In Research


Year: 2020
Published in: Local Economy
Cited as: van Twuijver, M. W., L. Olmedo, M. O’Shaughnessy and T. Hennessy (2020). “Rural social enterprises in Europe: A systematic literature review.” Local Economy 35(2): 121-142.


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There is a growing perception that social enterprises represent a significant solution to the range of contemporary challenges facing rural areas across Europe. However, while much of the existing studies of European rural social enterprises provide a rich insight into specific case studies, as of yet, there is no comprehensive review of the breadth of research currently published on rural social enterprises in Europe. We respond to this gap by providing a systematic literature review incorporating 66 studies of rural social enterprise in Europe. We highlight the range of research in this field and demonstrate how the organisations act as key actors in fulfilling needs of rural areas that are not met otherwise. This systematic literature review confirms that rural social enterprises are characterised by strong local involvement with an ability to combine different goals and resources. Based on this review, we suggest that the rural and local contexts, often combined with tailored external support, are important factors in enabling rural social enterprises. This review also indicates that the academic field is relatively young and rapidly growing, leaving room for new lines of potential research to improve our understanding of these enterprises and their contribution to the development of rural places.

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Recommendations from this resource

Future Research

1. More research studies should be done about the role that social enterprises can play in the development of rural areas.

2. In order to better understand the role rural social enterprises can play in fostering more inclusive and sustainable means of development, we need to understand the circumstances under which such development takes place.

3. Further, there is a need to explore the ‘local dynamics’ of these rural and/or remote areas, as it could provide more insights on how different types of ‘rural’ impact shape rural social enterprises.

Policy Makers

Although (rural) social enterprises have entered the policy discourse, there is a gap between the aspirations/ expectations of policymakers and actual tailor-made support needed and offered to these enterprises. Policymakers should take into account the specific internal characteristics of rural social enterprises, and also the important role that the ‘rural’ and local contexts play as both an enabling and constraining factor for the emergence and actions of these enterprises.