Third-party funded project

Social Innovations in Structurally Weak Rural Regions: How Social Entrepreneurs Foster Innovative Solutions to Social Problems (RurInno)

Research Department: Dynamics of Communication, Knowledge and Spatial Development Research Management and Communication

IRS Research Topic: New Social Practices Research on Innovation Processes Shared Knowledge - Locally and Over Distance Forms and Implications of Spatial Governance

Project Leader within IRS: Prof. Dr. Gabriela Christmann

Project Team: Dr. Ralph Richter Dr. Karina Böhm Jan Zwilling

Consortium: Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space (Coordination) Johannes Kepler University Linz, Institute for Innovation Management (IFI) Nidzica Development Foundation NIDA Ballyhoura Development Ltd. Stevia Hellas OTELO eGen

Funding Organization: European Union

Duration: 02/2016 - 03/2018

RurInno Projektteam / RurInno project team
RurInno Projektteam / RurInno project team

In large parts of Europe, structurally weak rural regions are facing similar problems. Economic productivity is low, as is the availability of jobs for qualified people. At the same time, educational and cultural opportunities cannot be provided in these regions to the same extent as in conurbations. Both of these factors lead to continuous out-migration, especially of young, well-qualified people. Structurally weak rural regions are in danger to lose the contact with social and economic developments in Europe. Promoting social innovations is a strategy for counteracting the problems. Social enterprises play an important part in this, supporting social innovations by, for example, training young people in the development of entrepreneurial ideas and thus providing development impetus in structurally weak areas.

However, reports repeatedly show that many social enterprises lack of professional development and networking with the political sphere, public administration and funding organisations because of limited time and financial resources (Mercator Report 2012, EU Social Economy and Social Entrepreneurship Guide 2013). This is the starting point for the EU research project “Social Innovations in Structurally Weak Rural Regions: How Social Entrepreneurs Foster Innovative Solutions to Social Problems” (RurInno). It brings together researchers and practitioners from two research institutions and four social enterprises working in rural areas. The partners are pursuing three objectives together: first, promoting knowledge transfer between research and practice; second, improving empirical knowledge of conditions for social innovations in rural areas; and third, increasing the visibility of the work of social enterprises in politics and society.

The project will be implemented in two steps. In a first phase the researchers investigate the four social enterprises in their rural contexts. Under the scheme of neo-institutional approaches (DiMaggio/Powell 1983, Hollingsworth 2000) and social network theories (Burt 2004, Vedres/Stark 2010) we investigate how social enterprises are shaped by the institutional context of their rural regions and how they proceed with establishing social innovations and contributing to social change. In a second step, the findings will be discussed with the involved social enterprises. As a form of “action research”, we draw conclusions for effective rural social entrepreneurship. Thus, we enhance the perspective from doing research on social entrepreneurship to doing research with social entrepreneurs.


Recently, the federal commission on “Equal Living Conditions” reported considerable regional inequalities in Germany. Rural regions, in particular, suffer from poor education and employment opportunities, lower incomes and shortages in the provision of public and private services. These observations, however, are not specific for Germany. Many rural regions across Europe face challenges such as a lack of medical practices, village shops, schools and public service provision. In this situation, expectations rest on a relatively new type of organization: social enterprises. A new book explores the role of social enterprises in rural spaces. more info


Richter, R., & Fink, M. Policy Brief on Social Entrepreneurship as Driver of Change in Marginalised Rural Europe
Fink, M., Lang, R., & Richter, R. (2017). Social Entrepreneurship in Marginalised Rural Europe: Towards Evidence-Based Policy for Enhanced Social Innovation. Regions, 306(1), 6-10. DOI: 10.1080/13673882.2017.11878963
Richter, R. (2016). Social Innovations in Rural Life Worlds. In V. M. Carlow (Ed.), Ruralism: The Future of Villages and Small Towns in an Urbanizing World (pp. 140-147). Berlin: Jovis.
Richter, R. (2019). Rural Social Enterprises as Embedded Intermediaries: The Innovative Power of Connecting Rural Communities with Supra-Regional Networks. Journal of Rural Studies, 70(8), 179-187. DOI: 10.1016/j.jrurstud.2017.12.005
Richter, R. (2018). The Janus Face of Participatory Governance: How Inclusive Governance Benefits and Limits the Social Innovativeness of Social Enterprises. Journal of Entrepreneurial and Organizational Diversity , 7(1), 61-87. DOI: 10.5947/jeod.2018.004
Allen, S., Smyth, C., Dębska, R., Dampasi, S., Hollinetz, M., Mader, W., ... Richter, R. Rural Social Enterprises: Experiences from the Field: An Experiential Report Created by Practitioners, for Practitioners, in the Field of Social Enterprise
Richter, R. (2019). Sozialer Wandel ländlicher Gesellschaften. In W. Nell, & M. Weiland (Eds.), Dorf: Ein interdisziplinäres Handbuch (pp. 129-136). Berlin: J.B. Metzler.
Richter, R., Fink, M., Lang, R., & Maresch, D. (2020). Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Rural Europe. (Routledge Studies in Social Enterprise & Social Innovation). New York, London: Routledge.
Richter, R. (2021). Innovations at the Edge: How Local Innovations are Established in Less Favourable Environments. Urban Research & Practice. DOI: 10.1080/17535069.2020.1809700