ViSENet - Village Social Enterprise learning material, guidance and networking


As many countries rural areas are facing the same contemporary societal challenges, such as a tightening economy and diminishing local services, there is a need to find new tools for rural communities to cope with the future. One possible solution is the development of locally based social enterprise (SE). Social entrepreneurship can be defined as entrepreneurship that has a strong social goal where profits are reinvested back into the local community. The concept is, however, relatively novel in rural development across much of Europe. There is much local potential, embedded knowledge and skill in rural communities to improve local service provision and employment, but the people usually do not recognize this or know how to make full use of it. This is why there is a need to raise the capacity of local people to better address the community potential and needs by increasing their knowledge and skills of community activation, partnerships and networking, business thinking and recognizing the social impacts of social entrepreneurship in local communities.

Project in University of Helsinki Research Portal

The target groups of the project are individuals who are interested in developing and sustaining their rural communities, who are willing to consider socially enterprising solutions to assist their rural areas or individuals who already have an idea for social enterprise in rural areas, as well as individuals already engaged in social enterprise activity but wish to gain new skills, knowledge and expertise to assist them in their venture. Nearly 300 participants will be engaged in learning while participating in the actions of the project.

The project aims to enhance the ideas and methods to promote and support social entrepreneurship in rural areas by

  • creating an open access digital learning material and opportunities for rural communities and people to foster the knowledge and awareness of the social enterprises
  • supporting online learning experience of the development of social enterprises in rural environments with evaluated and piloted methods addressing local needs
  • enhancing the rural communities to better interact and exchange experiences and good practices with other communitiesregionally , nationally and internationally by a digital networking platform as well as by establishing an international network of rural social enterprises to exchange experiences, good practices and disseminate learning material created.

Project partners:

University of Helsinki Ruralia Institute (coordinator), Finland
The Bucharest University of Economic Studies (ASE), Romania
Estonian University of Life Sciences (EMU), Estonia
Nürtingen-Geislingen University (NGU), Germany
Inspiralba, Scotland

The project outcomes will include

a) Open access learning material

The learning material is created in cooperation between strategic partnership of consortium based on the common consistency of good practices and experiences; and is divided to three thematic learning modules based on the practical needs of rural actors aiming to support the development of the rural social enterprises.

The learning modules are

1) Community Activation and Participation Methods in Rural Areas

2) Partnerships and Networking of Social Entrepreneurs

3) Social Enterprise Solutions for Sustaining Rural Communities and Measuring Social Impact.

Each module is based on good practices and experiences identified by consortium and will be tested in national pilot groups. [description of your national pilot group, if you like]

b) International Network of Rural Social Enterprises

In addition to support the future work of rural social entrepreneurs the project will establish an international network (Rural Social Enterprises) to give the members peer support, advice and a platform to exchange information and good practices to keep the process ongoing. The membership will be open to everyone interested in the topic.

c) Practical Guidebook of Good Practices for supporting the development of social entrepreneurship (SE) in rural areas

The experiences gained through the project will be written into an e-guidebook of good practices for further use targeted at both learners and educators as well as policy makers.

Results of the project will be shared through disseminating outputs in the open access format. All products and materials will be available and accessible online to all who are interested in social entrepreneurship and community development.

As an outcome the skills of the rural communities to establish SEs will increase and are likely to have a positive influence on their effectiveness in community development, social entrepreneurship and/or employability and finally the potential longer-term benefits. Supporting the development of SE's in rural areas will enhance active citizenship and helps better to address the future challenges (e.g. lack of skills, jobs, services and social exclusion in rural context). Learning material and piloted methods suitable for rural areas encourage communities to develop SE's and share their experiences with others.

The project duration time is 03.12.2018–02.06.2021.
The project is funded by EU Erasmus+ Strategic partnership for adult education.
The Finnish National Agency for Education is hosting the national agency for the European Union’s education and youth programmes.

The capacity to identify needs, assets and opportunities in the local rural communities and collaboration are critical for rural communities in Estonia, Finland, Romania, and Scotland.

The data was collected during the first phase of the VISEnet Erasmus + project for social entrepreneurship in rural communities

The rural communities must be able to meet their basic needs, such as clean water, health, education and employment and paraprofessionals already exist in villages and their wisdom, traditional knowledge and practical skills are not identified, mobilized or applied*. Through Erasmus + program "Village Social Enterprise learning material guidance and networking” (VISEnet), the international team composed of experts and professors from the academia and rural communities representatives, aims to develop various skills in rural communities to fit their needs for development of social enterprises.

During August - November 2019, 64 people from rural communities in Estonia, Finland, Scotland and Romania participated in local workshops focused on "Methods of community activation and participation in rural areas" divided into five subjects of analysis (figure 1), to stimulate the development of social enterprises in their communities.


Figure 1. Subjects addressed during the local workshops

A variety of teaching methods were employed: community mapping in terms of needs, assets and opportunities (the Enterprise Assessment Tool), brainstorming, the empathy map.

In Estonia, NGO Ökokuller coordinated the workshop which included two communities, one from North-Estonia - Lahemaa and one from South-Estonia - Haanja. The facilitator, with the help of the VISEnet learning material aimed to bring the communities closer together in tourism development and as a result, this workshop helped to strengthen a group of locals to make them ready for further tourism development activities.

In Finland, the activities were coordinated and developed by the University of Helsinki Ruralia Institute. The two villages participating in the project are at different stages of developing social enterprises. Together with the three facilitators, the participants assessed the resources and opportunities available in their own context by community mapping. The workshop gave the participants the confidence that there is available assistance for business development and that other rural areas have done such social enterprises. The main lesson drawn from this workshop was that “there are assets and potential in the village, it just has to be seen and turned into a business opportunity.”

In Romania, 19 members of a rural community composed of seven villages, were guided by the Bucharest University of Economics professors in a process of mapping the local needs and untapped resources. The participants worked around the concepts of "community activation” and “community participation" and collaboratively identified both the critical needs for the school community, the assets of their school community and potential connections between the needs in the community and the assets available. However, there is a need for continuous assistance and training regarding the use of different tools to turn opportunities into business models. At the end of the activity, a group of four participants declared that they want to “voluntarily work on the activities resulting from the workshop”.

In Scotland, the activities were coordinated by Inspiralba and the focus was on identifying assets in the community, in particular in relation to human assets. Moreover, the team identified a range of physical and natural assets within thevillage. The group also recognized that whilst there were a range of potential skills available in the village, people’s availability and time was a factor. Future plans of the group of participants imply that “there is a need for a second session to identify the range of skills available in particular areas of work”.


Figure 2. Main priorities of local communities resulted from the four local workshops

The main priorities of local rural communities resulting from the local workshops (figure 2) are related to mapping local opportunities which have potential to be turned into business opportunities with a high impact on the social context of each particular community, and to identifying rural human, infrastructure and natural assets.
Moreover, the facilitator teams in all the countries-partners concluded that paying particular attention to community activation and participation in rural areas helps foster local social entrepreneurship in many ways. In conclusion, the content about community activation and participation developed by the VISEnet team may be a means to strengthen the communities (Estonia), to foster the potential of the community (Finland), encourage local activation and initiative (Romania) and enhance continuation of local development processes (Scotland).

The premise of the VISEnet Erasmus + project is that in rural communities there is a lot of local potential, knowledg and skills needed to improve the provision of local services and employment, but people do not know how to use the resources of the local community or the region. A possible solution for the development of the local economy is social entrepreneurship, a sustainable initiative for which the social purpose prevails and where the profit is reinvested in the local community, however, relatively new in rural development in Europe. Therefore, it is necessary to develop the capacity of the locals to identify and use the potential of the community, by developing the skills of community activation, of creating partnerships and networks for the recognition and support of social entrepreneurship. The next workshop scheduled for 2020 will focus on “Creating partnerships and networks for community development”.

The ViSEnet project is funded by the EU Erasmus+ Strategic partnership for adult education.
Source: *The Power of Unreasonable People: How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets That Change the World
Hardcover by John Elkington (Author), Pamela Hartigan (Author), Klaus Schwab (Foreword).
Available at:

The resources related to “community activation” and “community participation” developed during the first phase of the project and piloted with the rural communities partners during the workshops are available for examination online:

A video about the workshop held in Romania:

The European Commission is not responsible for the content of this press release.

University of Helsinki Ruralia Institute, Finland (coordinator): Website
Contact: Katja Rinne-Koski,

Estonian University of Life Sciences, Estonia: Website
Contact: Roger Evans, and Lea Sudakova,

Nürtingen-Geislingen University, Germany: Website
Contact: Roman Lenz,

Bucharest University of Economic Studies, Romania: Website
Contact: Carmen Paunescu,

Inspiralba, Scotland: Website
Contact: Ailsa Clark,