”like a Spider in the Web“: Local Capacity Building By Interconnecting Rural Communities

Monday, 16 July 2018: 17:45
Oral Presentation
Ralph RICHTER, Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space (IRS), Germany
Many rural regions in Europe face challenges such as a high out-migration and low in-migration of young and well-skilled people. From this follows a lack of people who have fresh ideas, who question the status quo and act as change makers. At the same time the level of qualifications is rather low. In this situation policy makers and scholars direct high expectations to social enterprises. Social enterprises are said to be innovative actors who are able to find new solutions to social challenges and to operate in areas where the state and the market withdraw (Pless 2012, Munoz et al. 2014). This makes them to promising actors and capacity builders in rural regions.

In the proposed presentation I will present and bring up for discussion results of four qualitative case studies, conducted in rural regions across Europe. By applying social network theories (Burt 2004, Obstfeld 2005, Vedres/Stark 2010) and the conception of embeddedness (Granovetter 1985) I will show that rural social enterprises operate as intermediaries who interconnect rural communities with supra-regional networks and organisations on other spatial scales. This enables them to mobilize knowledge, ideas, support of powerful decision makers and financial resources which would otherwise be hardly available in remote rural communities. The far-reaching network contacts turn out to be important sources for the development of innovative solutions which rely on the recontextualisation of ideas rather than on domestic inventions. Rural social enterprises contribute to capacity building by improving the access of rural communities to powerful networks and support structures and by fostering social innovation.