Netherlands | Social entrepreneurship

SEWF23 puts social enterprise on the agenda

31 August 2023 12:59

October heralds the first Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF23) to be hosted in the Netherlands. It’s the perfect opportunity to put social enterprise on the map among investors, researchers and policymakers, both at home and abroad. Co-organizer and Director of Social Enterprise NL Mark Hillen and Nynke Struik, Program Manager at Rabo Foundation, explain why SEWF23 is so important.

Strengthen social enterprises worldwide to accelerate the transition to a new economy – that’s the main mission of SEWF, the social enterprise movement behind the SEWF23 event. SEWF organizes events throughout the year, but the highlight is this annual two-day congress, which has been held in different cities around the world since 2008. This year, the forum will be hosted in the Netherlands for the first time.

Social enterprise on the map

‘We were asked to host SEWF23 in conjunction with the City of Amsterdam,’ says Mark Hillen. His organization, Social Enterprise NL, supports social entrepreneurs in the Netherlands. ‘We jumped at the opportunity, because with SEWF23, we can put social enterprise on the map in the Netherlands and beyond. Plus, it’s a boost for the ecosystem as a whole, which comprises social entrepreneurs and the parties that surround them, like scientists, impact investors and, most importantly, policymakers.’

Engage policymakers

Four Dutch ministries and the City of Amsterdam are involved in SEWF23, yet policymakers in the country are often still insufficiently switched on to the opportunity afforded by social enterprise. Mark: ‘Many are not aware, for instance, of the Social and Solidarity Economy, a European Union initiative that prioritizes social profitability over purely financial profits. We want Dutch policymakers to put their weight behind this vision, too.’

“SEWF23 will put social enterprise top of policymakers’ minds in the Netherlands and beyond”

World Forum in Amsterdam

On 11 and 12 October, SEWF23 will bring together in one place people from dozens of different countries, with a program of inspiring sessions at the Kromhouthallen in Amsterdam. And during Fringe Week, the days around the World Forum from 9 to 13 October, various venues across Amsterdam will host policy round tables, dinners and other sessions, that will take specific topics into further detail. Some are for invitees only, but others will be open to all. You will find more information here.

Rabo Foundation and SEWF23

An important partner of SEWF23 is Rabo Foundation. ‘We have been providing support to social enterprises for more than four years,’ explains Nynke Struik. ‘They prove that companies can contribute to resolving societal and ecological problems, rather than going for profit maximization alone. The market share of social enterprises is on the increase and the sector is seeing many scale-ups. That makes social enterprises an example to other companies: making an impact on society and remaining profitable is perfectly feasible.

‘We wholeheartedly share Mark’s conviction that it is important to put social enterprise in the spotlight. And social entrepreneurs often tell us that they want to learn from each other. SEWF23 and the activities of its Fringe Week are the ideal opportunity to meet colleagues from all over the world and do just that. Rabo Foundation will contribute by organizing sessions such as a workshop on partnerships between social enterprises and corporates given by Bas Evers, our Program Manager Africa.’

“Business owners should focus on not just their own business, but the system as a whole”

Important themes

The sessions during SEWF23 can be subsumed under five broad themes: ecosystems, justice, migration, the new economy and the planet. ‘Each is essential, but migration is closest to my heart,’ says Mark. ‘Billions of people are being displaced by climate change, but in the Netherlands, it’s proving very difficult for these people to be absorbed into society beyond asylum seekers’ centers. Many social enterprises are making efforts, but face obstruction due to legislation and regulations. There’s lots of opportunity for progress here, especially once policymakers realize that social enterprise has answers.’

Inspiration and networking

Why would a social entrepreneur attend SEWF23? Nynke: ‘To be inspired. To forget about the whimsies of the day and adopt new perspectives. It prompts you to think about your own business and activities.’ Mark concurs: ‘I like to say to members, “Give yourself a break.” SME owners are always on the go and it’s important to step back sometimes – to meet new people, to reflect, or even just to take a day of rest.’

Ambitions for SEWF23

‘I hope that SEWF23 inspires participants to pick up the ball and run with it,’ says Nynke. ‘Business people, but also Dutch policymakers. I am confident they will learn from their international colleagues that the time to make haste when it comes to social enterprise is now. With a little luck, they will send their own delegation to join the discourse at the European level in the very near future.’

Mark: ‘I hope that SEWF23 will make more entrepreneurs realize that as a movement, they are big and strong enough to work on systemic change that goes far beyond the impact they make with their respective companies. Important in this endeavor is that they exert their influence as one. Too many people are still talking to policymakers on their own. I hope one takeaway from SEWF23 is that they can achieve much more if they speak one message and with a single voice.’

Attend SEWF23 as a social entrepreneur, or find out more about what Rabo Foundation does for social enterprise.