Scaling impact abroad: An analysis and framework of competences for social enterprise internationalisation

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The last years have seen a rapid increase in the number of social enterprises across the world, introducing a broad range of innovations to different industries. Recent estimates suggest that globally, already between 12.6% and 29.6% of enterprises are started with a social, community or environmental goal as a primary organisational purpose (Bosma et al., 2016). These social enterprises combine dual social and economic objectives at their very core (Mair & Martí, 2006). They address diverse social and ecological problems and seek to provide innovative solutions to today’s most pressing challenges – such as social exclusion, poverty, or food insecurity (Dacin et al., 2010). Despite their potential to tackle social problems on a global level, many social enterprises do not scale beyond their reach beyond local markets, often due to a lack of skills and competences for successful internationalisation (Desa & Koch, 2014). While prior research has provided helpful insights into the motives, processes and support mechanisms of social entrepreneurial internationalisation, the concrete individual and organisational competences required to undertake these processes have received little attention (Maritz & Brown, 2013).Against this background, this report aims to address this gap and to contribute to a better understanding of social enterprise internationalisation by shedding light on the challenges, competences, and potential competence gaps that impede social entrepreneurs from scaling their impact across the borders of their home markets. The authors thereby seek to contribute to the budding academic debate about social entrepreneurship internationalisation as well as provide a framework for social entrepreneurs, vocational education and training providers (VET) and the social entrepreneurship ecosystem to better support such internationalisation endeavours.
This report is structured into four main parts. In the first section of this report, we provide an extensive review of the existing literature on social entrepreneurial internationalisation. Drawing on academic research, practitioner literature and European research project results, the first section of this report features a literature-based competence framework for internationalising social entrepreneurs.
In the second part of this study, we outline the results from a quantitative analysis of a unique dataset of 579 social entrepreneurs from Europe, North America, Latin America, Asia and Africa. The quantitative study was conducted with the objective of identifying specific support needs among internationalising social entrepreneurs. Moreover, the study compared internationalising social entrepreneurs and 1) non-internationalising social entrepreneurs as well as 2) internationalising commercial entrepreneurs. Further, we illustrate the nuances in support needs arising from different scaling strategies, as well as differences between groups (i.e. field of activity, prior knowledge and demographics, networks, and geography). The results provide first insights into unique skill gaps among internationalising social entrepreneurs, with particular needs for support in areas such as “building visibility and credibility” in the target country as well as its ecosystem, “feeling part of a larger community and network”, “finding and keeping good talent and staff” and “accessing new clients and beneficiaries”.The third section of the report features eight selected case vignettes on internationalising social enterprises – namely those of Wiener Tafel, ColaLife, Bean Voyage, Plasticpreneur, discovering hands, atempo, Husk Power Systems and iziBac. Overall, our interview partners’ organisations are based in six countries and internationalised to target countries on five different continents. In the course of the qualitative interviews, our informants reflected on their journey to internationalisation, the challenges they faced throughout the process, and the competences that were critical for scaling. Our findings suggest that internationalising social entrepreneurs face a myriad of new questions associated with working in a different country, reaching from language, social and legal differences to explicit and implicit cultural differences.
Building on the previous sections, we lastly integrate our findings from both empirical studies with our previously designed literature framework. By building an integrated competence framework for internationalising social entrepreneurs, we show that competence needs for social entrepreneurs are manifold. More precisely, we identify 19 competences along the lines of seven areas: 1) international opportunity identification, 2) diagnostic and strategic competence, 3) financial and business management,4) human resource management and leadership, 5) marketing and communication, 6) intercultural competence, and 7) network management and advocacy.
Taken together, these findings underline the need to provide targeted support for internationalising social entrepreneurs. Support provision needs to be tailored to the respective scaling strategy chosen by the entrepreneurs, as well as to the challenges that arise from the fact that they scale impact and not merely commercial operations. Building on the scientific insights derived from this report, this framework will serve as a basis for the design of vocational education and training curricula serving social entrepreneurs across Europe.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationVienna
PublisherWU Vienna
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021

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