Social economy at a glance
In the Netherlands, there is no specific legal form for social enterprises. Social economy actors can take several forms:
Private companies with limited liability (WISES often take this form)
Public limited company
The Dutch social economy operates mainly in work integration, environmental activities (circular economy), wellbeing and international development. It is estimated that the sector employed counted between 5000 and 6000 entities, and up to 80 000 workers in 2015.
Source: Social Enterprises and their ecosystems in Europe, Country Reports, Netherlands, 2019
* For this website we included this overall assessment of the level of development, it is based on the data and information about the social economy ecosystem currently available and therefore has some limitations. However, we still considered it useful to include this overall assessment.
** Source: EESC/CIRIEC (2016) Recent evolutions of the Social Economy in the European Union, please note that this estimate is on the high end as it is based on organisation type and did not apply a more narrow check for all elements in the social economy definition.
For more details on the data quality see our note on social economy data.
Tradition and origins
Social economy in the Netherlands predominantly comes from the 19th century's development of cooperatives. The same period additionally witnessed the strong involvement of the civil society through voluntary activities.
In business, however the concept of "social enterprise" is merely recent and less acknowledged than in other European countries. Many enterprises however have for long adopted social economy principles without naming them. This result in a strong Corporate Social Responsibility policy and culture.
In the recent years, one has been able to witness the upsurge of social entrepreneurship in the Netherlands. It is characterised by the emergence of many supportive ecosystems and structures and a growing awareness on the topics among the populations, especially younger generations.
The 2007-2010 financial crisis sparked a rise of interest for social entrepreneurship in view of the need for privatisation of public services and more scarce resources for the social economy sector.
Framework conditions and social economy ecosystem
Policy and legal framework
There is no specific legal framework on social economy in the Netherlands. The text applying and structuring the social economy ecosystem are only:
The Dutch Civil codes, which provides definition to the main legal forms related to the social economy (associations, foundations and cooperatives),
The Public Procurement Act of 2012 which introduces the notion of "reserved contract" for enterprises with more than 30% of employees having work limitations.
The state nonetheless recognises the importance and potential of social economy and social entrepreneurship. In 2015, the Economic Council of Netherlands on Social Entrepreneurship issued an official advice to recognise the social economy, which was acknowledged by the government.
Policymakers in the field of the social economy
The national government does not have a determined strategy to support social economy in the Netherland. However, it does provide support to social economy entities, using public procurement for instance.
There is therefore no ministry dedicated to social economy, but several can participate in making policies in favour of the social economy including:
The Ministry of Economics and Climate
The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science,
The Ministry of the Interior
The Ministry of Social Affairs and Employment.
Local governments are more involved in the promotion of the social economy and can initiate their own roadmaps and action plans to support social economy and social entrepreneurship. Large cities such as Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht and the G40 (network of middle-sized cities), have presented actions plans on the social economy.
Moreover, the City Deal Impact, a large scale partnership between social entrepreneurs, public authorities and financers, aims to reduce obstacles to social entrepreneurs' activities.
Large scale events such as the Social Enterprise Government Congress intend to give more visibility to the social economy and stimulate opportunities of partnerships with governmental and municipal stakeholders.
Networks, federation and representative entities
Different types of representative organisations and federations operate in the Netherlands:
Lobbying organisations are very active to push for a better recognition of the sector by the government: Social Enterprise NL.
Social entrepreneurship networks provide targeted support to impact-driven businesses.
How to get involved in the social economy in the Netherlands?
Schools and higher educational institutions include more and more courses on social entrepreneurship to create awareness at a young age.
Social economy has also grown as a field of research, initiating some incentives to make it more visible, such as the launch of an Annual Social Enterprise Thesis Award.
Students can also get concretely involved in the social economy during their studies by participating to certain student organizations who offer the possibility to try out or take part in a social entrepreneurial project, or by leading out consultancy services to the benefit of social enterprises:
The government does not provide dedicated support to social economy entities, but they can benefit from general policy schemes on entrepreneurship, innovation or the transition to carry out their activities.
Municipalities, on the other hand try to provide more targeted support :
Creating events to foster partnerships and cooperation between social enterprises and public authorities, for instance encouraging buying social approaches.
Carrying out mutual learning and networking activities to enable social economy actors to meet partners and investors
Many network and support NGOs provide resources to social economy entities, including :
Incubation and acceleration, (Impact Hub)
Access to coworking spaces,
Capacity building and coaching (Social Club)
Workshops and training (Social Impact Factory)
Networking and access to investors, (Ashoka)
On the public side, there is no dedicated funding strategy for the social economy. However social economy entities, especially associations, foundations and cooperatives can be eligible to some advantages such as tax cuts, or access to deducted foundations.
The use of European funds can also be a possibility, as well as national financial programs such as:
The Dutch Good Growth Fund
The Innovation Credit
The Sustainable Energy Investment Subsidy
On the local level, some municipalities can provide targeted support to social economy entities and impact driven organisations. It is especially the case in Amsterdam, with Amsterdam Impact, which provides social entrepreneurs with opportunities to build their capital through a co-financing initiative, and an access to a peer-to-peer network of impact investors.
On the private side, social economy entities can turn to:
Learn more about the social economy in the Netherlands
Social Enterprise NL provides general information on social economy in the Netherlands. It offers many resources and tools for social economy entities to better develop their strategies and on how to tie links with public actors such as municipalities : https://www.social-enterprise.nl/english.
Social Enterprises and their ecosystems in Europe, Country Reports, Netherlands, 2019. Link: Document database - Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion - European Commission (europa.eu)
Dutch Social Enterprise Monitor, Euclid Knowledge Centre, 2021-2022: https://knowledgecentre.euclidnetwork.eu/2022/09/28/dutch-social-enterprise-monitor-2021-2022/