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Learning social cooperative entrepreneurship

It is important to equip our students with the knowledge and skills on social cooperative entrepreneurship to better enable their active participation in the world of work and in solving the complex problems of today.


Rakhshanda Khan

senior lecturer
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Maija Suonpää

vanhempi tutkija
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Published : 23.02.2023

Social entrepreneurship has been defined in many different ways by researchers and experts. We understand it as a process by which individuals identify social challenges, combine resources in new ways, evaluate and exploit resources to produce social value and meet social needs (Mair & Marti 2006). Simply put, it is a business with a social purpose.

These businesses should not be confused with nonprofit organisations. Social entrepreneurship is a for-profit endeavour, even though a greater emphasis is placed on addressing social and environmental challenges.

Social cooperative entrepreneurship practices cooperative governance approaches, where the aim is to create social impact by meeting the economic, social and cultural needs of the members through a jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprise.

Inspiring Cases of Social Entrepreneurship

While working with our Mydigicoop project partners, we were impressed by the Mondragon cooperative model, which has been built since the mid-1950s. It is made up of 95 separate, autonomous cooperatives with around 80 000 employees and 14 research and development centers. It is ranked first in the Basque Country and tenth in Spain in the business classification.

Cooperatives use democratic methods in their business organisations, with the objectives of employment, personal and professional development of workers and community development. We also learnt about Sibiu Impact Makers, a social entrepreneurship program, which is practiced in Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, Romania. There an interdisciplinary program seeks innovative solutions to solve important community problems.

While conducting our project, we became conscious of all the cooperative activities that are conducted in Finland. Haaga-Helia’s learning environment for accounting students, Taseco, is built around the cooperative model. While such activities exist in Finland, there is a lack of knowledge and understanding of this concept. During the validation phase of our project, we interviewed students and staff members about social entrepreneurship. We realised, that hardly anyone among students and staff understood the concept well enough, even though entrepreneurship is one main focus at Haaga-Helia.

The Way Forward

During the Mydigicoop project, we have learnt that the mindset of people needs to change in order to reap the full social benefits of a cooperative model. The best way to change the mindset is through education. Thus, we should offer more courses to educate our students about the concept of social cooperative entrepreneurship.

It is important to equip our students with the knowledge and skills to actively participate in the world of work and solve the complex problems that we face today. We challenge teachers to explore and reflect on how social entrepreneurship can be integrated into teaching and learning. Students need to understand the different opportunities of contributing to society.

Dear reader, can you think of ways to foster the mindset of social cooperative entrepreneurship in your organisation?

Haaga-Helia is part of the Mydigicoop project funded by EU’s Erasmus+. The project aims to promote social cooperative entrepreneurship in higher education, by training university educators to use innovative online tools to learn about social cooperative entrepreneurship.


Mair, J., Marti, I. 2006. Social entrepreneurship research: A source of explanation, prediction and delight. Journal of World Business, vol. 41, no. 1, pp. 36-44.