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Project information

Project team

Thilo Lang, Sunna Kovanen


Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space, Germany; Adam-Mickiewicz-University, Poland; Roskilde University, Denmark; University College Cork, Ireland; Ballyhoura Development, Ireland; University of The Aegean, Greece; Otelo eGen, Austria; University Institute of Lisbon, Portugal

Duration of project

12/2016 – 01/2021

Funded by

European Union, Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions

Further information

Dr Thilo Lang
Tel.: +49 341 600 55-159

Project website

Social entrepreneurship in structurally weak rural areas: innovative troubleshooters in action (RurAction)

Marie Curie research and training network

Rural-peripheral regions, in comparison to urban areas, are commonly characterised by limited economic productivity and service provision. In addition, the lack of educational opportunities and qualified workplaces drives increasing amount of young people to cities. Thus, rural regions have even less chances to overcome their structural challenges. Simultaneously, however, many organisations, social movements and citizens question the phenomenon. They set up alternatives to conventional economic development models, which rely on ethical principles and question the primacy of global competition and economic growth. Some of these alternatives, which aim at solving social and ecological problems with entrepreneurial strategy, may be researched as social enterprises.

The Marie-Curie Research- and Training Network RurAction brought together researchers and practitioners working with social entrepreneurship in order to facilitate exchange between the respective fields. As a member of the international project consortium, Ifl had the responsibility for providing an integrated training program for the doctorate students in the project.

Sunna Kovanen has engaged in her sub-project in the relevance of collaboration for the long-term sustainability of rural social enterprises. Surviving through the start-up phase without compromising the transformative power has been recognised as major challenge for rural social enterprises. Collaborative practises seem to play an ambivalent role; on the one hand they provide the organisations with economic resources and support their innovativenenss, on the other hand they may increase the complexity of coordination and the risk of conflict. However, previous studies have overlooked the relevance of collaboration while focusing on the characters of individual leaders. Therefore, the study aimed at developing the theory of social entrepreneurship as a collaborative endeavour with the Communities of Practice approach. Furthermore, it approached the stability and transformative agency of social enterprises in relation to their different, de- and slow growing contexts. The comparative international case study explored six cases from North-Eastern Brandenburg, Germany and South-Eastern Alentejo, Portugal. The research questions have been:

  • What kind of patterns of collaboration can be identified and how do they contribute to the long-term sustainability of rural social enterprises?
  • How does the extent of participation and reification in collaboration relate to the social stability and transformative impact of the work relations?
  • In which conditions do emerging patterns of social learning and innovation challenge or become part of institutionalized market and governmental relationships?


Preliminary results confirm the relevance of collaborative practises and networks for the stability and transformative power of the social enterprises. Flexible and informal collaboration with the public sector seems to support especially community service enterprises greatly, whereas institutional decline and stagnation may provide a risk on a long-term. Furthermore, respectful negotiation of privileges between different participants in the internal collaboration seems to support social stability and reduce the risk of precarity and conflict. The main results of the project as a whole have been published in a handbook for practitioners by the Leibniz-Institute for Research on Society and Space. The findings of the sub-project at IfL are in the process of being published in peer-reviewed academic journals.

Knowledge transfer

The project has engaged also in a number of knowledge-transfer activities. As a result of a series of policy round tables on regional and EU levels, policy recommendations have been published to guide the design of new institutional support measures for rural social innovations.