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Social Enterprise in the United States and Europe: Understanding and Learning from the Differences

Abstract

Since the 1980s both the United States and Europe have experienced a simultaneous expansion in social enterprise. However, little has been written comparing and contrasting American and European conceptions of social enterprise resulting in difficulty communicating on the topic and missed opportunities to learn and build on foreign experience. To address this need, this paper compares and contrasts American and European social enterprise through an extensive review of literature from the two regions and discussions with social enterprise researchers on both sides of the Atlantic. It outlines the definitions of social enterprise used by American and European academics and practitioners, identifies historical factors promoting and shaping different conceptions of social enterprise, and highlights the differing institutional and legal environments in which it operates. It concludes by identifying what Americans and Europeans can learn from each others’ experience with social enterprise.

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Notes

  1. For example, the Yale School of Management–The Goldman Sachs Foundation Partnership on Nonprofit Ventures and Seattle Social Enterprise Consultants.

  2. The EMES (The Emergence of Social Enterprise in Europe) Project, begun in 1996, conducts research on social enterprise in European Union countries with funds from the European Commission. It is the basis for the European EMES Network that annually holds international conferences on social enterprise in Trento, Italy.

  3. The total of the percentages for these three sources is more in 2002 than in 1982 because these sources were steadily increasing in real dollars while other revenues such as income from rent, investments, and assets remained relatively stable.

  4. Dennis Young, personal communication.

  5. See EMES web page for details: www.emes.net

  6. Social capital includes the social norms of trust, cooperation, and reciprocity that develop through positive citizen interaction and which undergirds the effective functioning of democracy and a market economy (see Backman & Smith, 2000; Salamon, 1997).

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Correspondence to Janelle A. Kerlin.

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An earlier version of this paper appeared as part of the ARNOVA Occasional Paper Series as “Social Enterprise in the United States and Abroad: Learning from Our Differences,” in R. Mosher-Williams (ed.), Research on Social Entrepreneurship, ARNOVA Occasional Paper Series 1(3), 2006.

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Kerlin, J.A. Social Enterprise in the United States and Europe: Understanding and Learning from the Differences. Voluntas 17, 246–262 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11266-006-9016-2

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