This paper focuses on the specifics of the relationships between social entrepreneurs and local civil servants and politicians in The Netherlands. Policy frameworks for social enterprises (SE) are relatively underdeveloped here, as the central government took little initiative in policy development, and a legal definition for SE is lacking. This poses problems, but it also opens up possibilities to develop dialogue between local government and social entrepreneurs “bottom-up”. Both parties’ views of each other are explored, a practical tool to open dialogue is introduced and eight examples of collaboration are discussed.
Through the collected experiences at local and regional levels, policy makers at the national level now also increasingly recognize the importance of SEs in the Dutch economy, and realize that the lack of national policy and legal frameworks has proven limiting and increased vulnerability of the sector. For the coming years, there are signs that policy support for SEs will become more structured and national policy action is likely.
- Social enterprise
- Local government
- Policy frameworks
Funding details: no external funding was used to conduct this study
While local authorities are seen as “pivotal actors in the development of a supportive social enterprise ecosystem” (European Commission 2015), little research has been done on the relationships between social entrepreneurs and local civil servants and politicians. This paper focuses on the specifics of these relationships in The Netherlands. Policy frameworks for social enterprises (SE) are relatively underdeveloped here, as the central government has taken little initiative in policy development so far, and a legal definition for SE is lacking. In a recent report, accountancy firm PwC concluded that “one of the most salient features of the social enterprise sector in the Netherlands is that it has been built from the bottom up” (PwC 2018: 27). The consequences of this bottom up development can be interpreted in different ways. The PwC researchers concluded that “almost all stakeholders we interviewed cited this as a success factor” (ibid). However, the lack of policy frameworks also poses problems, as social enterprises cite “government regulations” as their main obstacle for increasing impact.
In any case, the bottom-up development of the sector opens up specific possibilities to develop dialogue between social entrepreneurs and local government.
This paper consists of five sections. In the next section, literature on the relation between social enterprises and local government is explored. Then, the policy context for social enterprises in the Netherlands is described. In the fourth and main section of this paper, the process of developing dialogue between social enterprises and local government is central. First, the views on each other’s positions are explored, then a framework for developing dialogue is introduced and examples of successful dialogue are introduced. This section ends with a description of very recent policy developments, now also at the national level. In the fifth and final section, conclusions are drawn and implications discussed.
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