Lessons for

social entrepreneurship

Interview with Stefan Chichevaliev

Executive Director, Social Entrepreneurship Observatory, North Macedonia.

Keywords: Social entrepreneurship, ecosystem development, public policy, Social Entrepreneurship Index.

How to reference this article: Chichevaliev, S., 2022,  Lessons for social entrepreneurship, Entrepreneurial Mindset Network, accessed [insert date], <www.e-star.academy/regional-impact/stefan-chichevaliev>.

First published in 2022 in the Entrepreneurial Mindset Network eZINE Volume 5 no 2.


What was the main topic of your DBA?

The topic is social entrepreneurship ecosystem development. The title of the thesis is “Key Factors of Conducive Environment for Development of Social Entrepreneurship in the Republic of North Macedonia”. In short, we were exploring the factors that drive the development of social entrepreneurship on a national level. We have drawn insights from the contemporary literature and found that political, legal, institutional and financial factors are a prerequisite for sector’s development. An interesting find was that the business environment is also an important driver for getting into social entrepreneurship and encourages current entrepreneurs to enter and participate in social entrepreneurship activities and practices providing an example for future entrepreneurs.

Within this DBA, we have also introduced the need for the Social Entrepreneurship Index - SEI (https://seindex.org) as a tool for monitoring and evaluation of the development of the sector. This tool has been in the process of development in the last couple of years and we are hoping that next year will be a good year to start with the piloting of the SEI.

What are the implications of your DBA findings e.g. for researchers, policy makers and social entrepreneurs?

The implications of this DBA are threefold. This data contributes to development of social entrepreneurship on a national and local level, helps the social enterprises to better understand the environment they undertake activities in, and helps researchers and contributes to the literature by opening an area that currently lacks critical investigation. Consequently, to achieve the objectives set forth in this DBA, we look and approach the topic from a different angle which could also be seen as an added value.

To be more precise:

    • For researchers: There are also implications on the body of knowledge, the literature, as opening an area, which is already an added value, but also for discourse and critical investigation. There is a lack of critical investigation in measuring the development of social entrepreneurship ecosystem on a national and local level while being involved through democratic processes of dialogue and coordination between stakeholders at all levels.
    • For policymakers: we have developed the SEI as a tool that would highlight the accelerators and bottlenecks of social entrepreneurship ecosystem development and inform the policymakers to develop evidence-based tailored policies for development and promotion of social entrepreneurship.
    • For social entrepreneurs and enterprises: SEI is a tool they can use to measure the Social Entrepreneurship Index by themselves, but also their impact in the ecosystem. For instance, if a social enterprise works on improving the taxation for social enterprises or want to measure youth unemployment, they can measure their impact through the Index by customizing the indicators they have the interest to follow. The Index is also a great advocacy tool by providing most current data that can be used to advocate for better policies, support, and recognition, among other issues.

Image credit: Pixabay

What are the big questions you are aiming to answer as a post doctoral researcher?

As a postdoc I am focusing on “The Level of Influence of Macro-Level Factors on Organisational and Individual Factors in Social Entrepreneurship”. The main goal of this research is to understand the level of influence of macro-level (contextual) factors on social enterprises (SENTs) operations and social entrepreneurs (SEURs). To investigate and comprehend how SENTs operations and SEURs are affected by the contextual factors in developed (Belgium) and developing countries (North Macedonia).

We will explore this phenomenon by reaching out to SEURs, SENTs and OSSEs and discussing four main issues:

  1. Macro-factors accelerators and constraints;
  2. Macro-factors effects for SENTs operations;
  3. Macro-factors support for SE; and
  4. Accessibility of key stakeholders, collaboration with institutions and funding for SENTs.

We will address these issues by investigating and addressing the following research questions:

  1. How do social enterprises classify and perceive the social entrepreneurship environment?
  2. How do social entrepreneurs classify and perceive the social entrepreneurship environment?
  3. How do supporting SE organisations (training facilities, accelerators, incubators, civil society organisations, and other) classify and perceive the social entrepreneurship environment?
  4. What is the influence of the social entrepreneurship macro-level factors on social enterprises’ operations?

In September, we will start with the field research and discuss with SENTs (founders or executive positions), SEURs (age 18+, founders, owners of a social enterprise), and OSSEs (organisations offering support technical, legal or financial to SENTs). The task ahead poses one of the most challenging and exciting phases in the research process. We will find out what the practitioners have experienced and how they classify and perceive the social entrepreneurship environment (ecosystem).

What would need to happen for more social entrepreneurs to be able to benefit from the findings of academic research?

In my opinion, we need more empirical research with reliable and replicable methodologies. This means academics talking to the practitioners, to see how it is on the field. Probably to be more involved in participatory research, with observations of the work of social enterprises and entrepreneurs. They would also need to get more involved in advocacy and discuss with policy and decision makers about the development of the social entrepreneurship ecosystem in the respective city, country, region …

The findings will include practical advise from already established practitioners, pioneers and advocates of the field. This is something that would attract attention from social entrepreneurs to read the academic research articles and learn from their fellows’ experience and practice. In my country we say “Не прашувај гаталец, прашај паталец” which means “Do not ask a soothsayer, ask a sufferer”. That is how you learn.

Social entrepreneurs will mostly benefit from the findings of academic research if they can learn lessons about the failures of fellows, read about the best cases so they can replicate them or adapt and contextualize their practice to their context, and of course to find some role models in the pioneers within the field.

There are magnificent articles that can sprout the creativity of social entrepreneurs and motivate them to reach new heights. The academic literature is not only for explaining the processes, but also to provide worst- and best-case scenarios. To show social entrepreneurs and their enterprises that they are not alone and there is a whole community living through the same struggles and best moments of being a social entrepreneur.

However, social enterprises and entrepreneurs need to be more open to discussions and interviews with researchers, to share their story and practical experience. This will help create academic research from which they can benefit. Without presenting their experience and path through surveys, interviews and observations, they cannot expect a benefit from academic research. It must be a win-win situation. Social entrepreneurs need to be open to share their way so others can learn from them and the other way around.

How does research inform the activities of the Social Entrepreneurship Observatory?

We identify the challenges, needs and opportunities for social enterprises and entrepreneurs. We monitor the development of the social entrepreneurship ecosystem and try to contribute to its growth. We try to act upon the empirical research and undertake activities that would help the sector’s development, but also social enterprises and entrepreneurs to grow and scale up. We are in constant communication with the key stakeholders, trying to mitigate their challenges and help the policy and decision makers to create evidence-based policies.

For example, one research showed us that there are no role models for new and upcoming social entrepreneurs to look up to and learn from them. In that case, we published a Compendium of best practices, lessons learned, and role models.

Other research provided evidence that there are no cases that explain how social enterprises continued to work during Covid-19 times, so we published case studies using a storytelling method to bring it closer to the population.

When we saw the need for creating a tool for monitoring the development of the sector, we created the Social Entrepreneurship Index (https://seindex.org/).

There are many more examples including http://setalks.org/, http://seconference.online/,but research and due diligence is our forte in everything we do. We research and act upon the findings. We need to stay up to date and relevant to alleviate and mitigate the issues social enterprises and entrepreneurs face. That is why the sectors’ key stakeholders trust us and want to work with us. They understand that our goal is to develop the social entrepreneurship ecosystem and make their life easier by providing the pathway to navigate the field.◼️