By examining the emerging cohort of social entrepreneurs in Europe, it becomes apparent that a transformation is occurring. Rather than engaging in “heropreneurship” – the approach of solving problems for beneficiaries – entrepreneurs are now focused on empowering those most impacted by a problem to develop their own solutions.
Social impact is no longer characterized by hierarchical decision-making, but instead requires substantial and quantifiable involvement from those who are affected by the problem. These shifts are evident in the endeavours of Ashoka’s most recent social innovators in Europe, who are spearheading efforts in diverse areas such as technology, human rights, and climate justice.
Notable Shifts in Social Entrepreneurship
Ashoka is a social entrepreneurship network that operates worldwide, consisting of over 3,700 innovators who tackle today’s most pressing challenges in 90 countries.
Each year, Ashoka extends invitations to at least 100 fresh innovators to join its network. During the past two years, we have scrutinized the approaches utilized by over 50 newly inducted European innovators to inspire their beneficiaries to become agents of change.
The following are three methods being used to achieve this objective:
- Introducing novel responsibilities
One approach that social entrepreneurs are adopting to galvanize their communities is by granting them new responsibilities as solvers of issues. To achieve this, they frequently offer training and resources that enable them to effectively confront the problems they encounter.
For example, in Germany, Mimoun Berrissoun is enlisting young migrants who are eager to create a positive impact. He educates them on how to organize activities that address pressing problems in their communities and coordinates their efforts to establish their own initiatives.
These young people are assuming new responsibilities as solvers of issues and intermediaries between their communities and those in positions of authority. Berrissoun’s organization, 180 Grad Wende, has already reached more than 100,000 individuals and provided direct support to over 350 youth.
Access to resources also plays a pivotal role. Leaders like Isidora Randjelović, who is based in Germany, are striving to equip their own communities with the necessary tools and mentorship to take charge. Through her organization RomaniPhen, Randjelović is training educators and other professionals to support Romani and Sinti women as teachers of their own history, creating a feminist movement of Romani women throughout Europe. As a Roma herself, Randjelović serves as an example of the effectiveness of leaders who are part of a community most affected by a problem.
Most significantly, all of these innovators are working to raise awareness among the communities they serve about their ability to address problems and bring about change. By restoring agency to historically marginalized groups, they are creating new pathways for leadership and making an impact.
- Establishing Collaborative Environments
Social entrepreneurs also function as architects of societal change, creating new spaces for changemakers to collaborate, learn from one another, and co-create solutions.
Tessy Britton is an example of one such innovator. In the UK, she fosters a sense of community in neighborhoods by making it easy for residents to engage in local projects that are hands-on and carried out in communal spaces, such as community meals and tree planting.
These spaces are deliberately designed to inspire neighbors to envision change and work on projects together. Through her initiative, Every One Every Day, neighbors have created 21,000 new opportunities for participation in just one year and have reported an increase in trust among fellow community members.
Others adopt collaborative approaches to address social isolation, ensuring that the communities they work with feel supported and psychologically secure. For example, Jimmy Westerheim’s project, The Human Aspect, is a digital record of the real-life experiences of individuals grappling with mental health challenges, enabling people to see and connect with others who are undergoing similar struggles.
Jimmy Westerheim is providing a platform where individuals who have suffered from mental health issues can feel acknowledged, empathized with, and included in a community, simply by redefining struggle as an integral aspect of the human experience. These are all vital components of nurturing environments that promote changemaking.
In a similar vein, Hera Hussain, a leader based in the UK, is cultivating a culture of support through her online forum Chayn, a platform that connects victims of gender-based violence with curated resources and assistance to help them recognize and cope with abuse.
Chayn, created by survivors for survivors, highlights the significance of empowering beneficiaries as co-leaders and the potential impact of individuals who have experienced an issue collaborating to devise solutions.
- Empowering Community Members as Changemakers
Above all, social entrepreneurs are striving to encourage their communities to adopt new identities centered on being changemakers. They shift perspectives to view differences as assets and inspire a change in mindset about what community members can accomplish.
For example, in Poland, Ewa Furgał established Girls on the Spectrum (Dziewczyny w spektrum), a self-advocacy and peer support space for women, non-binary, and queer individuals on the autism spectrum.
Furgał is committed to creating a world where neurodiversity can thrive and where those on the spectrum can envision a bright future and view themselves as contributors rather than solely as beneficiaries or individuals in need of assistance.
Projects such as The 4Front Project, led by Temi Mwale, are providing opportunities for community healing by social entrepreneurs. The initiative aims to amplify the stories of those who have suffered from violence and trauma as a result of systemic racism. By engaging with survivors, The 4Front Project empowers them to view themselves as agents of change capable of influencing others, which in turn generates further transformation within their community. As an example, members of The 4Front Project have partnered with a local council to reform police responses during crisis situations involving bystanders, and have also collaborated with two law firms to help judges understand the lasting effects of trauma caused by systemic racism on victims when making legal decisions.
Social entrepreneurship in Europe is undergoing a transformation, with a shift from the traditional approach of solving problems for beneficiaries to empowering them to develop their own solutions. The innovative approaches being used by social entrepreneurs are centered on empowering communities, creating collaborative environments, and fostering a sense of agency among marginalized groups. By shifting perspectives and restoring agency to historically excluded communities, social entrepreneurs are making a significant impact on society. As a result, social entrepreneurship is emerging as a powerful force for positive change in Europe, paving the way for a more inclusive and equitable future.
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