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dr. E.C. (Emma) Folmer

Assistant professor sustainable entrepreneurship
Profile picture of dr. E.C. (Emma) Folmer


How can entrepreneurs and business contribute to solving complex social problems? The answer to this question becomes more pressing in a world where existing solutions are not delivering enough impact. Traditionally, we have looked at governments, charities and NGO’s to contribute solutions to problems such as poverty, unemployment, climate change and inequalities in education and healthcare. More recently however, the practice of taking a business approach to solving these social problems has become more widespread. The phenomenon of social and sustainable entrepreneurship is on the rise, and we need to understand under what circumstances these entrepreneurs can emerge, thrive and be the most successful.

Social enterprises can engage in innovation to shed light on grand challenges that are often too complex to be solved by a single agent or government. Because social enterprises oftentimes emerge from and are embedded in local communities, they have a unique understanding of how grand challenges manifest locally. This enables them to come up with innovative processes, products or services to create social impact. With my research, teaching and collaborative projects I try to make a contribution to learning more about social enterprises and entrepreneurship.

My research has the aim to understand under what conditions social entrepreneurship can thrive, how social entrepreneurs deal with organizational challenges and how they create social impact on a community level. My main lines of research are the following:
1)Comparative (social) entrepreneurship; comparing institutional conditions across spatial contexts to asses why (social) entrepreneurs emerge and thrive in certain locations.
2) Collective and community entrepreneurship
3) Sustainable entrepreneurship education

Example research projects in line no. 1:
-A model of solidarity and social entrepreneurship: how do different forms of solidarity in the population i.e. informal, religious and welfare state solidarity influence regional social entrepreneurship rates?
-Listening to the Buzz: Firm Creation and Regional Relational Structures as Reflected by Social Media: using Twitter data to tell us something about the innovative milieu of regions and the connection to local entrepreneurship rates: (project funded by the British Academy / Leverhulme foundation).

Example research projects in line no. 2:
-Social entrepreneurship at the grid edge: how do urban energy communities discover and implement opportunities for the purpose of energy demand reduction? Also, how can these energy communities generate social benefits beyond energy demand reduction? This project is funded by the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS).
-Social entrepreneurship and place-based change: qualitative research using in-depth interviews with social entrepreneurs who are aiming to reduce inequality in their communities. Purpose of the research is to unpack the change mechanisms that social entrepreneurs use.

Example research project in line no. 3:
Teaching entrepreneurship for sustainability (TES): Erasmus+ funded project on integrating entrepreneurship and sustainability teaching focused on developing a new teaching module. Collaboration with Uppsala (Sweden) and Nord University (Norway).

In my teaching I try to create an inclusive learning environment where students’ prior knowledge and capabilities are valued and valuable. By including international and Dutch case studies in my teaching, students are able to connect academic insights to practical examples. The three main courses that I teach are all embedded in the MSc Sustainable Entrepreneurship at Campus Fryslân: Sustainable Organisation: what drives organisations to act sustainably, and how are they different from enterprises? Sustainable Performance: how can we know the social and sustainable impact that sustainable organisations (claim to) make? Research Methods: learning about research design and answering research questions.

Rigorous and foundational scientific research into sustainability issues in a broad sense is hugely important, while at the same time we need to spend time talking to entrepreneurs, business and civic leaders to learn about the questions that we need to find solutions for and co-create new knowledge.I participate in thematic events around social entrepreneurship, as a speaker or co-organiser. At the moment I am involved in a collaboration with StichtingVerbindMij to organize a series of events for vulnerable young adults and children around the Sustainable Development Goals – creating awareness and knowledge that might guide them on their way to new careers. The series is planned for the end of 2020 and spring 2021. Follow the progress of this project on Instagram
Last modified:01 March 2024 1.44 p.m.

Contact information

Wirdumerdijk 34
8911 CE Leeuwarden
The Netherlands