Diversity of Social Enterprise Models in South Korea


In this paper, we analyse the emergence and development of social enterprise in South Korea. Our purpose is to show how different broad, consensual and successive conceptions of social enterprise—the so-called meta-models—have generated a dynamic and complex environment which includes a variety of models of social enterprise. Based on multiple data sources, including interviews, documents, statistics and field research, we illustrate the diversity of Korean social enterprise models by using the EMES ideal-type as a conceptual framework that leads us to analyse the social, economic and governance dimensions of each type of social enterprise. This research suggests that the social enterprise phenomenon should not be limited to its expressed contents or to an excessively strict legal or economic definition. It eventually contributes to advancing our understanding on social enterprise by showing that the definitions and concepts of social enterprise can be diverse across different social, economic and political contexts. For this reason, building a universal typology that can embrace social enterprises in different national contexts is by far a challenging task.

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    More than 40 interviews were conducted between 2012 and 2015 in several cities: Seoul, Chuncheon, Wonju, Gwangju and Cheonan. In Seoul, they included supporting organisations like the Seoul Social Economy Center, the Korea Foundation for Social Investment, the Social Enterprise Promotion Agency, the Work Together Foundation, the City of Seoul, the Cooperative Research Center, the Sungmisan Community, the Hansalim Research Center, the Consumers Cooperative National Federation, the Korea Microcredit Joyful Union, the Social Solidarity Bank, Ashoka Korea and Beautiful Store. In other cities, they included umbrella or public organisations (like Local Social Economy/Social Enterprise Networks or Centers) and specific local social enterprises in various areas, such as work integration, handicap, migrants, eco-environment, local food, housing. Each interview lasted 1–2 h and followed or was inspired by the four main sets of questions of the ICSEM questionnaire: general identity of the surveyed organisation (history, legal form, composition of workforce); type of production and mission [definition of the social aim, main services provided, characteristics of targeted group(s)]; governance and ownership structure (autonomy, decision-making process, voting rights distribution); financial data (main revenues and their evolution, public supports, financial results, profit allocation, importance of non-monetary resources). In some cases, interviews also included supplementary questions about the interviewee’s future view for his/her organisation.


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Correspondence to Eric Bidet.

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Appendix 1: Korean Social Enterprises: Radar Presentation

Appendix 1: Korean Social Enterprises: Radar Presentation

Radar 1: Initiatives for employment of the elderly (total score = 33)


Radar 2: Community business (total score = 34)


Radar 3: Community enterprise in rural areas (total score = 34)


Radar 4a: Vocational rehabilitation facilities (total score = 36)


Radar 4b: Standard workshops (total score = 31)


Radar 5: Medical cooperatives (total score = 44)


Radar 6a: Self-sufficiency initiatives for socially disadvantaged people homeless, sex victims (total score = 38)


Radar 6b: Self-sufficiency initiatives for socially disadvantaged people-NK migrants (total score = 36)


Radar 7: Social ventures for the youth (total score = 26)


Radar 8: Newly merging models of SE (total score = 35)


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Bidet, E., Eum, H. & Ryu, J. Diversity of Social Enterprise Models in South Korea. Voluntas 29, 1261–1273 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11266-018-9951-8

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  • Social enterprise
  • South Korea
  • Typology
  • Cooperatives
  • Self-sufficiency