlands she started organizing events for social and healthcare professionals and realized that she wanted to do more than the event side of things: ”I was inspired by the work these social entrepreneurs were doing, I was sharing their enthusiasm. But spreading this attitude within the company I was working at at the time was hard. It took me a long time to convince them that Social Entrepreneurship is the new normal, that profit mustn’t be the only driver. Fighting the battle made me realize just how important Social Entrepreneurship was for me. I decided to change careers and joined Outside Inc. in February 2015.”

twitter @belle_215

Outside Inc.

Corporate Social Entrepreneurship

My conversation with Isabelle Coppens from Outside Inc. began during my visit at Enviu – we realized we had too much to talk about and would follow up a few days later via skype. I prefer in-person interviews; Social Venturers is about the people, as the name suggests, and even though a lot of my client work happens via skype – or maybe because of that – I love the opportunity of meeting people in person and in their environment whenever possible.

Outside Inc. facilitates Corporate Social Entrepreneurship and initiates startup acceleration programs together with partners. Our conversation focused on the former, it’s not too often that I meet Social Venturers keen on working with corporates to create value. I was curious to learn more.

Intrapreneurship as R&D

Their concept basically reflects what I have learned to be intrapreneurship: identifying entrepreneurial individuals within a business and developing innovative solutions within and for the company they work for.

Social Intrapreneurship - generating innovation in-house with the resources available. Click To Tweet

I think intrapreneurship is a great tool for business development. I am convinced that it offers a great opportunity to foster a company’s competitiveness by developing products and services co-created by the team members that have close and regular customer-contact. It allows a business to generate innovation and new approaches in-house with the unique set of resources available. The costs are relatively low; little need for external consultants who don’t know your business and/or culture to begin with; solutions are developed by team members who have a strong buy-in and can see a project through. That said, why doesn’t every company run intrapreneurship programs as part of their R&D?

Defining the Challenge can be a challenge in itself. Click To Tweet

Outside Inc. for example, runs a 30-day program stretched over a time period between three to nine months depending on the client and nature of the project. Their four-step approach is adapted to the client, the team, and existing entrepreneurial culture. Outside Inc. facilitates identifying a social challenge as an opportunity and potential intrapreneurs with whom they go through a process of ideation and pre-selection of possible solutions. In step two, the intrapreneurial teams refine their concepts through bootcamp sessions, coaching/mentoring, business plan development and building networks around their business ideas. With a fine-tuned business case the teams run against each other during demo day securing internal buy-in. Outside Inc. helps the the winning solution(s) in scaling their concepts through growth and networking support.

The costs of Intrapreneurship

A straightforward affair. What are challenges in implementing such programs, I ask. “For companies, defining the Challenge can be a challenge in itself. Clients identify an issue they want to work on. Once we start working with the larger team, we sometimes realize that the real cause of the issue is entirely different. In that situation it can be difficult being open to solutions since leadership has a pre-conception of what the solution should look like when, in fact, the teams on the ground have a different sense of how to approach the issue. We do a lot of mediation.”


Outside Inc.’s 4-phase Intrapreneurship process

So there it is, one of the core challenges of intrapreneurship – allowing mindsets to shift to create something new and innovative in an existing context – from coming up with new approaches to implementing them, and all the change that comes with it. It sounds like a painful process for the intrapreneurs and I believe the challenge for facilitators like Outside Inc. lies in managing all stakeholders while staying true to their social mission and creating innovation.

Social Intrapreneurship: shifting mindsets to create something new in an existing context Click To Tweet

At the same time, I imagine it to be an exciting process seeing old patterns and beliefs broken. Once Isabelle and her team have their first client testimonials, they will probably have to go through a few cycles of evaluation and testing to see how this mindset-shift can be facilitated and become less painful for the parties involved.

Even though intrapreneurship is not for every company and every product/service, I believe it is heavily under-utilized. I have come across similar approaches to enabling social innovation within companies left and right. I am curious to see how enablers such as Outside Inc. stay true to their social mission when working with corporates, and how sustainable this innovation is once the enabler has gone home.



Guest blog: Wouter Kersten

wouter kersten

 Wouter Kersten

The Importance of Relevance

Roughly from the start of this century, there has been a proliferation of statements regarding the inefficiency of charity-based aid and development programmes. For the purpose of this blog I do not want to go into the discussion whether that is an absolute truth nor whether it is a law of nature that charity-based programmes are inefficient. What we can safely say is that initiatives that solely rely on charity (donations and subsidies) make themselves vulnerable: their inflow of funding may dry up anytime, also before they have achieved their goals.

Where social entrepreneurship comes in

This is where social entrepreneurship makes its entrance. By and large social entrepreneurs aim to achieve a social impact but with an autonomous earnings model. What they provide constitutes value and they have found a way to capture that value financially, paid for by their direct beneficiaries (end-users) perhaps topped with ‘sales’ to interested 3rd parties.
While the volume of their revenue streams depends on how well they perform their activities, there is a certain need to pay attention to the cost side, i.e., to “efficiency”, especially because the revenue streams are likely to be less voluminous than companies who put ‘just another product’ in the market. Once again, whether charities do not pay this attention is beyond the scope of this article. My concern are the social entrepreneurs: how well are they able to manage the mix of achieving impact (being relevant), attracting revenues (being financially autonomous) and working in a sufficiently efficient way (managing the cost side)?

Mixing it up, in a good way

A social enterprise basically has to combine three mindsets: the entrepreneurial mindset takes care of financially capturing the value that is created (the revenue streams), the social mindset takes care of the creation of impact (relevance), and the manager mindset takes care of the efficiency. In my opinion, one of the biggest pitfalls is that the management mindset gradually takes over. The entrepreneurial mind-set will have to satisfy “social investors” since they are still investors and thus want to see a financial return. The social mindset will have to make sure that the activities achieve impact, i.e., that the enterprise stays relevant. So where does this leave the management mindset and how much will it be influenced by all the talk about efficiency?

One of the biggest pitfalls is that the management mindset takes over. Click To Tweet

This is my assertion: if due to whatever reason the management mindset takes over and pushes the efficiency considerations too high on the agenda, there is a serious risk that the social mindset will suffer. This means the creation of actual impact, and therefore relevance will decrease and obviously in due time this will erode the revenue streams.

Achieving the virtuous circle

What can we conclude, if anything? I think two things: more so than in regular companies, social entrepreneurs need to be the ultimate business cooks. If the statement is true that the majority of entrepreneurs that start a company are in it for reasons of purpose, changing the world etc., then this prospect should attract them: their challenge and therefore achievement will be more impressive. Secondly, a regular ‘check back’ is required to make sure that the three pillars are in check, or even better push each other upwards in a virtuous circle: achieving more impact equals increasing revenue streams providing opportunity to create (scale and other) efficiencies that make sense. If the emphasis and order is reversed, I worry whether the circle will not become vicious.

Don’t kill your chicken

It’s a variant of the ancient chicken-egg question. To use that analogy, the egg needs time to be hatched to its full potential, and replacing the chicken with cheaper artificial heat sources is not the solution. Just going for the egg gives you focus but you lose the broader picture. In short: social entrepreneurs, don’t kill your chickens.