Social Enterprise: At the Crossroads of Market, Public Policies and Civil Society

Hervé Mesure (Rouen School of Management, Rouen, FranceE‐mail: Herve.Mesure@groupe‐esc‐

Society and Business Review

ISSN: 1746-5680

Article publication date: 20 June 2008



Mesure, H. (2008), "Social Enterprise: At the Crossroads of Market, Public Policies and Civil Society", Society and Business Review, Vol. 3 No. 2, pp. 173-175.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Marthe Nyssens is a major scholar in the third sector field. She is permanent Professor at the Department of Economics of the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, where she is the Co‐ordinator of a research team on third sector and social policies within the “Centre de Recherches Interdisciplinaires sur la Solidarité et l'Innovation Sociale”. She is a Member of the EMES that is an European research network about the social economy and the social enterprise.

The book is written by about 20 European scholars recognized as pioneers for their work on third sector research, non‐profit organizations and social policy. This book is about social enterprises that are the last avatar of “non standard” enterprises. The book is founded on the EMES multidimensional definition of the social enterprise proposed by the EMES. A social enterprise is therefore an organization or a project that must be: a continuous activity producing and selling goods and/or services, have a high degree of autonomy; involve a significant level of economic risk, a minimum amount of paid work, have an explicit aim to benefit the community, be an initiative launched by a group of citizens, have a decision‐making power not based on capital ownership, be a participative organization which involves the various parties affected by its activity and involve limited profit distribution. Notice that this definition could be considered as the opposite of the neo‐capitalist enterprise. The social background of the social enterprise is the development of social exclusion in Europe.

This collective book focuses on work integration social enterprises (WISE) that are one kind of social enterprise. However, notice the first social enterprises were, in fact, “WISE”. The aim of the book is to develop a comparative European analysis within a multidisciplinary framework. It is based on a study of 160 social enterprises in 11 European countries whose characteristics is to bring a individual, local and concrete solutions to the question of long‐term unemployment and occupational inactivity of disadvantaged people in a labour market. While not a probability sample, the 160 social enterprises selected bring a complete image of the “WISEs” throughout Europe. The cases chosen include “WISEs” that offer occupational integration supported by government subsidies, those that provide permanent self‐subsidized employment to disadvantaged workers, those that integrate professionally handicapped people and those that offer transitional employment or traineeship.

The text is structured by 16 chapters settled in four parts. The introductory chapter “Defining social enterprise” is written by Marthe Jensens and Jacques Defourny. The first part (Chapters 2‐6) is dedicated to: “The governance of social enterprise”. The second part (Chapters 7‐10) is concerned by: “The balance of resources in social enterprise”. The third part (Chapters 8‐14) looks after: “The profiles and trajectories of workers in work integration social enterprise”. The two last chapters (15 and 16) are grouped in the part IV: “Public policies and social enterprise”. The whole chapters suggest at least four sets of considerations. Firstly, there is an essential commonality among the “alternative” enterprises forms (social enterprises, non‐profit organizations, etc.) that operate in the third sector. They all have to deal with the pursuit of multiple goals, face the involvement of multiple stakeholders, and manage with environmental pressures derived from government policy and marketplace. They also have to combine with multiple resources especially financial ones, and to accommodate themselves with the intrinsic instabilities of hybrid organizations that try to fit elements of business and social purposes. This consideration militates for the development of a “regional” theory of this kind of enterprises that transcends existing theories or studies essentially dedicated to such or such kind of “alternative” enterprise (for example non‐profit organizations). Secondly, the book suggests at least three key points for the management of the social enterprise: the importance of the legal form as well as to suit to the mission than to fit to the political and market constraints; the importance of policy environment as direct and indirect arbiter of resources; the capacity to innovate and to be conformed to the political, legal, and economic context. The management of such firms appears to be complex, fluid and paradoxal. Thirdly, the trajectories of disadvantaged workers can be viewed as a way to question the social effectiveness of these enterprises. Fourthly, the book rejoins the recurrent question about the third sector: is any form of specific enterprises can exist between market and state?

This collective book delivers on its promise to present a widely illustrative picture of the social enterprise, especially WISE ones, in Europe. It applies a common framework to multiple, country‐based cases and combining intra with cross‐national analysis. Therefore, it brings a rich description of the varieties of WISEs and the (political) context in which they develop. Even if the theoretical contributions of this collective book should have been more substantial, it proposes a research agenda for the study of the social enterprise and, even, alternative forms of enterprises. Theoretically, the book is also less rooted in business and management studies than in other social science such as sociology. The structure of the book makes it suitable for a variety of audiences. It can be warmly recommended to those who are interested by the third sector whatever their motive (academicals or political) or their positions (students, scholars or politicians).

Related articles