Social entrepreneurs in Indonesia doing a  Collaboration Lab

5 takeaways from supporting social entrepreneurs for 5 years

Earlier this year, we shared our 5th Annual Review, which outlines our progress towards creating a better everyday life for people from vulnerable and marginalised groups. So, we took the opportunity to reflect on how the social entrepreneurship sector has developed since we started in 2018 and what we have learned along the way.   

1. Combine tools for long-term impact  

The first lesson we’ve learned is that we need to consider and test a range of supporting tools to meet the needs of both social entrepreneurs and the IKEA business.   

We started in 2012 by developing business partnerships with social enterprises, designing and producing products sold at IKEA stores worldwide, like FRÖDD and the upcoming MÄVINN collection. In 2018, we started funding and co-creating programmes that support social entrepreneurship with the vision of creating a more sustainable, inclusive, and equal world.  

Since then, our overall strategy and theory of change have stayed more or less the same, but our programmes and activities have evolved. In addition to our focus on capacity building, we’re developing our impact investment approach to continue supporting social enterprises with loans and equity as they scale. We also co-create social innovation programmes with the IKEA business and social entrepreneurs to develop social business models that meet business needs.  

2. Put social enterprises at the centre 

The second takeaway is the importance of starting from the contexts, needs, and wants of the social enterprises. In 2018, as we moved into finding more ways to support and learn from social entrepreneurs, we started to work with intermediaries to co-create accelerator programmes with them. We wanted to learn how best to support social entrepreneurs beyond our value chain.  

Through supporting nearly 200 social enterprises with partners such as Ashoka, New Ventures, Instellar and NESsT, we’ve learnt the importance of:   

  • Tailoring support to the individual needs of enterprises, e.g. financial management, market development, or funding  
  • Encouraging connections and networks between social enterprises and externally for learning and business collaborations  
  • Combining non-financial and financial support to foster both capacity building and investments  
  • Having a realistic and learning-oriented approach to impact management and measurement  
We’ve also observed that it can be lonely “at the top” of a social enterprise. Many social entrepreneurs have less time to invest in personal development and well-being than leaders in other sectors. As a result, we’re looking to add specific modules focused on personal and professional development to our programmes, enabling social entrepreneurs to focus on themselves so they can be in it for the long run.  


3. Engage co-workers  

Co-worker engagement has proved to be a highly valued part of our programmes for social entrepreneurs and our IKEA colleagues. Formally organised co-worker engagement, fully supported by IKEA organisations, allows us to draw on co-workers’ time, knowledge and skills to support participating social entrepreneurs. We’ve realised that co-worker engagement can take many forms, from leading masterclasses to providing coaching, business development mentoring and strategic advice. We’ve integrated this type of engagement in young talent development programmes within IKEA and added additional training programmes for co-workers.  

We’ve seen that social entrepreneurs benefit from developing their leadership skills, strategies, and solutions, while co-workers increase their understanding of social impact and social entrepreneurship, practice their mentoring and coaching skills, and find personal meaning in working alongside changemakers. In the future, we want to understand better the impact these experiences have on the daily work of co-workers and the IKEA business.  
IKEA Indonesia co-workers
IKEA Indonesia co-workers engaged in our I-SEA programme.
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4. Make systems change actionable  

We cannot solve the world’s most pressing challenges without conducive mindsets, legislation and government action. Many social entrepreneurs are, therefore, engaging in systems change activities to address this. We’ve seen that while it’s relatively easy to develop a systems change vision, it can be challenging to break it down into actionable plans practically. Additionally, a common trap when working with systems change is to fall in love with the solution instead of focusing on the challenge and potential partnerships. 

We know that to contribute to systems change, we need to collaborate. Many solutions already exist but need to be connected and, in some cases, even merged to create scale. Our Dela programme is entirely dedicated to developing systems change strategies, and to date, we’ve supported nearly 50 social entrepreneurs worldwide.  

5. Grow the ecosystem   

Since we started working with social entrepreneurs at IKEA in 2012, the entrepreneurial ecosystem has naturally evolved. From mostly market orientation with a social mission, it keeps expanding to more social innovation with different versions of system change solutions, like policy, certification schemes, mindset shift and behaviour change.   

The social entrepreneurship movement is also increasingly recognised by international, national, and local policymakers. The commitment to the EU Social Action Plan, guidelines from the OECD, and the recent resolution, Promoting the social and solidarity economy for sustainable development, adopted by the UN, testify to this interest.   

We support the sector’s development through membership in the Global Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship. The Alliance recently released for the first time estimates of the size of the global social enterprise sector:*    

  • There are around 10 million social enterprises globally  
  • Social enterprises create 200 million jobs across various sectors  
  • One in two social enterprises around the world is led by women, compared to one in five conventional enterprises.  
  • Social enterprises generate around $ 2 trillion in revenue yearly while creating a positive impact.  
This makes the social enterprise sector larger than the global apparel industry. After five years of working with an expanded toolbox, combining business partnerships and programmes, we are confident that supporting social entrepreneurs and enterprises is essential to solving social and environmental challenges. Social enterprises are led by visionary and dedicated individuals who combine purpose and business to innovate and scale and, as such, can be front-runners in the transition to a more just and resilient society.   

However, we still need to continue learning about how to support the movement further and how we can engage the IKEA business even more. What we do know is that this is a long-term journey that we need to go on together. We need to keep being optimistic and forward-leaning, learning and developing every day to enable a better life for the many people!   

Authored by Åsa Skogström Feldt, Managing Director IKEA Social Entrepreneurship BV