In Social Ecosystems


Year: 2016
Published in: ICSEM Project
Cited as: ANASTASIADIS, M., & LANG, R. Social Enterprise in Austria.


This paper deals with contextual and conceptual issues about the emergence and development of social enterprises in Austria. Social enterprises are understood here as private non- profit- maximising organisations, which reinvest any profit they make in the organisation or distribute it to members (collective appropriation in the case of cooperatives) and/or to society at large. They are further defined as “providing goods or services directly related to their explicit aim to benefit the community. They rely on a collective dynamics involving various types of stakeholders in their governing bodies, they place a high value on their autonomy and they bear economic risks linked to their activity” (Defourny and Nyssens 2008: 5). It first has to be underlined that the term “social enterprises” (SE) is not very frequently used in the Austrian context—neither in research nor in public and professional discourses. The German terms that are most commonly used are those of Sozialwirtschaft (social economy), Sozialintegrationsunternehmen (social integration enterprises), gemeinnützige Organisationen (public benefit organisations) and Genossenschaften (cooperatives). As for research discourses, they are dominated by a variety of mostly international terms and concepts which are somehow related to the SE concept, like non- profit- organisations (NPOs), third sector, voluntary sector or social entrepreneurs; these notions are often used synonymously and in many cases, they are not linked to a specific conceptual framing. Secondly, literature on the phenomenon of SE in Austria remains scarce, and almost no comprehensive empirical data on this subject is available (Lehner 2011; Neumayr et al. 2007). But although a directory of social enterprises does not exist for Austria, some data on the sector is available from Statistik Austria and the EMES International Research Network (Lehner 2011b), and some groundwork on social entrepreneurs in Austria has been carried out by a group of researchers at the Institute for Nonprofit Management at WU Vienna (e.g. Millner et al. 2013; Schneider and Maier 2013). This Institute and the Institute for Social Policy at the same University are also responsible for mapping the non- profit sector in Austria (Neumayr et al. 2007; Pennersdorfer et al. 2013). Research activities on SE in Austria tend to focus on specific fields, like child care (Leichsenring 2001) or work integration (BDV 2008; Gruber 2006; Gschöpf 2010), and previous attempts to map the SE sector in Austria remained fragmented (European Commission 2014); this, combined with the lack of general data, could be a reason why research on Austrian SE is little noticed in the international scientific community. Against this backdrop, the present paper delivers an overview of existing SE models in Austria by answering the following research question: “In which contexts do SE models appear in Austria?”. Section 2 outlines the method of a systematic literature review which was applied for the study. Based on this explorative literature analysis, section 3 analyses the institutional context of the SE debate in Austria from a historical perspective. This leads to a delineation of different SE-related concepts which currently exist in Austria (section 4). Section 5 then focuses on two specific fields of SE- activity and analyses their historical trajectories and institutionalisation processes: part 5.1. features the SE model of ECO-WISE (ecologically oriented work integration social enterprise), which emerged in the 1980s and represents prototypical SE in line with the EMES concept (EMES 2004), while part 5.2. looks at the field of housing, where different SE models have been concerned with the same social objective of providing affordable homes. The paper finishes with key conclusions and an outlook to the future research agenda.