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Work-Integration Social Enterprises in Denmark Creating a Path to the Labour Market for Vulnerable Groups


SFI is conducting a survey of Danish work-integration social enterprises providing training and employment to vulnerable groups in the labour market. Combining quantitative and qualitative data, the survey focusses on the number of such companies in Denmark, the obstacles they face, their financial situation and their ability to provide a labour-market path for persons such as those who have a physical disability or suffer from a mental illness etc.

During recent years, social enterprises have come to receive more and more attention from Danish politicians, decision-makers, civil society and researchers. Social enterprises are enterprises that have an ability to enhance the integration of vulnerable groups into the labour marked. Internationally, labour-market-oriented social enterprises are known as work-integration social enterprises (WISE). Denmark is thus part of the breakthrough that social enterprises and social entrepreneurship are currently making in both the EU and the US.

More specifically, social enterprises can be defined as enterprises that have a social mission, are independent from the public sector, produce and sell goods and services in the market, and that reinvest most or all their potential profits in the company or its social mission. WISE adds the feature that the company trains and/ or employs vulnerable groups such as people with a physical or mental disability.

Probably the best known Danish social enterprise is Specialisterne. This company provides training, education and IT consultancy services and most of its employees have a diagnosis on the autism spectrum. The company is currently expanding internationally with the goal of creating one million jobs for people with autism worldwide.

Despite the current proliferation of social enterprises, these enterprises face many obstacles. Banks and private investors might be sceptical when it comes to investing money in a company that by definition reinvests most or all of its potential profits in the company itself or its social mission. Furthermore, these companies may also face bureaucratic obstacles when trying to secure public support, such as wage subsidies in connection with employing vulnerable groups.

Financed by the Danish Ministry of Employment and the Ministry of Social Affairs and Integration, SFI has therefore launched a survey of Danish work-integration social enterprises. Despite the attention that has already been accorded to these enterprises, we still lack information about Danish work-integration social enterprises. Therefore this study will focus on how many of these enterprises there are in Denmark, what characterises these enterprises, their financial situation and their employees.

The purpose of the survey is to investigate: 1. How many of such work-integration social enterprises exist currently in Denmark? 2. What characterizes these companies? 3. What characterizes the employees in these companies?

There is no valid register for work-integration social enterprises in Denmark that can be used to identify these companies and estimate their numbers. Therefore in the first phase of this survey, we seek to answer the first of these questions by seeking information from all available sources combined with snowball-sampling: that is we contact all potentially relevant social enterprises to verify that they live up to our definition and ask them whether they know of other relevant social enterprises that should be included in our population.

In a second phase of the investigation we will send out an internet questionnaire to all the companies identified during the first phase to enquire into themes such as types of employees in the enterprise, economic situation and financial obstacles, interaction with municipal job centres etc. During the second phase we will also conduct a series of analyses based purely on register data from Statistics Denmark to identify and analyse the characteristics of companies that have a high number of employees belonging to vulnerable groups and that constitute a large share of their total number of employees. These companies do not necessarily live up to the full definition of a WISE, but they share an important trait with WISE given the composition of their employees and therefore the characteristics of these companies are also relevant to investigate as a component in our survey.

In a third and final phase, we will conduct 15 interviews with managers and other representatives from social enterprises to deepen our understanding of the challenges relating to the start-up and the management of such enterprises. The results from the analysis of these data will be published as a report in Danish to appear in mid-September 2013.

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