Social Enterprise NL

Members with Benefits

My last visit in the Netherlands took me to Social Enterprise NL. With all the social media buzz and in line with my silent-office-experiences at Enviu and Kennisland I was prepared to introduce myself to an armada of 20 or so hard-working Social Venturers frantically typing away on their computers to make the world a better place (hush!).

In trying to blend in I walked up the stairs deliberately quietly, not wanting to interrupt and ruin some genius thought (I wanted a good start!). In my trance an energetic Stefan Panhuijsen flew towards me, hand outstretched, welcoming me to Social Enterprise NL. Good start then! He walked me into a bright red room and introduced me to the four out of seven team members. We had a good chat and I was thrilled to see that project manager Jiska Klein joined our conversation. I already knew I had more questions than time, so we jumped right in.

Paid membership builds community

Social Enterprise NL was established in September 2012 by Mark Hillen and – if you read my earlier post on Social Enterprise in the Netherlands you are familiar with this name – Willemijn Verloop. As a network organization, you can only become member if you have been operational for at least a year and gain at least half of your revenue from the market. By March 2015, they counted 230 paying members in their community – and that’s what the program is all about: community. Other than most support programs I had met until then,

Social Enterprise NL is first and foremost about building a community. Click To Tweet

As part of their Affiliate Program, members benefit from support services such as training sessions, peer-to-peer workshops, mentoring and coaching. Many of these are offered by or in collaboration with corporate partners such as Price Waterhouse Coopers. The majority of experts and mentors at Social Enterprise NL are employees of large partner companies and bring with them extensive legal and financial knowledge from their corporate background. For social enterprises that do not yet meet membership criteria, Social Enterprise NL’s program BOOST offers four program days to learn about access to finance and pitching, marketing and positioning, business modeling and theory of change.

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Lobbying for Social Enterprise

Beyond, Social Enterprise NL lobbies for regulation with the Dutch government to build a more favorable legislative environment for social enterprises in the Netherlands. I got the sense that they are in a strong position to represent the needs and interests of Dutch social entrepreneurs, and can actually work as a mediator between their beneficiaries and the government by speaking both languages and provide guidance how to approach this trend that appears to be sticking around. Stefan said: “One of the central challenges in our work is trying to plan. Nobody knows yet where social entrepreneurship is headed, what the government will do, what legislation will look like. This uncertainty makes it difficult to plan long-term.”

Social Enterprise NL: A Review

On my way out, I asked for a picture of the team and it was a short moment that summed up my experience at Social Enterprise NL that day: A well-organized team always up for a laugh and obviously enjoying their work, but also busy busy busy trying to meet their members’ needs, lobbying for favorable social enterprise legislation, offering a support program, managing their partners and external communications. I look forward to meeting more membership organizations and start talking to some of their participants. I want to get a better sense of the importance of a structured content-laden support program compared to the pure community benefit. After all, members do pay to be part of this network, I want to know which factors add the most value, and what we can learn from membership organizations for other support programs.

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