WISE develops a comprehensive training and development programme for female entrepreneurs who wish to launch social enterprises. The training and business-development plan envisions the creation of Europe's first virtual network of female social entrepreneurs.
A team comprising six European institutions is dedicated to making WISE bigger, better and wiser! We would like to share the motivations and emotions that prompted us to create this project last year, present it within the framework of the European Union’s Lifelong Learning Programme 2013,* secure approval and financing, and put it into action.
We believe that the greatest challenges of our time require social solutions. The EU has outlined a growth strategy based on intelligent, sustainable and inclusive growth throughout European society (Europe Strategy 2020). This growth cannot be maintained solely through the efforts of the member countries – which face increasing hurdles to maintaining the welfare state as we now know it – and of companies as they have operated in the past. These drivers have not brought about the desired level of growth.
This economic and social Europe needs entrepreneurs who will facilitate intelligent, sustainable and inclusive growth and point us towards a social economy. The economic impact of entrepreneurs is unquestionable. At present, entrepreneurs account for 99% of all companies in the EU, and they are responsible for one of every two jobs created. These figures raise an interesting question: How much of an economic and social impact could social entrepreneurs have? To us, the answer is clear: social enterprises could provide long-term, sustainable solutions to many of today’s challenges. These small-scale social companies could also have an enormous impact on the EU economy as a whole. However, people who choose to start a business take on an enormous risk. The EU has therefore been throwing its support behind initiatives designed to decrease the implicit risk of such endeavours while increasing their benefits.
In addition to the risks involved in the creation of any new company, social entrepreneurship entails certain specific risks. Therefore, entrepreneur-oriented support instruments, methodologies and development programmes may not meet social entrepreneurs’ needs for training, knowledge and skill acquisition. It makes sense to create specific programmes targeting this group. As it happens, we are seeing a growing number of master’s programmes, workshops, and consulting firms offering services tailored to social entrepreneurs and enterprises.
Scholars are constantly trying to identify the unambiguous characteristics of entrepreneurial individuals, but we must remember that entrepreneurs are not homogeneous in their characteristics. Aware of this diverse range of circumstances, we have chosen to focus on a group whose differences have traditionally been ignored by the business world. Women have carved out a public space for themselves in the workplace, a domain historically designed by and for men, which until recently was worlds away from the personal and family spheres. Contemporary companies have adapted to social changes, but these changes are gradual and many challenges have yet to be overcome.
While acknowledging that women, like entrepreneurs in general, are not a homogeneous group, we recognise that certain differences are shared by a majority of women. To name just a few: women experience motherhood as an important life event that entails different physical and psycho-social consequences than those experienced by fathers; they have different parent-child relationships than those experienced by men; women’s social values are instilled primarily through childhood play oriented toward collaboration and caring for others, as opposed to the search for recognition, success and competition fostered by boys’ play; and there is an unequal distribution of power in which most women occupy non-executive posts and most positions of responsibility are held by men.
With support of the Erasmus+ Programme of the European Union