About WEstart

The first research project on women’s social entrepreneurship in Europe

The core aim of WEstart is to gain a better understanding of the situation and state of play of women’s social entrepreneurship in Europe.

The initial one-year pilot phase of the project which came to a close in September 2015, is the first step in a longer term strategy to help foster women’s social entrepreneurship by connecting key stakeholders and advocating for policy change that supports women’s leadership in this growing sector.


The Problem

While there has been substantial research on and support for both women’s entrepreneurship and social entrepreneurship (separately) at the European level, there is very little data on the topic and no European support for women’s social entrepreneurship specifically.

Considering that women are more likely to start social enterprises than traditional enterprises and considering the proven potential that social enterprise has to contribute to economic growth and alleviate social ills in Europe, the European Women’s Lobby was interested in investigating the topic to understand the scope, potential and possible pitfalls of women’s social entrepreneurship in Europe.

The Research

The WEstart project sought to gain a better understanding of the situation and state of play of women’s social entrepreneurship in Europe by mapping women-led social enterprises in 10 Member States of the EU: Bulgaria, France, Germany, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Spain, Sweden, and the UK.

Ten experts in women’s social entrepreneurship carried out desk research on the social enterprise ecosystems within their countries, gathered data on approximately 1,000 women-led social enterprises and conducted in-depth interviews using feminist methods with nearly 100 women social entrepreneurs. Additionally, 377 women social entrepreneurs from all 10 countries participated in a comprehensive electronic survey.

Through this research, we aimed to understand the national contexts in which women social entrepreneurs were operating. We were interested in the details of their social enterprise in terms of revenue, legal status, job creation and sector, but we were also interested in their journey with social entrepreneurship.

We asked them about their motivations for starting a social enterprise, the barriers they faced and the social impact they had created. We invited them to tell us about their care responsibilities and grapple with notions of women’s empowerment and gender equality. From this information, we pieced together a rich and diverse portrait of women’s social entrepreneurship in Europe, characterised by ambition to create societal change, sensitivity to social needs and persistence in the face of discrimination.

Case Study 1a

Project Goals:

Undertake new, rigorous research on women-led social enterprise ecosystems and women’s social entrepreneurship in 10 EU member states, in order to increase the visibility of women’s social entrepreneurship within national and EU-level policy making arenas.

Provide women social entrepreneurs with findings of research and facilitate connection between them in order to stimulate information sharing, networking and collaboration.

Project Objectives:

WEstart proposed to achieve the goals with three objectives 1) synthesising and analysing existing data on women-led social enterprise ecosystems within a national context, 2) producing new, reliable data on women’s social entrepreneurship in 10 countries in Europe and 3) facilitating connections between women social entrepreneurs throughout Europe, with a specific focus on the 10 studied countries.

Project outputs included:

  • 10 National Mini-Reports
  • A Final Synthesis Report
  • A Final Conference, at which the results of the research would be presented
  • An Electronic Database of women social entrepreneurs in the 10 studied countries
  • A Communications Strategy to disseminate the results of the project throughout the EU

Advisory Group

The pilot phase of the WEstart project was carried out by European Women’s Lobby staff members and national women’s social entrepreneurship researchers under the supervision of the WEstart Advisory Group. The Advisory Group is a high-level team of experts from diverse fields relating to women’s social entrepreneurship.

Our Advisory Group included the following members:

  • Servane Mouazan, CEO of Ogunte Women’s Social Entrepreneurship Network
  • Monica Grau Sarabia, Director of the European Commission-funded WISE project (Women Innovators in Social Business)
  • Dr. Anne Laure Humbert, PhD, Gender Expert at EIGE and Cranfield University
  • Charu Wilkinson, IFC International, Lead consultant for the European Commission Social Enterprise Ecosystem Mapping Study
  • Dr. Josette Dijikuizen, PhD, Author of The Start-up Manual and social entrepreneur
  • Agnes Hubert, Bureau of European Policy Advisers, Social innovation, enterprise and economy expert
  • Madi Sharma, CEO of the Madi Group, member of the European Economic and Social Committee
  • Ariane Roderte, Vice President, Group III of the European Economic and Social Committee

Over the course of the project period, we held four virtual meetings with the Advisory Group and communicated with various members throughout the duration of the project via email, telephone and in-person meetings. The Advisory Group allowed us to tap into the knowledge and expertise of diverse professionals with deep subject knowledge, while giving the leadership of the project a collaborative element.

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About the European Women’s Lobby

The largest umbrella organisation of women’s associations in the EU

The European Women’s Lobby (EWL) is the largest umbrella organisation of women’s associations in the European Union (EU), working to promote women’s rights and equality between women and men. Founded in 1990 with 12 national member organisations, the European Women’s Lobby is one of the oldest and best established European-level civil society NGOs. Over the last 20 years, EWL membership has grown steadily to reach more than 2,500 organisations across 31 European countries.

The EWL works towards a vision of a peaceful, social and democratic European Union built on a culture of respect for human rights, equality, peace and solidarity, in Europe and globally, where women and men have equal rights, full enjoyment of their personal integrity and choice, an equal share of social, cultural and economic resources, caring and family roles, and are equally represented in decision making.

The mission of the European Women’s Lobby (EWL) is to work to achieve equality between women and men, to promote women’s rights in all spheres of public and private life, to work towards economic and social justice for all women in their diversity, and to eliminate all forms of male violence against women. The EWL works through democratic processes with its members for the mainstreaming and monitoring of gender equality and women’s rights perspective in all areas of European Union policy and for the achievement of parity democracy at all levels and in all areas.

Considering the potential of social enterprise to contribute to economic growth and alleviate social ills in Europe, the European Women’s Lobby is interested in investigating and making visible the situation of women’s social entrepreneurship in Europe. As a women’s lobbying group, our political justification for this research is grounded in our commitment to furthering women’s rights and gender equality throughout Europe.

Having undertaken the first-ever research study on this subject, we hope that our firm commitment to feminist principles, and to amplifying the voices of diverse women from a wide range of backgrounds will set an example of how a gender lens can and should be applied to all research on social enterprise and social entrepreneurship.