Social Entrepreneurship in an Eastern European Landscape
Social entrepreneurship initiatives are defined by Megre, Martins, and Salvado (2012, p. 99) as ‘having an innovative approach to solve societal problems, a clear social mission, sustainable, potential for replication and capacity to produce impact at large scale.’ Social enterprises are economic activities that employ
G. Els (*)
© Springer International Publishing AG 2017
P.J. Sheldon, R. Daniele (eds.), Social Entrepreneurship and Tourism, Tourism on the Verge, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-46518-0_15
sustainable, efficient methods to encapsulate the local knowledge and traditions and yield net benefits to the communities where they operate (Marsden, 2012). A social enterprise represents a hybrid organisation as its bottom line is both non-profit (charity) and for profit (business) activities. The idea is also emphasised and strengthened by Holt and Littlewood (2015) who recognise the two main particularities of a social enterprise—firstly, incorporating both non-profit and for-profit business models and secondly, maintaining and prioritising the core values of the social/ environmental ambition over the economic benefits.
There are obvious tensions between the drives of ‘achieving profitability’ and giving priority to social aims or benefits. Ebrahim, Battilana, and Mair (2014) discuss the risk of mission drift by asking the question of whether a social enterprise which combines social and commercial core activities could drift away from the social mission by prioritising the financial one. Here, undoubtedly the founder has a crucial determining role as the ‘unreasonable’ person who envisioned a way of changing the world and who keeps the enterprise true to its original mission or purpose. But laudable and praiseworthy as social aims may be, the enterprise remains a business which will only survive if it has a logic and rationale in financial and monetary terms. Just as a social enterprise may ‘drift’ into becoming driven by profit, it can just as easily become overly focused on its social mission and lose sight of the economic imperatives of covering costs and accumulating capital.
One way of helping maintain this balance of the economic and social imperatives is through a means of support for the social entrepreneur and their social business which helps maintain focus on social goals whilst facilitating the development of the businesses economic base. Social businesses which are part of an ‘ecosystem’ of other businesses and support structures may find it easier to survive and prosper whilst maintaining their social values. A social enterprise ecosystem may be conceptualised as a system of nodes and connections with set poles of business components and shared social values (Ebrahim et al., 2014; Grassl, 2012; Kenter et al., 2015).
The nodes of an ‘eco-system’ are typically the various organisations involved in the creation, survival, growth and regulation of a social enterprise and thus include state, social and business actors. The nodes have various degrees of importance to the enterprise that lies at the heart of the ecosystem and the characterisation of this ecosystem is usually taken from the perspective of the enterprise under discussion. The connections between nodes may represent all of the forces and influences that act, both positively and negatively, on the social enterprise and derive from the actions of the other nodes. For example, the local government may act on the social enterprise both in a regulatory role, for example in the provision of permits and legal requirements, and in a sustaining role by providing grants or income and this typically would be shown in an ecosystem map as a large node with a significant connecting line. The key nodes in this case of ‘Rowmania’ are the local community, the owners and partners, the local authority and business partners such as the providers of accommodation, food services and guides.
Under the European umbrella, social enterprises are grounded in the social economy (third sector) and combine aspects of both NGOs and traditional cooperatives by generating income through innovation and enterprise involvement of program beneficiaries (Defourny, 2009; Hoogendoorn, Pennings, & Thurik, 2010). Defourny (2009) placed social enterprises as the heart of the third sector as they activate, network and transfer by linking the three pillars: formal entities (institutions and authorities), more informal institutions (family or personal) and the market.
In Romania, social enterprises are still in the development stage not only because of legal restrictions during the communist regime (Orhei, Vinke, & Nandram, 2014), but also because of an era of absolute restriction during which people’s ideas were constrained and the emergence of entrepreneurial activity was treated negatively. The State was the only source of legitimate social and economic activity so entrepreneurs found no fertile ground for their actions. Now mentalities are changing, but there is still the perception that NGOs and similar ‘non-business’ organisations may have started commercial companies to obtain tax advantages and that the social purpose is convenient cover for financial advantage (Orhei et al., 2014).
Thus in Romania, the ground may not appear to be very fertile in terms of culture or understanding for the creation of a social enterprise, yet such organisations have been formed and have proved successful. Examination of an organisation which has shown that it can meld social and business objectives together effectively in Romania allows investigators to determine what were the success factors that facilitated this achievement and the prime factor appears to be the existence of a supporting social enterprise ‘eco-system’. The case study explores and aims to demonstrate how a single social enterprise activity can identify and feed an ecosystem of social ventures operating jointly in the relatively remote region of Danube Delta, Romania.