The EMES approach derives from an extensive dialogue among several disciplines (economics, sociology, political science and management) as well as among the various national traditions and contexts in the European Union. Moreover, guided by a project that was both theoretical and empirical (1996-2000), it preferred from the outset the identification and clarification of indicators over a concise and elegant definition (Borzaga, Defourny, 2001).
These indicators have long been presented in two subsets: a list of four economic indicators and a list of five social indicators (Defourny 2001, 16-18). For comparative purposes however, it appeared more appropriate to distinguish three subsets rather than two, which allows highlighting forms of governance specific to the EMES type of social enterprise.
Three indicators reflect the economic and entrepreneurial dimensions of social enterprises:
- a) A continuous activity producing goods and/or selling services
- b) A significant level of economic risk
- c) A minimum amount of paid work
Three indicators encapsulate the social dimensions of such enterprises:
- d) An explicit aim to benefit the community
- e) An initiative launched by a group of citizens or civil society organizations
- f) A limited profit distribution
Finally, three indicators reflect the participatory governance of such enterprises:
- g) A high degree of autonomy
- h) A decision-making power not based on capital ownership
- i) A participatory nature, which involves various parties affected by the activity
It must be underlined that such indicators were never intended to represent the set of conditions that an organization should meet to qualify as a social enterprise. Rather than constituting prescriptive criteria, they describe an "ideal-type" in Weber’s terms, i.e. an abstract construction that enables researchers to position themselves within the "galaxy" of social enterprises. In other words, they constitute a tool, somewhat analogous to a compass, which helps the researchers describe the position of the observed entities relative to one another and eventually identify subsets of social enterprises they want to study more deeply. Those economic and social indicators allow identifying brand new social enterprises, but they can also lead to designate as social enterprises older organizations being reshaped by new internal dynamics.
Two EMES seminal books
The Emergence of Social Enterprise (Borzaga and Defourny, 2001) traced the most significant developments in social entrepreneurship emerging in Europe.
Social Enterprise. At the crossroads of market, public policies and civil society (Nyssens, 2006) develops a comparative European analysis within a multidisciplinary framework to explore social enterprises.
Comparisons with other definitions
Other definitions of social enterprise and/or social entrepreneurship have been developed by various others researchers. In an attempt to promote dialogue and mutual understanding among approaches and groups of researchers across the world, J. Defourny and M. Nyssens published a comparative analysis of the more influential “schools of thought”, which is available in several languages:
- The EMES approach of social enterprise in a comparative perspective, EMES WP 12-03
- L’approche EMES de l’entreprise sociale dans une perspective comparative, SOCENT WP 13-01
- El enfoque EMES de la empresa social desde una perspectiva comparada, CIRIEC-España. Revista de economía pública, social y cooperativa, no. 75, 7-34. Also as EMES WP 13-01 available here
- Chinese version available in Kuan, Y.-Y., Chan, K.-T., Lu, W.-P.& Wang, S.-T. (2012), Social Enterprises in Taiwan and Hong Kong: a Comparison, Chu Liu Publ. Taipei, 27-60. You can download it here