How business can make the world a better place

Social enterprises are businesses that want to make the world a better place. Making a profit is not a goal, but a means for the business to carry out its idealistic mission. One of ABN AMRO’s focus areas is providing support to social enterprises, both financially and business-wise. Read below how we do this and what you can do to help.

So, what exactly is social enterprise?

A social enterprise is a business with a social mission. Making money is never the top priority, but the business does need to make a profit in order to survive and to achieve its idealistic goals. Countries like the United Kingdom, the United States and Italy have been experimenting with social enterprise for more than twenty years, but this is a relatively new phenomenon in the Netherlands. Social enterprises often have ambitions in the areas of people, planet and climate.

A well-known example of a social enterprise in the Netherlands is Tony’s Chocolonely, whose mission is ‘to make chocolate 100% slave-free’. But there are many more social enterprises in the Netherlands – an estimated five thousand, in fact. This is a rough estimate because there’s no single definition of a social enterprise; in the Netherlands, there’s no specific legal status for a social enterprise, like a type of private limited liability company. Some other European countries, such as France, Belgium and the United Kingdom, do have a separate legal structure. Social enterprises in the UK have the form of a Community Interest Company (CIC).

How does ABN AMRO support social enterprise?

Social enterprise is one of the focus areas of the bank’s sustainability efforts, along with the circular economy, climate change and human rights. ABN AMRO supports social enterprises both financially and business-wise. As for financial support, studies show that for many social entrepreneurs, raising capital is one of their greatest concerns. Business-wise, some experts say that achieving viable operations is the biggest challenge for many social entrepreneurs. “You can only make a real impact if your business is profitable,” says Harry Hummels, professor of Social Enterprise, in this interview. His chair at Utrecht University was made possible by ABN AMRO and Tony’s Chocolonely.

The bank has a pool of employees who coach social entrepreneurs. But we also offer indirect support as a founding partner of Social Enterprise NL, the nationwide platform for social enterprises – for instance by organising workshops during which we discuss how social enterprises can be financed. 

But there’s more. We have payment packages for social entrepreneurs to separate their business from their private financial affairs. Through the ABN AMRO Social Impact Fund we invest in companies whose business models are designed to bring about true social change. Our ABN AMRO Informal Investment Services bring social entrepreneurs into contact with informal investors – often themselves successful entrepreneurs or people with a background in policy or management.

And we invest in Social Impact Bonds – where private money is invested to address social issues.  

You, too, can help by buying the products of social enterprises, such as Kromkommer’s wonky fruit and vegetables. Or you could purchase an original present from the sustainable gift shop WAAR, or order a beebox with fresh organic products, delivered to your home. 

Are social enterprises making the world a better place?

Yes, they are. Social entrepreneurship is hot and the number of social enterprises is growing rapidly. Perhaps more importantly, social enterprises have inspired large corporates to embrace social responsibility. An OECD report published in 2019 showed that the Dutch government is, however, lagging somewhat in this respect. And so the Netherlands is set to examine the feasibility of a special legal status for social enterprises.