Press releases

WEstart conference 11 September 2015

Today is a special day for Europe’s women social entrepreneurs. Today, we start a new conversation about what it means to do business in Europe. Today, we start to change our focus, from profit for profit’s take, to profit for a purpose. Today we start to recognise the potential of the women who are working for a better Europe. Today, WEstart together

[Brussels, 11 September 2015]

First research on women-led social enterprise in Europe reveals thriving sector, untapped potential

On September 11 2015 the European Women’s Lobby (EWL) presents the findings of WEstart: Mapping Women’s Social Entrepreneurship in Europe, the first-ever research study on women-led social enterprise in the European Union (EU). The WEstart project collected data on 1,000 women social entrepreneurs in ten countries, including Bulgaria, Germany, France, Hungary, Lithuania, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

“The huge potential of the social economy to contribute to growth is widely acknowledged by policy makers”, says Emily Usher Shrair, Manager of the WEstart project. “But prior to this study, data on Europe’s female social entrepreneurs was non-existent. We didn’t know who they were, what they were doing, or what kind of economic and social impact they were having. Now we do: and what we have found indicates they are more impactful and more transformative than we could have imagined. Their potential is high, and this sector is ripe for investment, with the promise of both economic and social returns.”

Socio-Economic Findings indicate women are leading sustainable enterprises and promoting job creation, with many having high revenue potential.

• Responding to an unmet need in their communities and developing innovative ideas to achieve transformative social impact are among the most common motivating factors to start a social enterprise.
• The findings of WEstart project reveal that the majority of women social entrepreneurs surveyed generate 1 to 3 full-time jobs, and one third of women produce high levels of annual revenue.
• For the majority of women social entrepreneurs, 50-100% of their annual revenue comes from the market, and over 90% of their surplus is reinvested back into their organisation or into a social cause.
• Access to finance is the most commonly reported barrier to success that women social entrepreneurs face, with lack of time and national level politics also cited as key obstacles.
Gender Equality Findings indicate the enormous potential of social enterprise as a vehicle of women’s empowerment, and demonstrate that investment in women-led social enterprise has the potential to contribute greatly to national-level gender equality.

• Over 90% of women feel that they have been empowered as a woman by starting and running a social enterprise.
• 85% feel that they are empowering other women with their social enterprise activity.
• Almost 90% of women feel they are contributing to gender equality in their country, through their work as a social entrepreneur.
• The majority of women have (unpaid) care responsibilities both when start, and growing their social enterprise: caring for a child, a family member, or another person.
“Women social entrepreneurs continue to remain invisible in the political landscape and this must change. Our research is very timely as the lack of data on women-led social entrepreneurship and social enterprise is worrying”, states Joanna Maycock, EWL Secretary General. “There is no mention of women or gender anywhere in the Social Business Initiative, nor is there any evidence that a gender lens will be applied, or that data will be disaggregated by sex. We hope our research will set an example of how a gender lens can and should be applied to all research on social enterprise and social entrepreneurship.”

WEstart is the first step in a longer term strategy to help foster women’s social entrepreneurship by connecting key stakeholders and advocating for policy change that supports women’s leadership in this growing sector. The project will subsequently support opportunities to further develop mutual learning, transnational partnerships, mentoring, knowledge and skills transfer and best practices with the aim of generating new employment and business opportunities for women across Europe.

More information on the WEstart research project can be accessed at:

You’re invited to the Westart final conference – Friday 11 September 2015 - 10:00 2 Rue Van Maerlant, Brussels

The European Economic and Social Committee event, entitled WEstart- Women Social Entrepreneurs Changing Europe, is the first EU-level event on the topic, and will feature panelists and speakers from four Directorate Generals of the European Commission, the European Parliament, major social enterprise intermediary organisations, and high revenue social enterprises. Over 150 policy makers, social entrepreneurs, academics, investors and other key stakeholders will be in attendance.

The WEstart conference will also be streamed live, and can be viewed at:

The European Women’s Lobby (EWL) is the largest umbrella organisation of women’s associations in the European Union (EU), working to promote women’s rights and equality between women and men. EWL membership extends to organisations in all 28 EU member states and the three candidate countries, as well as to 20 European-wide bodies, representing a total of more than 2000 organisations.

For more information, interviews, background or visual materials, please contact

- Emily Usher, Project Manager WEstart, European Women’s Lobby: +32 2 210 04 20

- Elvira Buijink, EWL Communication and Media Officer: + 32 2 210 04 40

Latest video

EWL event "Progress towards a Europe free from all forms of male violence" to mark the 10th aniversary of the Istanbul Convention, 12 May 2021.

Facebook Feed

Get Involved