Founder of the Angkor Hub social enterprise Jeff Laflamme being interviewed by Dr Robin Biddulph in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Founder of the Angkor Hub social enterprise Jeff Laflamme being interviewed by Dr Robin Biddulph in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
Photo: Robin Biddulph

Social Enterprise in Scandinavia and Southeast Asia: new and different?

Research project
Active research
Project size
3 000 000
Project period
2015 - ongoing
Project owner
Unit for Human Geography, Department of Economy and Society

Short description

Social enterprises have been promoted as constituting a new sector with the potential to move beyond market failures and state failures in finding innovative ways to address social problems at scale. While social enterprise has many historical roots, much of the contemporary impetus has come from Anglo-American contexts, in particular the private and voluntary sector actors in the US and public sector reform initiatives in the UK. Our project is part of an emerging research field that investigates social enterprise development beyond those Anglo-American roots. It studies social enterprises in Scandinavian and Southeast Asian settings, inquiring into whether social enterprises are distinctively different in these settings, and whether they show signs of being effective in finding new ways to deliver substantial social benefits.

Since the founding of Ashoka in 1980, social enterprises have been vigorously promoted around the world. Proponents see social entrepreneurs as persistent, creative innovators who can address social problems in ways that achieve scale and reach superior to traditional business, state or third sectors. However, there are also concerns that rather than a natural ‘partnership’ between business and social goals, there are often tensions and trade-offs necessary which can undermine the social value of an enterprise.

This project is inspired by two fundamental and related questions, one relating to innovation and one to geography. Social enterprise is promoted as fundamentally innovative, with iconic success stories, such as that of Grameen Bank and group-secured loans, mobilized to illustrate this. We are interested in exploring how innovative social enterprises really are. Geographically, we see social enterprise as a phenomenon with Anglo-American roots that is travelling into very different institutional and societal contexts. As such, we are interested in the extent to which the degree of innovativeness is related to contextual factors.

Our objective is therefore to investigate the travels of social enterprise beyond its Anglo-American origins, and in particular the extent to which these travels yield products and practices which are new, innovative and add value. In order to realise this objective we aim to conduct case study research of social enterprises in two sharply contrasting regions where significant concentrations of social enterprises are seeking to address social and economic exclusion. In Scandinavia, the city of Gothenburg has the largest concentration of social enterprises in Sweden; we will focus on those social enterprises in the peripheral suburb of Bergsjön and other marginalized wards in north-east Gothenburg. In Southeast Asia, the city of Siem Reap has the largest concentration of social enterprises in Cambodia; we will focus on those social enterprises which seek to enable the local poor to derive benefits from the tourism boom. In both regions we will contact and survey all the relevant social enterprises and then develop detailed case studies of five social enterprises in each city. These will focus not only on current practices and impacts, but will also compare these to arrangements before the introduction of social enterprise. We will thus examine social enterprises not only on their own terms but in the context of shifts in the local social economy.

The project will be implemented between 2016 and 2021, with the research in Cambodia conducted by the project leader Dr Robin Biddulph, and the research in Sweden conducted by Professor Maureen McKelvey, Dr Olof Zaring and Dr Erik Gustafsson, all from the Unit of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the School of Business, Economics and law at the University of Gothenburg.

Picture of carver
Photo: Robin Biddulph
Picture of carved dancer
A traditional Khmer Apsara dancer carved by one of the artisans trained and employed by the tourism social enterprise Artisans Angkor in Siem Reap, Cambodia
Photo: Robin Biddulph