Social Entrepreneurship Initiative Foundation

We support social entrepreneurs in Switzerland along the innovation chain

Social Entrepreneurship Initiative Foundation


Established in 2011

The Journey

The Social Entrepreneurship Initiative (seif) was founded in 2011 by Mariana Christen Jakob, who is a lecturer at Lucerne University and head of research projects in the corporate social responsibility with a focus on corporate partnership, social innovation and social impact measurement.

Mariana detected a gap in support for social innovation start-up initiatives in Switzerland. There was already strong support, especially from the government, for tech innovation and traditional entrepreneurship – but very little acknowledgment of the important role that social entrepreneurship could play.

With support from the Confederation’s innovation promotion agency, CTI (Commission for Technology and Innovation) and the Gebert Rüf Foundation. Mariana was able to carry out a pilot programme. She set up a summer school and offered a 10-day seminar for social start-ups. Based on the success of the pilot professional programme which had a parallel format to existing start-up support programmes, Mariana was able to convince supporters – and in particular governmental institutions which were already supporting start-ups – that valuable partnerships could be created.

seif’s strategy has been to focus on building and strengthening the national network before looking outwards. The organisation works closely with both higher education institutions and corporates, taking advantage of the support structures and networks that are already in place and adapting them to promote social entrepreneurship.

Support for Social Entrepreneurs

The seif team is currently made up of people from diverse backgrounds including political science, business economics, event management & sustainability. They work together combining their skills in a complimentary fashion to support social entrepreneurs in Switzerland.

Their flagship programme is the Professional Programme with courses/workshops in idea generation, business creation (5 days) and business development (5 days); a corporate mentoring programme; job exchange; and networking opportunities.

The participants of the seif Professional Programme and other social entrepreneurs can apply for funding via the seif Awards for Social Entrepreneurship which consists of four cash rewards of 10,000 CHF and offers visibility in important of the four categories: social entrepreneurship; green innovation; integration; or educational innovation. For seif, these categories reflect the multidimensional nature of social entrepreneurship. 

seif has more recently begun to support social entrepreneurship through its newly launched LABEL initiative in partnership with the Swiss government and the Gebert Rüd Foundation. It’s an adaptation of an existing label for technology innovation set up by the government to give a credible certification to start ups to encourage more investment. The seif LABEL initiative requires social enterprises to take part in a coaching programme tailored to their needs such as training and coaching in social impact measurement, social finances, marketing and story-telling. The overall aim is to help more social enterprises be prepared to grow and attract impact investors.

seif also provides a database service with social entrepreneurship cases which is the largest one in Switzerland and divided by theme.

For scouting: seif developed a social innovation map for the university landscape in Switzerland. Based on this framework, meetings and events are organised at or in collaboration with universities. 

Top tips for supporters around the world

 ü  Don’t reinvent the wheel: partner and collaborate with existing organisations and big players for programme development, financial support and credibility

 ü  Learn to detect the synergies between the different sectors and think carefully about whom to involve when and how

 ü  Use potential between sectors (find the right match)

 ü  Have a clear overall strategy from the start: long-term thinking is crucial to ensure the organisation’s survival

 ü  Focus on what you are good at and don’t necessarily jump at every opportunity that presents itself

Challenges & Opportunities

“It’s been challenging to ensure our financial stability – especially given the difficulties in securing funding for an endowment or core support. Having said that, we are improving as the organisation matures and looking ahead there are plenty of opportunities for seif. Switzerland is a rich country and we need to find innovative ways of drawing in investors and funders.

Another challenge is recruiting the right staff and holding on to them. The social entrepreneurship sector in Switzerland would benefit from drawing in qualified staff with a corporate background, but the salaries are low – and will continue to be whilst support organisations struggle to secure financial sustainability.”


“Measuring impact is always a difficult topic. There are many useful tools available and each organisation needs its own approach and should look to adapt the methodologies to what works for them.

We have found the EVPA framework to manage and measure impact particularly useful.”

As part of its LABEL initiative, seif is encouraging social entrepreneurs to work with experts in social impact measurement to strengthen their projects. It will look to other members in the GSEN community to share expertise and learnings.

The Social Entrepreneurs

seif works with entrepreneurs form a diverse range of fields such as health, education, environment, energy and IT whose projects are aligned to a social and/or environmental gain.

SwissLeg won a seif Award in July 2013. The company provides provides high-mobility prosthetic legs to meet the high amputee demand in the developing world. Applying an innovative prosthetic design and a simple manufacturing process with low-cost and readily available materials, SwissLeg producesand sells prosthetic legs at an affordable cost. The results achieved with SwissLeg are comparable only with high-cost bionic legs. The simple sequential process, from patient evaluation to final fitting, takes only three hours, allowing patients to literally walk out of the workshop the same day.

Since winning the Award, SwissLeg has received several other awards such as the Ashoka Impact Programme and it was listed as 51st in top Swiss start ups for 2013.

Partnerships & Financial Sustainability

seif has partnered with foundations such as Gebert Rüf foundation, avina, atDta and MBF Foundation for the specific programmes and the government has provided support for the programmes related to the Academy and Label – along with matching funding from foundations.

Corporate partnerships have also played an important role through the pro bono– as well as financial support to cover the administrative costs to run the mentoring programme.

seif’s partnership with the government (CTI) has been fundamental in getting the establishment and growth of the organisation, because it allowed seif to learn from already existing knowledge and structure but adapt it to social entrepreneurship.


Mariana Christen Jakob & Meret Nehe


Contact Member Visit Website

Useful Tools

Measuring Impact Business Model Canvas

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