As many countries rural areas are facing the same contemporary societal challenges, such as a tightening economy and diminishing local services, there is a need to find new tools for rural communities to cope with the future.

One possible solution is the development of locally based social enterprise (SE). Social entrepreneurship can be defined as entrepreneurship that has a strong social goal where profits are reinvested back into the local community. The concept is, however, relatively novel in rural development across much of Europe. There is much local potential, embedded knowledge and skill in rural communities to improve local service provision and employment, but the people usually do not recognize this or know how to make full use of it. This is why there is a need to raise the capacity of local people to better address the community potential and needs by increasing their knowledge and skills of community activation, partnerships and networking, business thinking and recognizing the social impacts of social entrepreneurship in local communities.

The aim of the ViSEnet project is to promote social entrepreneurship in rural areas by providing learning material, networking opportunities and guidance for people interested in developing their rural communities and social entrepreneurship. To achieve these aims the project combines international knowledge and expertise of rural development and social enterprises of five countries: Estonia, Finland, Germany, Romania and Scotland to together develop methods for promoting and supporting social entrepreneurship in rural areas.   
The project is directed to the individuals who are
  • interested in developing and sustaining their rural communities
  • willing to consider socially enterprising solutions to assist their rural areas or already have an idea for social enterprise in rural areas or
  • already engaged in social enterprise activity but wish to gain new skills, knowledge and expertise to assist them in their venture.
The project aims to enhance the ideas and methods to promote and support social entrepreneurship in rural areas by
  • creating an open access digital learning material and opportunities for rural communities and people to foster the knowledge and awareness of the social enterprises
  • supporting online learning experience of the development of social enterprises in rural environments with evaluated and piloted methods addressing local needs
  • enhancing the rural communities to better interact and exchange experiences and good practices with other communities regionally, nationally and internationally by a digital networking platform as well as by establishing an international network of rural social enterprises to exchange experiences, good practices and disseminate learning material created.
Output 1: Open access learning material
The learning material is created in cooperation by the strategic partnership consortium based on the common consistency of good practices and experiences. The materials are divided into three thematic learning modules based on the practical needs of rural actors aiming to support the development of the rural social enterprises.

The learning modules are:
  • Community Activation and Participation Methods in Rural Areas
  • Partnerships and Networking of Social Entrepreneurs
  • Social Enterprise Solutions for Sustaining Rural Communities and Measuring Social Impact.
Each module is based on good practices and experiences identified by consortium and will be tested in national pilot groups.

The learning material is under development and will be made accessible via this platform as open educational resource.
Output 2: International Network of Rural Social Enterprises
In addition to support the future work of rural social entrepreneurs the project will establish an international network (Rural Social Enterprises) to give the members peer support, advice and a platform to exchange information and good practices to keep the process ongoing. The membership will be open to everyone interested in the topic.
Output 3: Practical Guidebook of Good Practices for supporting the development of social entrepreneurship (SE) in rural areas

The experiences gained through the project will be written into an e-guidebook of good practices for further use targeted at both learners and educators as well as policy makers.

Results of the project will be shared through disseminating outputs in the open access format. All products and materials will be available and accessible online to all who are interested in social entrepreneurship and community development.
As an outcome the skills of the rural communities to establish SEs will increase and are likely to have a positive influence on their effectiveness in community development, social entrepreneurship and/or employability and finally the potential longer-term benefits.

Supporting the development of SE's in rural areas will enhance active citizenship and helps better to address the future challenges (e.g. lack of skills, jobs, services and social exclusion in rural context). Learning material and piloted methods suitable for rural areas encourage communities to develop SE's and share their experiences with others.
The learning material provided in the project is tested and piloted by local rural communities involved in the project.

In Estonia, two target groups have been chosen for piloting: Lahemaa local community from North Estonia and Haanja youth group from South-East Estonia. There has been a very active Village Movement called Kodukant in Estonia. Today local action groups are the driving force for rural community and entrepreneurship development and they will ensure that the project outcomes and support for the social entrepreneurship will be continued after the end of the project. 
In Finland, the pilots are five rural village associations. Two of them are located in Southern Ostrobothnia, The Village Association of Kainasto and The Village Association of Nopankylä and one is located in the Pirkanmaa area, The Village Association of Pohjois-Kuru. These villages are interested in the possibilities social enterprises are offering in the rural areas and are willing to further explore its potential. Two other village associations involved in the project, Eskola and Vuolenkoski, are more advanced in rural social entrepreneurship and are interested in networking with other social enterprises in rural communities in Europe.

In Germany, the target groups are the region of the Biosphere Reserve as well as Geopark Suabian Alb. During the last years, a kind of “creative milieu” developed and led to many small and innovative activities by individuals as well as small production communities.   

In Romania, the target groups will be represented by small farmers, micro-cooperatives, community foundations and schools located in distinct rural geographic areas who need support to develop farming activities and are willing to consider social enterprise approaches to tackle local issues.  

In Scotland, the target groups are from across the Argyll and Islands region, supported by the social enterprise network, including the mainland geography and 23 inhabited islands. We will engage with individuals who may be interested in sustaining vital rural services, who are willing to consider social enterprise approaches to tackle these issues and individuals working in existing social enterprise who seek to develop skills, knowledge, understanding and benefit from networking.
The project is implemented by the strategic partnership of institutions in five European countries:
  • University of Helsinki Ruralia Institute (coordinator), Finland
  • The Bucharest University of Economic Studies (ASE), Romania
  • Estonian University of Life Sciences (EMU), Estonia
  • Nürtingen-Geislingen University (NGU), Germany
  • Inspiralba, Scotland
The project duration is 03.12.2018–02.06.2021.
  • University of Helsinki Ruralia-Institute, Finland: Katja Rinne-Koski
  • The Bucharest University of Economic Studies (ASE), Romania: Carmen Paunescu
  • Estionian University of Life Sciences (EMU), Estonia: Roger Evans and Lea Sudakova,
  • Nürtingen-Geislingen University, Germany: Roman Lenz
  • Inspiralba, Scotland: Ailsa Clark
Funding agency
The project is funded by EU Erasmus+ Strategic partnership for adult education.
The Finnish National Agency for Education is hosting the national agency for the European Union’s education and youth programmes.
Learn more about our project with the ViSEnet Newsletters.
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