Scandinavia’s welfare service provided by the state is often taken for granted and has become exhausted. Social innovation is stepping in to help
There are currently 292 social enterprises in Denmark, some of them are charities.
39 percent are non-profit organisations with commercial undertakings
21 percent are supported social enterprises
40 percent are social enterprises
They create 3,483 full-time jobs
The majority of Danish social enterprises are micro-businesses with less than 10 full-time equivalents.
Geographically they are spread across the country like ordinary Danish businesses, but a majority are in or near the capital.
Four in ten social enterprises operate in the health and social sector. This includes charitable associations and foundations, cafes and second-hand stores with social work
The most famous social enterprise in Denmark is The Specialist
People Foundation, an organisation that changes the way society perceives autism by
transforming it from a handicap to a competitive advantage.
The foundation employs autistic people, who have a 10 times lower fault rate in
software testing and other tasks. Every €1 invested in the enterprise delivers a return on
investment of €6 in savings for public spending, according to a cost–benefit analysis
conduced by The Specialist People Foundation on their establishment in Austria. The
Specialist People Foundation offers three main services. First, its assessment and training programme
includes individual assessment where participants clarify their strengths, weaknesses,
special aptitudes, capabilities and interests. Here, it maps out what their needs are to be
able to to perform in a job situation. Second, a business services programme helps
participants progress to become IT consultants Third, the Specialist school has started a
threeyear education programme for young adults aged 16 to 24 with autism spectrum
The Specialist People Foundation is run byThorkil Sonne. His son Lars was two and a
half years old when he and his wife noticed that his development started to differ from
that of his elder brothers; he was later diagnosed with autism. When Thorkil and his
wife couldn’t find the help that they needed from the welfare system he left his job of 15
years, remortgaged the house and founded a company aimed at creating a fair and better
life for their son. In the following years, Thorkil became involved with the Danish
Autism Organisation, started studying the Danish welfare model and met many more
people diagnosed with autism.
At that point Thorkil set out to change the way we view and interact with disability in
social enterprise society. Today, The Specialist People Foundation is one of Denmark’s
most successful , and has expanded to eight countries. According to Thorkil, now is the
time to start taking social enterprises seriously in Denmark. “The time is right to rethink
what kind of value social enterprise can bring the welfare state”‘ says Thorkil. “The
welfare system right now is under pressure and any crisis is an opportunity to rethink
and make things better.”
The Specialist People Foundation has shown that if you are innovative enough, you can
run a prospering social business with both private and public customers, complementing
and relieving the public welfare system. But as long as the welfare state holds the main
responsibility for solving social problems in Denmark, social innovation will be
challenged by the conditions in this strong public sector.