Guidance note: Skills & Business Development Support

Overview: what skills and business development support do social enterprises need?

This policy guidance note describes different ways and approaches to strengthen the skills and business development support provided to social entrepreneurs and social enterprises. It is structured around good practice statements included in the action area “Skills and Business Development Support” in the Social Entrepreneurship component of the Better Entrepreneurship Policy Tool developed by the OECD Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs, Regions and Cities and the Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion of the European Commission:

Access to skills and business development support has been identified as a key policy lever in building a conducive ecosystem for social enterprises by the OECD and the European Commission’s Expert Group on Social Entrepreneurship (GECES). Just like traditional enterprises, social enterprises might not have all the necessary expertise and capacities in-house to operate and develop in a sustainable way. Therefore, they would benefit from training, mentoring, consulting, business development support throughout their stages of development. While support for social enterprises is increasingly offered in many places, it still needs to be further developed in order to help social enterprises to professionalize and scale their impact.

When developing capacity and business development support for social enterprises, it is important that such support is:

  • Accessible: the appropriate variety of support services should be provided, in both urban and rural areas.
  • Adapted: because social enterprises seek to combine financial sustainability with maximizing social impact, they require tailored support, addressing both business management skills and skills specific to the needs of social enterprises, such as innovative business modeling, social impact measurement and hybrid funding strategies.
  • Affordable: social enterprises might not easily afford to pay for support services. Therefore, smart pricing mechanisms, subsidized costs and third-party financing may be required.

Dedicated support structures, such as hubs, accelerators, or incubators, which provide training opportunities, coaching, consultancy services, office space and/or networking opportunities are essential to ensure the sustainable development of social enterprises. Such structures should tailor the support offered to the specific needs and development stages of the social enterprises and seek to be well-connected with their peers as well as the larger business support ecosystem (academia and research institutes, funders, public entities, commercial partners, etc.). This will not only serve the social enterprises they support - it will also help to promote the concept of social entrepreneurship in other sectors and foster cross-sector collaboration. Public and private actors both have a crucial role to play in developing and funding such support programs.


Policy levers for skills and business development support:

  • Map the existing ecosystem of support for social enterprises in order to identify unmet needs.
  • Leverage public funding instruments to support the creation of targeted support structures and highquality programmes.
  • Promote the sustainability of support structures and programs, and incentivise their use.
  • Foster synergies and complementarities between support structures for social enterprises to avoid duplication and inefficiencies.
  • Encourage cross-sector collaboration on social innovation and entrepreneurship (for example, partnerships between social enterprises and traditional enterprises).
  • Design and implement strategies fostering entrepreneurship education that seek to develop students’ ability to recognise and act upon opportunities to create social value.
  • Ensure that the support is of high quality and delivers the expected results, through evidence-based research and impact assessment.


Pitfalls to avoid

  • Do not provide support in a way that is unbalanced in terms of geographical coverage, for example by focusing only or predominantly on urban areas.
  • Avoid providing fragmented or isolated support.
  • Bear in mind that short-term project-based support may not be sustainable in the long run.


Guidance per assessment statement

6.1. Dedicated training initiatives are available to social enterprises.

We invite you to consider whether in your territory there are training initiatives that contribute to improved skills necessary for developing a social enterprise. We also ask you to examine whether the available training corresponds to the different development stages of a social enterprise from start-up to scale-up.


Why is it important?

Developing a social enterprise requires a diverse set of skills, including both “traditional” business skills (e.g. business development and management, human resources, financial management, governance, etc.) and specific skills related to setting up and running a social enterprise (e.g. social problem analysis, social impact management, measurement and reporting, and stakeholder management). It is therefore essential to provide appropriate training to help social enterprises, as well as future social entrepreneurs, build their generic and specific skills and competencies. Training can be provided online or offline, on an individual or collective basis, and through a series of modules or an intensive training period (e.g. a week-long boot camp). Public bodies should consider how to promote and (co-)finance appropriate training initiatives in their territories.


In order to score high, in your context:

  • Dedicated training is available about key issues, such as business skills, social impact measurement, management and social skills.
  • The training is tailored to the stage of development and maturity of the social enterprises.


Good practice example

Social Enterprise Academy (Scotland)

Co-founded in 2004 by the Scottish Government, the Social Enterprise Academy is a social enterprise and charity offering a broad range of learning and development programs for individuals and organizations enabling social change. Their tutor network is spread across Scotland, enabling them to deliver programmes in communities everywhere. The majority of Academy programmes are developed in partnership with networks, community organisations and other support bodies, allowing tailored programmes adapted to meet specific local needs. Over 10,000 learners have benefited from the Academy’s programmes, 92% of which changed their behavior based on their learnings. 99% of learners would further recommend the program to a friend. The model is currently being replicated globally through a network of Social Enterprise Academy Hubs, managed by local partners embedded in their community and support ecosystem.

6.2. Social enterprises have access to coaching and mentoring programmes.

We invite you to assess the affordability of tailored coaching and mentoring programmes, which can be online or off-line, short-term or long-term, and provided in groups or one-to-one. In addition, we ask you to examine whether there is a mechanism in place that can ensure a “good fit” between coaches and mentors, who can be experienced social enterprise leaders, professionals from the commercial sector or subject-matter experts, and social entrepreneurs.


Why is it important?

Access to tailored coaching and mentoring programmes can help social enterprises in many ways: it can build their internal capacity and skills, make them benefit from an external perspective on their personal and enterprise development, and allow them to access new networks and contacts. Coaches or mentors can be experienced social enterprise leaders, professionals from the commercial sector or subject-matter experts. Often what is needed is someone asking the right challenging questions, just as much as someone to provide answers. Such programmes can take various forms: online or offline, one-to-one or group sessions, short-term or longer-term support. While group sessions allow for peer learning and sharing of experiences, one-to-one programmes, albeit often more resource-intensive, can provide more personalised and in-depth support.


In order to score high, in your context:

  • Coaching and mentoring programmes are affordable.
  • Coaches and mentors receive training in providing support to social entrepreneurs.
  • There is a matching mechanism to ensure that there is a “good fit” between the social entrepreneur and their coach and/or mentor.


Good practice example

Alter’Incub (France)

Alter’Incub was the first regional incubator dedicated to social enterprises in France. It was launched in 2007 by the Regional Union of Co-operative Companies of Languedoc-Roussillon (URScop-LR), in partnership with the Regional Council of Languedoc-Roussillon. Alter’Incub supports entrepreneurial teams in developing innovative and economically viable ideas that will result in the creation of social enterprises by the end of the incubation period. The overall Alter’Incub process lasts 15 months.

The Alter’Incub incubation package includes:

  • Individual support: helping entrepreneurs with networking, market studies, financial and business planning, choice of legal status and management.
  • Collective support: collective training sessions leading to positive group dynamics; better communication between project initiators; strategic, marketing and management skills; and understanding of what being an entrepreneur means.
  • External support: mobilising partnerships with local experts to meet the needs of innovative projects in particular, when entrepreneurs need specific resources (e.g. specific legal advice, detailed market studies) that would not be available otherwise.

For more information, please see Alter’Incub (France)

6.3. Business development support structures are available to social enterprises.

We invite you to assess the degree to which there is appropriate business development support to social enterprises in your context. In addition, you can examine whether the existence of dedicated incubators or hubs is promoted in your territory and whether the degree of the provided support is sufficient to cover the needs of social enterprises.


Why is it important?

Dedicated support structures usually provide a range of services to help establish or scale-up social enterprises, such as co-working spaces, training, coaching, consulting services, networking and funding. These services are often combined with specific programmes offered to social enterprises. Most support structures focus on young social enterprises (‘start-up-ers’), while fewer target social enterprises seeking to grow their organization and/or their impact (‘scalers’). Dedicated support structures should ideally establish strong links with other stakeholders, such as private companies and public bodies, as a means not only to help social enterprises scale their impact, but also to enable multistakeholder collaboration. It is also important that the existence of dedicated support structures is adequately communicated through various channels in order for the social entrepreneurs (existing and aspiring) to find them.


In order to score high, in your context:

  • General business development support structures provide integrated support to social enterprises.
  • Dedicated incubators and hubs are available to help social enterprises to be established and grow.
  • Dedicated incubators and hubs are promoted through various channels.
  • The scale of support meets the demand of social enterprises.


Good practice examples


Oksigen Ecosystem (Belgium)

Oksigen is a Belgian support ecosystem for social entrepreneurship, comprised of different organizations covering the range of stakeholders needed to support social enterprises and trigger social change. Oksigen Lab provides tailored coaching and advisory services to social enterprises and leads research projects on social entrepreneurship together with like-minded international organisations. As part of this ecosystem, SI2 Fund - an impact investment fund - provides finance to social enterprises in order to grow their business model and impact. Another actor is i-propeller, which advises corporates and public actors on creating sustainable social impact, often in collaboration with social enterprises. The co-existence of these various activities and services under one roof creates strong synergies for social enterprises looking for skills and business development support and/or funding. Serving social enterprises, investors, as well as public and private actors also allows Oksigen to stimulate collaboration between these actors in order to collectively address social challenges.


Impact Hub Network (multiple countries)

Impact Hubs can be found in over 80 cities around the world, supporting over 15,000 members, with a shared focus on creating positive impact on society. Members benefit from office space and a diverse, global community which provides guidance, resources, and opportunities shared between all Impact Hubs.


Each Impact Hub provides three distinct elements of support:

  • A vibrant community of passionate and entrepreneurial people sharing an underlying intention to bring about positive change and act as peers, cross-fertilising and developing their ventures.
  • A source of inspiration providing meaningful content through thought-provoking events, innovation labs, learning spaces, incubation programs, and facilitated conversations.
  • A physical space that offers a flexible and highly functional infrastructure to work, meet, learn, and connect.
6.4. Networks support the development of social enterprises.

We ask you to consider the degree to which networks contribute to the development and growth of social enterprises. Are there any initiatives in your territory that support the creation of networks? If so, we ask you to assess the degree to which these networks provide a platform for social enterprises to meet, in person or online with their peers. Lastly, you can examine whether these networks spur knowledge sharing and connect social enterprises within and outside your territory and country.


Why is it important?

Developing a successful social enterprise is not an easy task. Networks for social enterprises can therefore fulfill various functions leading to increased sustainability of social enterprises. They can facilitate the sharing of experiences and learnings among peers, forge synergies and new opportunities for collaborations, mutualise or share resources, improve visibility and advocacy efforts, promote access new markets, and influence policy- making.


In order to score high, in your context:

  • There are initiatives that support the creation and development of networks.
  • Networks help social enterprises to connect with peers and develop transnationally, including through online platforms and face-to-face events.
  • Networks stimulate knowledge sharing.


Good practice examples

Social Enterprise NL (The Netherlands)

As a national membership body, Social Enterprise NL represents, connects and supports the growing community of social enterprises in the Netherlands. Since 2012, they support the social enterprise movement by:

  1. Providing support to its more than 300 members, including business support programs, programs for start-ups and networking events.

  2. Facilitating a favourable business environment by influencing government, public bodies, corporations and investors to break down barriers for social enterprises. For example, Their “Buy Social” campaign and online platform (in collaboration with The Impact Factory) promotes sustainable procurement by large corporations and governments.

  3. Inspiring social and entrepreneurial action by encouraging education on, and research about, social entrepreneurship. They help spread the word about social entrepreneurs and their enterprises.


Estonian Social Enterprise Network (Estonia)

Founded in 2012, the Estonian Social Enterprise Network is a civil society partner for the Ministry of Interior, helping to achieve the objectives of National Strategy for Civil Society 2015-2020. Their mission is to increase the number, capacity and societal impact of social enterprises in Estonia through advocacy, training, sales support and visibility. One of their programs, the “Changemakers Academy” brings together Estonian and Russian speaking youth to tackle the marketing challenges of social enterprises in their communities.