New research outlines the ingredients for a successful ‘Big Society’

Big Society

1 October 2014

A recently published ‘Institutions and Social Entrepreneurship’ study by academics from Aston Business School, EDHEC Business School, and the University of Sheffield Management School identifies why some countries are better than others at fostering social enterprise [1]. 

The Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) ranks Denmark number one for social entrepreneurship activity [2]. The study sought to identify the secret of Denmark’s success and what other countries, such as the UK, could learn from its example. The authors analysed 26 countries to identify the relative importance of a range of economic, institutional, cultural and social measures in encouraging greater levels of social entrepreneurship.  

These included:

  • the level of active government support, i.e., the extent to which the government formally redistributes wealth through progressive tax structures and welfare spending [3]
  • the level of so-called ‘post-materialist values’ among individuals, i.e., the extent to which individuals feel willing and empowered to take action for the benefit of society [4]; and 
  • socially supportive culture, i.e., the strength of informal networks in the wider community [5]

The results of the analysis demonstrate that it is a combination of these three factors, not any one factor alone, that best encourages social enterprise activity. However, active government support is crucial: Without this support it is unlikely that individuals and communities can mobilise to fill the gap. 

Key findings:

Seven out of the top ten countries for social entrepreneurship also top the list for strong social entrepreneurship support, e.g., a local culture and government that endorse such activity, as illustrated by the table below. 

Top 10 countries for social entrepreneurship activity (GEM)

Top 10 countries for social entrepreneurship support [6]

  1. Denmark
  2. Argentina
  3. Finland
  4. UK
  5. Slovenia
  6. United States
  7. Israel
  8. France
  9. Greece
  10. China
  1. Denmark
  2. Italy
  3. Netherlands
  4. Finland
  5. United States
  6. UK
  7. Switzerland
  8. France
  9. Slovenia
  10. Israel


Study highlights:

  • Denmark, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Israel rank highest for government support
  • Switzerland, Italy, the UK, US and Argentina rank highest for post-materialist values among individuals
  • Malaysia, Iran and Russia rank amongst the top five countries for having a socially supportive culture but have relatively low levels of government support. This can explain why these countries rank lower for social enterprise activity (25th, 19th, and 24th, respectively) 

Compared to other nations, the UK relies more heavily on individuals to drive social entrepreneurship activity, based on a relatively high ranking for post-materialistic values amongst its citizens (3rd) and less favourable rankings for government support (10th), and socially supportive culture (17th). 

Ute Stephan, Professor of Entrepreneurship at Aston Business School commented: “Broadly speaking there have been two schools of thought about the extent to which government encourages or stifles social entrepreneurship.  Some feel that too much support removes the demand for social enterprise while others have taken the opposite view – that social entrepreneurship must have institutional support to survive. 

“Things are never so black and white, but the importance of a supportive climate may explain some of the challenges facing the UK’s Big Society initiative, despite the UK’s strong post-materialist values. Cultivating such an eco-system is likely to be a longer term process. It is also a process that spending cuts and rising social inequalities in the UK likely undermine”. 

Lorraine Uhlaner, Professor of Entrepreneurship at EDHEC Business Schoolconcluded:  “Our study highlights that the additional demand for social enterprise created when there are radical cuts in the state sector, such as those seen in many countries in response to the global economic crisis, do not translate into higher social entrepreneurship activity.   

“Social entrepreneurs need to feel supported both by the government and the wider community to be able to realise their aims, which is why countries like Denmark perform so strongly.  Private individuals and groups, if they collaborate and support each other, can make a difference but will only thrive with effective government support”. 


Notes to Editors 

Press contacts

EDHEC Business School (H+K) - Rachel Hawkins: +44 20 7973 4456 / Rachel.Hawkins@hkstrategies.com 

Aston University - Alex Earnshaw: +44 (0)121 204 4549 / a.earnshaw@aston.ac.uk 

About EDHEC Business School

  • 5 campuses: Lille, Nice, Paris, London and Singapore
  • 6 200 students and 10 000 participants in executive education, conferences and seminars organised in 28 economic capitals around the globe
  • 20 degree programmes: Bachelor, Master in Management, Master of Science, MBA, PhD
  • More than 25 000 graduates in 120 countries
  • 142 permanent professors (49 percent international) and 810 visiting lecturers
  • 13 research and teaching chairs
  • €87m budget, 1/3 from corporate funding and 20% invested in research
  • One of 60 business schools in the world with triple accreditation from EQUIS – AACSB – AMBA 


EDHEC Business School aims to be recognised for high-quality research and education, and for innovative ideas and tools that impact business. This “EDHEC for Business” strategy is underpinned by excellent academic research, the results of which are systematically disseminated through EDHEC’s academic programmes, and to the business world and society at large. For more information, please visit: www.edhec.edu 

About Aston Business School

Aston Business School is renowned for the quality of its teaching, research and its supportive environment. The School provides students with an inspirational educational experience offering them rapid career progression in international business.

Situated in Birmingham, England’s second city, ABS attracts leading academics and key thinkers from all over the world to create a forward-thinking environment. With strong business links, these inspirational surroundings help to provide society with future business leaders capable of competing in the global marketplace. 

[1] Stephan, U., Uhlaner, L.M. & Stride, C. (2014). Institutions and Social Entrepreneurship: The Role of Institutional Voids, Institutional Support, and Institutional Configurations. Journal of International Business Studies doi:10.1057/jibs.2014.38. http://www.palgrave-journals.com/jibs/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/jibs201438a.html 

[2] Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (2009) 

[3] Analysis of information on government activism (2008) based on a model developed and validated by Aidis et al.(2012) 

[4] Based on World Values Survey (2010) 

[5] Based on GLOBE cultural practices data (1995-1997) 

[6] Includes all three measures plus GDP performance rankings