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Analysis of Viennese social enterprises with a focus on the integration of refugees

Even though media attention has recently declined, the integration of refugees into the labor market remains a central challenge. In recent years, more and more social entrepreneurs have taken on this task. But how well does social entrepreneurship work in this field? What do social entrepreneurs do differently? What innovations do they bring to the table and what difficulties do they face?

In the study Social Enterprises in the Integration Sector - An Analysis of Potentials and Challenges in the Labor Market Integration of Refugees in Vienna, Peter Vandor, Reinhard Millner, Camilla Mittelberger and Lukas Weissinger shed light on the work of Viennese social entrepreneurs in the context of the labor market integration of refugees and discuss potentials, challenges and recommendations for action for city policy.

The study investigated the contribution social entrepreneurs in Vienna can make to the labor market integration of refugees and provides insight into their offers, innovations, relationships and challenges. In addition to a detailed analysis of the relevant literature, 15 guideline-based interviews with founders and managers of Viennese social enterprises were conducted and analyzed.

The results show that social entrepreneurs choose a variety of approaches to support refugees in the labor market, ranging from preparation for entering the labor market, to placement concepts, to long-term support for the placed persons after they start working.

Many social enterprises rely on innovative and effective elements in their work, which have been honored by various prizes and awards. The independence from funding bodies thanks to income from the sale of products and services enables them to react quickly to the changing needs of the target group. In many cases, this makes it possible to offer extremely specialized services tailored to specific target groups (for example, highly qualified refugees).

The good cooperation with actors from the public sector and the social sector is crucial for the success of the organizations. The analysis of the qualitative interviews shows that there is a high degree of networking in the ecosystem. Also due to the specialized offer, persons of the target group are often referred to other, more suitable contact points. In the admission process for work training, further education or apprenticeship as well as in the recruitment process of new employees, the organizations often make use of the network. However, some organizations would like to see greater involvement in the development of public policies for the labor market integration of refugees and prioritized awarding of public contracts to social enterprises.

The legal framework surrounding asylum and access to the labor market is described as a major difficulty for the organizations and the target group. The fact that there is practically no access to the labor market during the asylum procedure is criticized as an obstacle to integration. Some founders and managers of social enterprises also complain that the lack of a legal form for social enterprises and the lack of awareness of the sector make their work more difficult.

Given the particular achievements and challenges of Viennese social entrepreneurs in the field of refugee integration, various potentials and recommendations can be derived from the study results:

  • Social enterprises can serve as an "innovation laboratory" for the city and help to develop innovative approaches to solutions in the field of labor market integration of refugees.

  • Social enterprises are well positioned as implementation partners of the city to provide high-quality integration services. In some cases, social enterprises already place trained personnel with a refugee background as employees with the City of Vienna. This commitment can be greatly expanded.

Download the study here


Dr. Peter Vandor

Peter Vandor

Head of Social Entrepreneurship Center, Senior Researcher
Responsibilities: Co-founder and Head of the Social Entrepreneurship Center. Research: Social entrepreneurship, migrant entrepreneurship, mental wellbeing and internationalisation among social entrepreneurs, civil society in CEE Founder of Social Impact Award.