Interest in social enterprise is rising internationally as policy makers increasingly view them as an alternative model for service delivery (Defourny & Nyssens 2010). An understanding of the factors that influence their development is therefore of interest to practitioners and policy makers alike. However the conceptualisation of social enterprise varies with context and perspective (Teasdale 2012), resulting in the emergence of a range of organisational legal structures (Galera & Borzaga 2009; Teasdale 2012). This study explores the factors that impact the sustainability of social enterprises and how the selection of social enterprise structure influences this process. The research used a concurrent, convergent mixed methods approach on a sample of 93 social enterprise leaders using surveys and face-to-face interviews. The participants were sourced from a cross-section of social enterprise organisational types from urban and regional locations in Australia and Scotland. Building upon prior findings the results suggest that regardless of organisational form, collaborative networks, resourcing, organisational capabilities and legitimacy are important factors in the success of social enterprises (Sharir et al 2009). However importantly, the research further reveals an overarching growth orientation, generally associated with profitability, to be the dominant factor in the sustainability of these ventures. The results further reveal that organisational structure may be influential in the sustainability of social ventures. For example variation was identified in terms of growth and organisational type. Those structured as For-Profit reported to be both growing more quickly and declared a higher expectation of growth than those structured as NFP. Perhaps suggesting that For-Profit social ventures are more strategically aggressive in terms of growth. Moreover despite the respondents reporting organisational resourcing to be important to sustainability, the For-Profit social enterprises identified markedly less resourcing support from external sources such as government than those structured as NFP. This implies that For-Profit social enterprises are likely to be more reliant on earned income streams than their NFP counterparts. Furthermore, although collaborative networks were evident and recognised as important to sustainability by the respondents of both organisational types, collaboration is shown to be more likely amongst Not- for- Profit social enterprises. Thus For-Profit social enterprises may not be accessing benefits associated with collaborative relationships. Hence the study suggests that the selection of organisational structure influences social enterprise sustainability and is therefore of strategic importance to policy makers and practitioners alike.
5th EMES International Research Conference on Social Enterprise: Building a scientific field to foster the social enterprise eco-system, Helsinki, Finland 30 June - 3 July 2015