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 – 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


Netherlands Warm Up

Before heading to the Netherlands I came across a 2011 report by McKinsey & Co. “Opportunities for the Dutch Social Enterprise Sector“. It is four years old, the researchers analysed 700 social entrepreneurs, 100 of them in more detail – I figured this was as close as I was going to get to a country-specific report on the social enterprise sector.

Observation #1: Willemijn Verloop seems to be the person to know. Along with some introductions, another Social Venturer sent me an article about Social Enterprise in the Netherlands, featuring Willemijn Verloop. Co-author of this McKinsey report: Willemijn Verloop. Founder of two support organizations for social entrepreneurs in the Netherlands: Willemijn Verloop. The book “Social Enterprise Unraveled – Best practices from the Netherlands” that some interview partners recommended – written by: Willlemijn Verloop. I didn’t get to chance to meet her, tracking down this mastermind seems difficult. But if you read this, Willemijn, I’m waiting by the phone, coffee is on me!

Observation #2: The Dutch seem to have it together when it comes to being and working with social entrepreneurs. The report starts of with defining social enterprise as “a company with the primary goal to deliver social value in a financially sustainable and independent way”. Concise and without much lingo. I like it.

Dutch social enterprises: challenges and supporters

If you are one of the 4,000 – 5,000 social enterprises in the Netherlands, you are most likely active in sectors of biosystems, cleantech, economic development, civic engagement health and well-being, or education. Secondly, the challenges you are most likely to encounter are these:

  1. Developing business models – at the time only 42% of social enterprises under study were profitable
  2. Becoming a manager both internal and external: leading the company through a stage of scaling and growth, and in the process managing an increasing number of clients, data, and responsibilities
  3. Gaining access to venture capital
  4. Legislation
Challenges of Social Enterprises in the Netherlands, McKinsey, 2011, p.10

Challenges of Social Enterprises in the Netherlands, McKinsey, 2011, p.10

Let’s get to the juicy bits: The report has an entire chapter dedicated to support networks for social entrepreneurs internationally, and the Netherlands more specifically. Giving social venture support organizations concrete marching orders is great! If every country report ever written on social enterprise did that, I wouldn’t be doing this work. So, should you ever write a report for me, or with me, or about me, please include a chapter that talks about and to support organizations directly. Dankewell! For the Dutch sector the report lists four main types of support organizations:

  • coaches and education facilities
  • investors and match-makers
  • researchers, and
  • lobby organizations (to improve legislation)

The core of the report is a set of recommendations in which the authors call for

  • Promotion: awareness and visibility of the sector in the Netherlands
  • Education: gearing more talent towards the social enterprise sector
  • Support: management support in developing triple bottom line business models, coaching and access to relevant networks
  • Capital: access to seed and especially growth capital and matchmaking intermediaries
  • Guidelines: (inter)national standards for measuring both financial and social impact
  • Government recognition and support: for example in creating right conditions and opportunities for Social Enterprises to grow (e.g., supportive legislation)
Current Providers of Seed and Growth Capital in the Netherlands, McKinsey, 2011, p. 12

Current Providers of Seed and Growth Capital in the Netherlands, McKinsey, 2011, p. 12

To be fair, this was the first report of this kind that I have come across (point for the Dutch sector already), and with little material for comparison, I think it’s very concrete and direct. I was already looking forward to what I would find in the following week!