Social Entrepreneurship Ecosystem in Austria

In 2013, the Vienna University of Economics & Business conducted a report which maps out the current state of the social entrepreneurship network in Austria. The study identified 237 initiatives in the country, and interviewed 105 of them. It reveals that in addition to these, the Austrian social entrepreneurship network also includes eight organisations supporting social entrepreneurship initiatives, one of which is Impact Hub Vienna. These organisations not only support and connect social initiatives but are also closely connected to one another and often organise common events or initiate common projects. 

The study reports that the most important areas of activity for the social enterprise initiatives in Austria are education, regional or local development projects, (re)integration in the labor market, projects in developing countries as well as those with a focus on environmental protection. Typical target groups include children and youth, sustainable consumers, people from developing countries, as well as the general public. The study further identifies their financial resources (average annual budget of 30,000 EUR), as well as the ways social enterprises differentiate themselves from NPOs through financial independence, legal form as well as the image of the social entrepreneur. 

The report concludes that the Austrian social enterprise network is heterogeneous in terms of both areas of activity and understanding of social entrepreneurship. 

Definition and Concepts 

There is no official definition of social enterprise in Austria. Traditionally, social enterprise has been largely understood as work integration social enterprises (WISE) either in the form of socio-economic enterprises (Sozialökonomische Betriebe or SÖBand non-profit employment projects / companies (Gemeinnützige Beschäftigungsprojekte / Gemeinnützige Beschäftigungsgesellschaften or GBP). New forms of social enterprise that offer market oriented services in support of a social mission are slowly emerging.  

Networks and Mutual Support Mechanisms 

There are two main networks in Austria, bdv austria (Bundesdachverband für soziale Unternehmen) and Sozialwirtschaft Österreich which represent WISEs and social services providers, respectively. Newer types of social enterprises do not have a comprehensive network representing them, although some umbrella networks do exist, at a global level e.g. Impact Hub, Ashoka and the ‘Architects of the Future’ 

Marks, Labels and Certification Systems  

There are no marks, labels or certification systems for social enterprises. There is however, a quality label or ‘seal of approval’ for WISE. bdv Austria has developed a label (called Gütesiegel für Soziale Unternehmen) to certify SÖBs and GBPs that consistently meet a certain quality level.  

Social Investment Markets 

In Austria, there are only a handful of specialist providers of finance specifically targeting social enterprises. A social investment market is however, slowly emerging. For the time being, social enterprises have to rely on the same sources of finance as mainstream enterprises. It is generally, difficult for social enterprises to find their way among the various sources of finance potentially available to them, knowing that each actor will have its own language and expectations about social enterprises. In parallel, on the supply side, providers of social finance find it hard to identify social enterprises meeting their specific investment requirements.  

Spectrum of Social Enterprise  

WISEs (SÖBs and GBPs) are the only institutionalised form of social enterprise in Austria. A vast majority of social enterprises operate under the radar, registering themselves as associations, limited liability companies (GmBHs)/ not-for-profit limited liability companies (gGmBHs). 

Scale and Characteristics  

The number of social enterprise is estimated to be between 200 (SÖBs and GBPs only) and 750 (source: European Commission report, 2016). The latter figure comprises associations with a social aim and commercial activities and private limited companies with a public benefit status (gGmbH).  

The primary mission of SÖBs and GBPs in Austria is to provide full work integration for disadvantaged people. Typically, they are active in sectors such as recycling / repairing / maintenance; catering / kitchen services; green space management; home services / cleaning etc. Other types of social enterprises engage in wider fields of activity, moving beyond work integration.  

Factors Constraining the Start-up and Development of Social Enterprise 

There is considerable interest in social enterprise. Support is available as part of wider business support programmes. The major constraint would appear to be the lack of investor interest in, and investment capital for, social enterprise.  

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