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How Amsterdam has created a climate where social enterprises can thrive

by Kasia Kotlarska / July 2023

In 2015, the city of Amsterdam launched a groundbreaking initiative called Amsterdam Impact. Our mission has been clear and simple: to foster a climate where social enterprises could thrive and position the city as a leading hub for these innovative ventures. And we successfully did just that. During our eight-year collaboration journey at Amsterdam Impact, we’ve worked tirelessly with many local, regional and international partners to transform our economy in the Netherlands into a wellbeing economy that creates social and financial value, with impact enterprises as frontrunners. Fast forward to today, we are proudly co-hosting SEWF23 alongside Social Enterprise NL. 

As you read on, you’ll discover highlights from our collaborative efforts to strengthen the social enterprise ecosystem through activities focused on education, economic transition, access to capital and new markets, as well as local and international collaborations. 

Bringing impact entrepreneurship to classrooms, lecture halls and beyond  

One of our focuses has been to instil the knowledge of impact entrepreneurship in young minds in schools and universities to empower the next generation to create positive change. We co-created and co-financed several initiatives that introduced primary school children to social and sustainable entrepreneurship. In 2021, we delivered a six-lesson social and sustainable entrepreneurship series to 500 children together with Fawaka Entrepreneurship School and the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS). A year later, this pilot grew into IDEEC, a three-year, EU-funded research project where we collaborated with Fawaka, the AUAS and six international partners. Together, we’ve been helping entrepreneurship education providers, teachers and policymakers design effective programmes for children aged 9-15.

Speeding up the new economy transition by shifting mainstream business 

We recognise that true systemic and economic changes require the involvement of people from all sectors and walks of life. That’s why we encourage and support mainstream businesses to become impact-driven. Through initiatives like the Building Better Business programme, in collaboration with B Lab and Economy for the Common Good (ECG), between 2021 and 2022 we helped 46 companies accelerate their social and environmental impact by becoming certified for their performance. We are excited to share that eight companies have joined the B Corp or ECG communities after receiving expert support, guidance and tools throughout these two editions. More certifications are on their way. 

Also read:  From funding to income:  How White Box Enterprises is supporting social enterprises to start and grow in Australia, while also generating revenue 

We also launched Impact Deals in 2023, a project in partnership with MKB Amsterdam as part of the European Commission’s Local Green Deal project. By early July 2023, we’ll have helped 10 Amsterdam Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs) become more sustainable and increase their social impact. These SMEs will also have access ⏤ through the municipality ⏤ to new networks and consultations on finances and equity in employment. 

Moving the needle on responsible procurement and conscious purchasing 

Impact-driven entrepreneurs need good business plans and a healthy dose of idealism to sell their products and services. To ensure their success, we go beyond creating a supportive environment to actively facilitating deals between enterprises that provide inclusive and sustainable products and services and potential buyers. We co-developed and helped run Buy Social network’s ‘pitch-and-match’ events with fellow SEWF23 Co-host Social Enterprise NL. And as a result, we generated over 50 deals between impact enterprises and buyers from other companies and organisations.  

To further bridge the gap between buyers and impact entrepreneurs, we recently designed eight conscious shopping routes – one for each Amsterdam district and the Weesp city area (definitely worth checking out if you’re planning on being in Amsterdam for SEWF23!). We encourage residents and visitors to go off the beaten path and explore 62 stores, restaurants and other venues that positively impact society.  

For example, in Amsterdam Noord, where SEWF23 will take place, you can visit a restaurant that’s part of an urban agriculture project (Pof and NoordOogst); check out Europe’s first shop with children’s dolls in all colours (Colourful Goodies); visit a fair factory for circular bicycles (Roetz Bikes, also speaking at SEWF23); find pre-loved clothes and home decor items; watch the sun go down at a cosy beach pavilion (De Verbroederij) and so much more. 

Also read:  From funding to income:  How White Box Enterprises is supporting social enterprises to start and grow in Australia, while also generating revenue 

Removing barriers to accessing sustainable finance  

Access to finance can be a significant hurdle for impact entrepreneurs, especially as their businesses grow and initial investors step away from backing them. We address this challenge through several initiatives. We became the first major sponsor of investors Co-Financing our Future (CoFoF), which quickly became the Netherlands’ leading peer-to-peer impact investing community with banks, venture capital firms, foundations, private investors and other financial organisations supporting with combined funds of €2.5 billion. The CoFoF community builds on insights from the Integrated Capital Network (ICN), a pilot initiative we also co-launched in 2019. It gave impact entrepreneurs at different stages of growth an opportunity to pitch their businesses to various finance providers. Like, for example, Makers Unitea textile-based impact enterprise. They support newcomers with access to the job market through the collaborative design and production of sustainable items. The organisation initially pitched to the ICN in 2018 without success but came back in 2020 with a second pitch and secured a substantial investment. Get inspired by the journeys of Makers Unite and sister initiative United Repair Centre by hearing from founder Thami Schweichler, one of the SEWF23 speakers. 

Giving a boost to Amsterdam’s neighbourhood-level entrepreneurs  

Community-based social enterprises are important but often need funding and expertise to grow. In 2021, we worked with other municipal departments and Impact Hub Amsterdam to launch Boost je Buurt (‘Boost your Neighbourhood’). It was designed as a challenge for impact-driven entrepreneurs striving to make Amsterdam’s neighbourhoods healthier, more inclusive and sustainable. 

Also read:  From funding to income:  How White Box Enterprises is supporting social enterprises to start and grow in Australia, while also generating revenue 

The Boost je Buurt 2021 winners included Bijlmer Bookstore, Amsterdam’s first Afrocentric bookshop, and Women Skate the World, which uses skateboarding to empower girls, women and LGBTQI+ people. By the second edition in 2022, 58 entrepreneurs participated in the business growth programme and 11 won development budgets from the municipality. Among the 2022 winners were Juiciety, makers of all-natural fruit and vegetable juices with South American and Caribbean superfoods, and Marie Marie, an impact enterprise that connects women through crocheting colourful bags and accessories ( which has already featured in Vogue). 

Co-creating a global impact entrepreneurship movement  

More businesses are going beyond financial focus by embracing impact-minded business models, putting people and the planet first. Many cities, regions and national governments are also promoting social and impact-driven entrepreneurship. We believe that collaborating and learning from each other are important, which is why we have set up the Impact Ecosystems Network, a global network with cities and regions to share lessons learned from inspiring and facilitating the transition to a wellbeing economy.  

In 2022, we joined two social and solidarity economy (SSE) consortia initiated by an EU-funded OECD Global Action. One partnership focused on developing SSE ecosystems and the other on internationalising SSE organisations.  

Last but not least, we have been key partners of the Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) since 2020 before becoming SEWF23 Co-hosts – a beautiful milestone in Amsterdam’s journey to becoming a leading metropolis for a more inclusive and sustainable economy.    

Want to know more about Amsterdam Impact?   

Explore our website and read our Cities of Impact series in collaboration with Pioneers Post. Find us on LinkedIn, Instagram or at SEWF23. We can’t wait to welcome you to Amsterdam!  

Learn how you can also be part of SEWF23 here.