The head of social enterprises in Belgium tend to be male, above 40, and highly educated, at least according to Oksigen Lab, an incubator and research lab for social entrepreneurship based in Brussels.
Oksigen conducted interviews with 78 Belgian social entrepreneurs last year, wanting to provide a comprehensive picture of social enterprise in the country for relevant stakeholders. They call some of their findings myth-busting and insightful, and although the Belgian landscape is fluid, their research tries to “create space for radical thinking about the future of social innovation and entrepreneurship in Belgium”.
Here are their findings to whet the appetite:
1. Social enterprises solve more than unemployment troubles
It has become a priority in Europe to tackle unemployment in the region. The European Commission is actively trying to move unemployed people into work, move underemployed people into the right work, increase the number of self-employed people, and increase the employment of disadvantaged and marginalized groups.
So unsurprisingly, a large number of social enterprises in Belgium are active in work integration. But Oksigen points out that half of work integration social enterprises they surveyed also address problems in another area such as the environment or provision of a social service that is absent (e.g. transportation for seniors).
2. Social enterprises are very market-oriented
The majority (63 percent) of respondents self-generated over 50 percent of their revenues through fees or sales. Oksigen describes their interviewees as “very entrepreneurial” in the way they create societal value. Even though only 15 percent are fully self-financed and an average of 40 percent of total revenues comes from grant funding, the research found that there is a strong desire to move away from subsidies, generate more revenue, open new markets, and launch new services.
3. The average age of social enterprises in Belgium is 20.7 years
Contrary to the popular belief that social enterprise is a nascent field, the research found that the average age of social enterprises in Belgium is just over 20 years old. They are not small either. Forty-three percent of respondents have between 10 to 49 employees and 18 percent each have between 50 to 250 and over 250 employees. Lampiris, a green energy company, has 200 employees and De Wase Werkplaats, a packaging and environmental management company, has 720 employees of which 500 have a disability.
4. Social enterprises have a smaller gender and income gap
Just like in corporate America, males tend to lead social enterprises. But there are a few differences between regular business and social enterprise. According to the research, the gender gap and the established salary spread in social enterprise is smaller than in mainstream business. The management practice in social enterprise is one of involvement and consultation with co-workers rather than top-down decision making, which aligns with the values and social ambitions of the organization.
5. Social enterprises are very regional-focused
Fifty-eight percent of social enterprises surveyed operate at the regional level in Flanders, Wallonia, or Brussels, and 37 percent founded their organizations to provide a product or service that was lacking in their region. They aspire to grow nationally or internationally, but do cite administrative complexity and lack of network to identify the right partners as barriers to scale. Still, they are motivated to overcome these barriers, perhaps because many see themselves as having a strong foothold in their market – 60 percent of respondents do not expect new entrants, which is “high”. Those who see future competitors say that 50 percent are expected to be pure-profit organizations and 30 percent are expected to be other social enterprises.
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