Social Enterprise and public organizations: Allies or adversaries?

Guest editors

Brian Holland

Dr. Philip Marcel Karré

Although not necessarily a new concept, social enterprise is on the rise worldwide (Cooney, 2015; Defourny & Bidet, 2019; Defourny & Nyssens, 2021a, 2021b; Gaiger et al., 2019; Kerlin, 2010). Social enterprises mix economic and social value creation (Mair & Martí, 2006) and can broadly be defined as “organizations combining aspects of business and charity” (Battilana & Lee, 2014, p. 406). There are many forms of social enterprise (Defourny & Nyssens, 2017), including entrepreneurial nonprofits (Suykens et al., 2021), social cooperatives (Evers & Laville, 2004), work integration social enterprises (WISE) (Aiken & Bode, 2009) and social businesses (Desai & Tyler III, 2020). All these social enterprise forms share several characteristics: they aim to generate social impact rather than profit for the company’s owners or shareholders by trading goods and services on the market in an enterprising and innovative manner. Profits are mainly used to achieve social goals and the organization’s management is transparent about its actions and accountable to its employees, customers and other stakeholders (Defourny et al., 2014).

The social enterprise sector is changing rapidly. For example, in the United States, though some larger entities, such as Goodwill Industries International, have been operating for more than a century, smaller social enterprises, often at the micro-level with revenues of under $5 million, have evolved over the past 20 years to be an integral part of addressing employment among the hardest-to-serve populations (Cooney & Williams Shanks, 2010). Newer entities continue to enter the market and older organizations face challenges to adapt to changing economies and expectations for the role that they may play to address broader societal needs. In Europe, precursors of social enterprises have been part of the social fabric since the Middle Ages (European Commission, 2020). They often were incorporated into government bureaucracies during the rise of the welfare state and have to reposition themselves now (e.g. Smith, 2014). In the meantime, social start-ups dispute their central position as providers of public services in the social domain, while they in turn are criticized for commercializing the care for the weakest groups in society (Karré, 2021).


Social enterprises are firmly on the radar of policy makers, as they are seen as important actors to deal with persistent societal problems (Commission, 2019, 2020a, 2020b; Commission & OECD, 2018; OECD/EU, 2019; Union, 2017). Cooperating with social enterprises can have many opportunities for government (Choi & Park, 2021) but there also are challenges. There often is confusion about the concept of social enterprise (Dart et al., 2010; Lyon & Sepulveda, 2009; Teasdale, 2012). Also, social enterprises are hybrid organizations mixing the institutional logics of the public, private and nonprofit sectors (Battilana & Lee, 2014; Doherty et al., 2014; Ebrahim et al., 2014; Mair et al., 2015; Woodside, 2018). This hybridity is their strength, as it encourages synergy and innovation, but also their weakness, as it leads to ambiguity and confusion. This can make the governance and management of social enterprises difficult.

The main question the Special Issue is going to address is what the rise of social enterprise means for public organizations on all levels, what public management of social enterprises entails and how social enterprises and public organizations can best relate to one another. This Call for Papers seeks to identify research, drawn from theoretical and applied orientations, that covers these themes. Papers may address a wide range of a topics to include, but not be limited to the following:

  • Governance and management of social enterprises.
  • Questions concerning the awareness and recognition of social enterprises by public sector organizations.
  • Funding and procurement of social enterprises.
  • Matching public policies with social enterprise practices.
  • Accountability and impact measurement.
  • Challenges and opportunities in the relationship between (national / regional / local) governments and social enterprises.
  • Various forms of partnerships between social enterprises and public sector organizations.
  • The ways in which governments strive to build enabling ecosystems for social enterprises.
  • The populations that are targeted and supported by social enterprises.
  • The role of social enterprises in crisis management, e.g. tackling the Covid- or the climate crisis.


Research papers can be focused on single-nation studies or utilize comparative approaches. While submissions that are empirically driven are welcome, the journal’s audience is comprised of both researchers and practitioners, so papers focused primarily on methods are unlikely to be fully considered.


Submission information

Please submit an abstract of no more than 500 words by 31 May 2022 in Word of pdf via e-mail to the Guest Editors ([email protected] and [email protected]).

Deadline for full papers to be uploaded in ScholarOne is 31 March 2023.

We aim for publication of the issue in early 2024.

For information on the journal, please see:

For further information, or if you have any questions regarding this special issue, please contact the Guest Editors. The Guest Editors would also be happy to discuss article ideas at any time before the deadline of paper submission.


Contact the Guest Editors:

Brian Holland, American University, School of Public Affairs, USA

([email protected])

Dr. Philip Marcel Karré, Erasmus University Rotterdam, the Netherlands

([email protected])



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