Impact Within and Beyond the Netherlands

I have previously alluded to the differences in sectors unique to a developed country as I begin to map the impact space in the Netherlands.  In this blog post, I will share some of the social enterprises I have come across with impact both within the Netherlands and beyond the Netherlands.

Impact in the Netherlands

There are a number of entrepreneurs who have launched ventures whose impact potential is not limited to the Netherlands, but whose concept was clearly developed with certain attributes popular in the Netherlands.  As mentioned in a previous post, Vrachtfiets is a biking transportation system for small scale cargo.  Another startup that addresses the biking culture in the Netherlands is Bike Dispenser, a tower full of bikes placed at train stations where you can “pull a bike out of the wall”.  A startup that is clearly applicable to the windy climate in the Netherlands is WindChallenge BV is a small, 10 pound wind turbine for installation on building roofs or in the built environment.  Whilst the origins of these concepts were developed to meet needs that are relevant in the Netherlands, these are concepts that also could be applicable to other countries that already do or could utilize a bicycle culture or has a windy climate.  Of course, the relevant infrastructure (e.g. bicycle lanes) needs to be in place to support these concepts.

Impact beyond the Netherlands

Interestingly, a few social enterprises in my research with impact beyond national borders operate with the model of donations to developing countries based off of sales of their product nationally.   Fairmail is a company which produces fair trade greeting cards with photos originating from teenagers in Peru and India who keep 50% of the proceeds to finance their housing and education.  In a different sector but with a similar model, Waka Waka Lights sells mobile lights and chargers from 55 Euros upwards, with two Waka Waka Lights sent to Haiti for every Waka Waka Light sold in the Netherlands.  Their distinction from other similar products is a longer battery life of 7-8 hours of bright light followed by 2 more hours of light at lower lux levels – details and comparison with other solar lamps here.

The arguments for cross-subsidy or profit donation models have been widely contested for various reasons:  creating monetary reliance instead of self-generating demand, offering standard product features that may not be the same for different uses in a developed vs developing country, the concept of “giving fish” rather than “teaching people how to fish for themselves”, distraction by focusing on revenue generation from developing countries, etc.  Despite this, many enterprises worldwide operate on this model and the concept of Waka Waka Lights was proved popular enough in a crowdfunding effort raising EUR75,000 from 320 investors globally through crowdfunding platform Symbid.

Of course, social enterprises based in the Netherlands but with global impact are not only restricted to the profit / product subsidy model.   There are a number of enterprises that are for-profit and have impact beyond a subsidy model.  For example, the solar industry is one where there already a number of Dutch startups: FlexSol Solutions, SUNURU and Solar Swing to name a few.  An interesting point however is that these enterprises do not heavily market themselves as social enterprises, rather are startups whose business is in the renewable energy sector.