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How can communities reshape society beyond markets and states? And what are the mechanisms through which community enterprises (CEs) can transform our economy to tackle urgent sustainability challenges such as climate change?

These questions lie at the heart of the Scaling the Societal Impact of CEs for Sustainability (SCENSUS) programme, run by Dr Thomas Bauwens of Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM).

SCENSUS has received funding for five years, 2023-2028, through a 1.5 million euro ‘Starting Grant’ awarded by the European Research Council. With the SCENSUS programme, Dr Bauwens and his team aim to:

  • Introduce a new interdisciplinary theory of the dynamics of CEs within the wider political economy.
  • Advance the research frontier on collective action and organisation studies.
  • Change the current thinking about the role of markets and states as an inescapable dichotomy that dominates the way modern societies build institutions and organisations.
  • Contribute to emerging perspectives on a post-growth world and alternatives to capitalism.

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Project team

Dr. Thomas Bauwens

Principal Investigator

Dr. Thomas Bauwens is the Principal Investigator of SCENSUS, and Assistant Professor of Collective Action and Sustainability at the the Business-Society Management at the Rotterdam School of Management, Rotterdam Erasmus University.

Daniel Petrovics

Postdoctoral researcher

Daniel Petrovics is a postdoctoral researcher working on the scalability of community enterprises for sustainability at the Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University.

He has a keen interest in urban sustainability issues, cooperative-based energy governance and organisational transparency. His PhD research is focused on the scalability of energy communities and is based on polycentric governance thinking and the strategic niche management approach.

Daniel Aguilar Viñas

PhD candidate

Daniel is a PhD candidate within the SCENSUS project. His research is concerned with the role of community enterprises for sustainability and its societal impact as an alternative to the dichotomy Market-State. Daniel undertook an Erasmus Mundus Master in Global Development Policy, graduating with honors with the thesis “Community perceptions in a collective PES on mangrove conservation: a case study from the Gulf of Nicoya, Costa Rica”, in which he explored the interconnections between environmental PES programs, collaborative collective action among individuals, NGOs and the State and the degree of social cohesion of rural communities.

Pouya Janghorban

PhD Candidate

Pouya Janghorban is a Ph.D. candidate at Rotterdam School of Management (RSM), Erasmus University, affiliated with the Social Enterprises & Institutions for Collective Action (SEICA) research group. His research within the SCENSUS project deals with the influence of social network structures on the scaling process of community enterprises—a crucial alternative to the conventional market-state dichotomy in the societal transition to sustainability. Pouya holds an Erasmus Mundus Joint Masters (EMJM) degree with first-class honors in MSc. Transition, Innovation, and Sustainability Environments (TISE) and brings previous research and policy experience, including his role as a student research assistant at the Reiner Lemoine Institut (RLI) in Berlin and an internship in EU policy consulting in Brussels. His goal is to contribute insights and recommendations to facilitate the scaling of community enterprises and expedite the urgently needed sustainability transitions in society.

Dr. Jason Roncancio Marin


Jason is a postdoctoral researcher with a Ph.D. in Business Economics from Vrije Universiteit Brussel. His research focuses on the creation of social value and the positive social impact of entrepreneurship and innovation. He holds a degree in Chemical Engineering and an MBA from Universidad Nacional de Colombia, with additional studies in Innovation at MIT.

With over a decade of professional experience, Jason has excelled in data analysis for public health companies and served as a university technology transfer officer. His work has been published in top journals such as the Journal of Technological Forecasting and Social Change and the International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behaviour and Research.


Beyond markets and states, Dr Bauwens and his team learned that communities are the third institutional pillar supporting societies. A pillar that has been weakened over the decades.

It’s known that vibrant communities are essential to the cohesion of the social fabric. And communities play a crucial role in how society transformations towards sustainability. Take Germany, for example; over 40% of the total installed renewable energy capacity is owned by citizens and communities. This in comparison to a mere 6% by large corporations.

Across Europe, over 10,500 energy communities involve more than 2 million citizens. Over 2,500 community repair initiatives around the world involve about 35,000 volunteers, who are estimated to repair more than 45,000 items per month. Knowing this, how do we unlock the full potential of communities in these sustainability transformations?

Community enterprises hold the key. CEs are organisations which are collectively founded, owned and controlled by the members of a local community. Typically, these enterprises pursue economic, social, environmental and political goals. Some examples:

  • renewable energy cooperatives
  • community repair initiatives
  • community car-sharing clubs

The conditions for CEs to foster sustainability locally have already been extensively studied. So then, the big question remains: how can CEs scale their societal impact beyond the local landscape to achieve wider transformative change?

The primary research question of the project is: what are the mechanisms through which CEs scale their societal impact to unlock their full potential in sustainability transformations?

This question is broken down into different research sub-questions:

  • What explanation do we have about the differences in the types and success of scaling strategies for different CEs?
  • How do CEs collectively manage diverse organisational goals (financial viability, social cohesion, environmental action…) and institutional logic as they scale?
  • What are the roles of organisational legitimacy and community entrepreneurs’ skills and mindsets in mobilising resources for scaling CEs?
  • What are the roles of social networks when it comes to the scaling dynamics of CEs?

By studying CEs that have achieved varying levels of scaling, SCENSUS aims to develop a multi-level, unified theory of the mechanisms by which CEs can scale their societal impacts, through a four-pronged approach:

  1. Strategies: Analyse the determinants of the types and success of scaling strategies used by different forms of CEs.
  2. Logics: Investigate the institutional complexity arising as CEs scale as well as the collective managing mechanisms to address it.
  3. Resources: Identify and understand the conditions, factors and outcomes of legitimacy-building strategies used by CEs, to mobilise the resources and support from key stakeholders necessary for scaling impact, as well as the roles of community entrepreneurs’  ability and willingness to scale in these processes.
  4. Networks: Analyse the roles of bonding and bridging social networks in scaling processes to understand how network structures and compositions influence the types and success of scaling attained by CEs.

In Germany, France, the Netherlands and the UK, the SCENSUS programme studies three forms of CEs in key sustainability fields:

  • renewable energy
  • the circular economy
  • car-sharing

SCENSUS develops and tests a multi-method, longitudinal research design. This combines large-N statistical analysis, social network analysis and qualitative comparative case studies.

Below, figure 1 presents SCENSUS’ guiding theoretical framework. It is hypothesised that the successful scaling of CEs is critically explained by:

  1. CEs’ capacity to effectively organize collective mechanisms, such as umbrella organizations, to manage institutional complexity.
  2. CEs’ capacity to mobilize resource and create legitimacy.
  3. The reinforcement of bonding and bridging social networks in scaling dynamics.


  • Punt, M., Bauwens, T., Frenken, K., Holstenkamp, L. (2022). “Institutional relatedness and the emergence of renewable energy cooperatives in German districts”, Regional Studies, 56 (4). 

  • Bauwens, T., Vaskelainen, T., Frenken, K. (2022). “Conceptualising institutional complexity in the upscaling of community enterprises: Lessons from renewable energy and carsharing”, Environmental Innovation and Societal Transition, 42, pp. 138-151. 

  • Bauwens, T., Huybrechts, B. & Dufays, F. (2020). “Understanding the Diverse Scaling Strategies of Social Enterprises as Hybrid Organizations: the Case of Renewable Energy Cooperatives”, Organization & Environment, 33 (2), pp.195-219. 

  • Bauwens, T. (2019). “Analyzing the determinants of investments by community renewable energy members: findings and policy implications from Flanders”, Energy Policy, 129, pp. 841-852. 

  • Bauwens, T., Gotchev, B. & Holstenkamp, L. (2016). “What Drives the Development of Community Energy in Europe? The Case of Wind Power Cooperatives”, Energy Research & Social Science, 13, pp. 136-47. 

Advisory board

Tine de Moor

Professor of Social Enterprise and Institutions for Collective Action, Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University Rotterdam (Netherlands)

Koen Frenken

Professor of Innovation Studies, Utrecht University (Netherlands)

Rafael Suire

Professor of Economics of Innovation, University of Nantes (France)

Karoline Rogge

Professor of Sustainability Innovation and Policy, University of Sussex (United Kingdom) and Fraunhofer ISI (Germany)

Johanna Mair

Professor of Organization, Strategy and Leadership, Hertie School of Governance (Germany)

Sophie Bacq

Professor of Entrepreneurship, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University (the United States)

Mario Pansera

Professor of Politics of Innovation and Technology, University of Vigo (Spain)

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Funded by the European Union (ERC, SCENSUS, project number 101077489). Views and opinions expressed are however those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Research Council Executive Agency. Neither the European Union nor the granting authority can be held responsible for them.