UK and US elbowed out of top country rankings for social entrepreneurs

A survey of the 45 largest economies reveals a significant shuffle since previous findings three years ago – with bruising results for former frontrunners, the US and UK, but impressive results from Pakistan and Nigeria

Canada has been named the best place to be a social entrepreneur in a survey of the world’s 45 biggest economies – while the UK falls out of the top ten and the US suffers a bruising decline.

The top ten countries overall are named as:

  1. Canada
  2. Australia
  3. France
  4. Belgium
  5. Singapore
  6. Denmark
  7. Netherlands
  8. Finland
  9. Indonesia 
  10. Chile

The Thomson Reuters Foundation study, released today, found that Canada had moved up from second place since its previous study in 2016 tracking perceptions of social entrepreneurship conditions. It also took first place in separate rankings looking specifically at conditions for female and for young social entrepreneurs. 

The country scored particularly highly on the ability of social entrepreneurs to make a living from their work, access to investment and ability to sell to both government and the public. 

Around 900 experts were surveyed in total, with results based on a minimum of 12 individuals in each country. Interviewees were asked about areas including government support, attracting skilled staff, public understanding and overall momentum of the movement.

Writing for Thomson Reuters, David LePage – managing partner for Buy Social Canada (and a former Social Enterprise World Forum chair) – said building the movement in Canada had been “a lot like doing a jigsaw puzzle with all the pieces emerging but without the box's cover to show us what the final image should actually look like”. He added: “There is no single element we can point to that led to this moment, and it surely did not happen overnight.”

In recent years momentum has built with the 2016 launch of Canada’s federal Social Innovation and Social Finance initiative and a CAN$800m (£470m) federal government commitment over 10 years.

UK, US out of favour

Both the US and the UK dropped in this year’s ranking, with the US suffering a bruising drop from first place in 2016 – down to 32nd place this year.

Thomson Reuters Foundation CEO Antonio Zappulla said this was linked to issues affecting business in general – such as changes to immigration laws relating to entrepreneurs – but that these were likely perceived as particularly challenging to social enterprises, which tend to be smaller or younger than their traditional counterparts.

The UK, ranked third in 2016, has dropped to 13th place this year. The survey authors put this down to business conditions and government policy having become less favourable for social entrepreneurs. In addition, while more women secured leadership roles in the last three years, equal pay opportunities deteriorated.

Perhaps surprisingly, public understanding of social entrepreneurship in the UK appears to have dropped significantly: down from 4th on the list in 2016, to 31st place this year. Government support, access to investment and the ability to make a living also all rank worse this year than in 2016.

“We’ve been jogging while the rest of the world has been sprinting” - Andrew O'Brien, SEUK 

Zappulla said Brexit was cited as a major factor among those polled, causing future uncertainty, currency fluctuations and a sense of slowed momentum on social enterprise measures.

However Andrew O’Brien, external affairs director at Social Enterprise UK, told Pioneers Post that Brexit had little to do with it, and that social enterprise has been a “slowly diminishing interest” even before that. 

“The longer we get away from financial crisis, the less government seems interested in changing business,” he said. Criticising ministers for using the UK’s supposed status as a world leader to justify inaction, he highlighted a lack of progress on “big ticket issues” such as tax and procurement. 

He said: “Maybe we started first… but we’ve been jogging while the rest of the world has been sprinting.” 

Further findings in the report show that:

  • Australia, Canada, Finland and Pakistan are considered the easiest places for social entrepreneurs to make a living
  • Teaching social enterprise in schools in Pakistan has helped make it one of the biggest gainers (up from 32nd to 14th place this year)
  • Despite the UK’s overall slump, in Scotland the sector is thriving thanks to government support
  • Only three African countries were surveyed (Nigeria, Egypt and South Africa), and they failed to make the top 20, but Nigeria came sixth in the separate ranking of where young people are playing a key role 
  • Medellin in Colombia was named as one of the world’s hot spots for social entrepreneurs, thanks to years of funding from local authorities
  • Interviewees in the United Arab Emirates were most likely to agree that social enterprise had a role to play in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals
  • The worst performer among the countries surveyed was Mexico, due to a lack of support from the government and other businesses

Full details are available at

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