The era of outsiders deciding what’s good for communities is over. The new paradigm is all about participatory processes and co-creation. When you fill in a funding request form, you’re often asked ‘How will this initiative be sustained’? The easy answer is invariably ‘Let’s make it a community enterprise!’ That sounds like a great idea, but what does community-based entrepreneurship really mean? And what are the tools we need to make it a reality?


We have been trying to answer these questions together with Elos, an international education network that wants to prepare young people for a future society in which European integration and globalisation are the norm. Elos and Impact Hub actively participated in the Community-based Entrepreneurship Action Learning (CEAL) network. For the past two years, CEAL – funded by the Erasmus+ scheme – has been developing a multi-phase model to design action learning programs for youth, using different methods, tools and strategies for social innovation. Since 2014, 8 pilot programs took place in 6 European cities and 5 countries, bringing together youth and local partners who wanted to learn about launching projects that have a socio-economic impact, stimulate community development, foster entrepreneurial skills and promote a culture of collaboration.


Students went out of familiar classroom and the local community left their comfortable homes to challenge themselves, learn new ways of collaboration and co-create value propositions on a community level. Programs took place in both urban and rural communities, challenging participants to bridge background difference while achieving tangible, collective results.


The CEAL program is inspired by a Brazilian community transformation process called the Oasis Game, which has been used worldwide for the past 15 years. The Oasis Game focuses on boosting local talent and implementing collective dream projects. But we took it a bit further in the local pilot programs as the network united to build a common framework and answer collectively what the requirements of community-based entrepreneurship were.


And we found was there’s no one definition, surely not one that applies to the plurality of European perspectives. We also concluded that the realization of entrepreneurial community-based projects requires a process-oriented approach based on creating relationships of confidence.


Community-based entrepreneurship

We tend to see community-based entrepreneurship as a process of facilitation of organizations and community leaders,, but the risk is reverting to the old model of outsiders deciding what’s good for the community. And we have to let go of that as we step into the local reality. As participants of a CEAL process, the first stage of the process is crucial, namely connecting with the people that live in a community and building a relationship based on appreciation of each community member’s talent and unique contribution to the collective, as well as a focus on shared values.


“We were stationed in the neighbourhood Centre De Dreef, literally the last building before walking out into the polders. It turned out to be an enormously challenging step – mentally and physically – to act as social entrepreneurs in the ‘real world’. The community members were invited to take ownership of their learning process, to develop an entrepreneurial instinct.” – Peter Linde, Lecturer at the University of Utrecht, the educational partner of the CEAL project in Utrecht Overvecht

Yes, this takes time and yes, it means you have to knock on people’s doors, sit down for a coffee together and get deeply engaged. When there’s an environment of confidence you can talk to people about their deeper aspirations and unearth the potential for a community-rooted project. And what will slowly emerge is a clear image of what can be done in a community, of a space for collective aspirations and joint energy that sets the ground for collective entrepreneurial initiatives.


“I would have never imagined myself enjoying a situation in which I was dressed up and had to talk to complete strangers, trying to convey something that – at that time – was only a fantasy. I understood that if I didn’t let go, I wouldn’t be able to get others to share our dream. I also realized that if I could participate with enthusiasm, other people would join, too. My dream for the market is that it can become a tool of transformation, which can generate change in our neighbourhood to promote a sense of belonging in the community. For change to be scaled from the local context to a global level, we must start from the personal to be able to get to the collective.” ­– Izaskun, participant of the CEAL program in Portugalete, Basque Country


An essential part of seeing potential or coming to any form of value proposition is collaborating on a prototype, getting results, experiencing the initiative as a community. During all executed programs, a hands-on period was key in achieving concrete outcomes, such as a community workspace, a local market and a shared fridge.


“I’m really happy and satisfied with our work, proud of the relationships we created, in love with my community and deeply exhausted. It has been long weeks of hard work, because the challenge we faced wasn’t easy. Enter an old market that has been closed many years, in a neighbourhood with many empty houses, abandoned by local authorities, and turn it into a space for all and built by all. But we’re celebrating, we’re building, and we’re getting there.” – Zihortza, participant of the CEAL program in Portugalete, Basque Country


We learned that the scale of a community initiative depends on factors such as focus, available time and the potential arising in the community context. This potential can range from a one-off initiative, to the setup of a fully operational community enterprise. Thus, we identified three types of projects:


  1. A one-off initiative as a first experience of collective action, stimulating the entrepreneurial spirit by making something happen together,


  1. 2. A community project with socio-economic potential, namely the first prototype of a collective, self-sustaining community project,


  1. A community enterprise based on the exchange of goods, services and money, which is run in an organized way.


What we got back from the experiences of students, youth and community members alike was that the strongest transformation came in the process of connecting and collaborating. Only once trust is established can you take the next steps together towards a solid value proposition. And only then, dear Hubbers, can start you start using beloved tools such as the business model.



Since 2014, CEAL network partners from Madrid, Bilbao (Spain), Berlin (Germany), Utrecht (The Netherlands), Frome (UK) and Gent (Belgium) frequently came together to craft a methodological basis that could be used for formal and non-formal educational institutions, facilitators and community organizations that want to set up similar programs.


During the various partner exchanges, deep conversations about the essence of community-based entrepreneurship took place. Our shared vision boils down to these three elements:


1. Entrepreneurship is an attitude, supported by the knowledge, tools and skills that can be acquired during a CEAL program. What matters most is to stimulating a community’s underlying entrepreneurial spirit. This spirit or attitude is what is provoked or awakened in the CEAL process, especially through by focusing on people’s individual talents. We all have the fire inside.


2. Collaboration processes must revolve around concrete initiatives that directly benefit the community and its members. Results will most likely emerge from collective aspiration, a can-do attitude and the desire to contribute to projects that benefit the community socially, environmentally and economically. Community-based entrepreneurship is for and by the community, and it rewards active citizenship.


3. Projects should have a strong socio-economic potential. The focus of CEAL programs is on highlighting the value created by the project. Our definition of value goes beyond the economic benefits, and especially includes creating social value for different community groups. We actively search for how the project leaders and the initiative’s beneficiaries can co-create a form of exchange and generate socio-economic impact.


Potential socio-economic impacts include stimulating the local (sharing) economy, increased volunteering and small-scale income generation.


Would you like to know more about these projects or design a similar program? Go to and find case studies, videos and a complete design toolkit that includes a guide, cards, a process map and much more – all there to help you set up a CEAL program in your community!