Social enterprises (SEs) have recently attracted great attention due to their ability to combine social and economic goals through entrepreneurial and innovative strategies. Our study focuses on a subtype of SEs that predominates in rural areas, i.e. Community-Based SEs (CBSEs). This paper presents two case studies of CBSEs that have been operating for more than 20 years in two European (peripheral) rural areas (i.e. Mid-West/Ballyhoura Country in Ireland and Baixo Alentejo/Concelho de Moura in Portugal). The cases are built from empirical evidence collected through interviews, field visits, secondary data and the (working) experience of the researchers within the organisations.
Our research shows how these CBSEs have fostered (simultaneously) economic, social and environmental development within their areas. Furthermore, the paper highlights how the combination of local embeddedness and external links have been key to these CBSEs, enhancing their potential to foster the “connectivity” of the territories where they operate. Finally, this paper also presents the challenge faced by CBSEs to accommodate their commitment to community led development while operating in, and being dependent upon, a top-down and siloed policy framework.