Rural estates as social enterprises

The term 'social enterprises' refers to businesses regardless of their legal form that pursue a social mission through an entrepreneurial approach. In the case of 'rural estates' this social mission may include nature conservation, environmental measures, heritage conservation, renewable energy, social employment, education and so on ...  The Dartington Hall Estate (UK), for instance, has become an exemplary case of social entrepreneurship including a 'school for social entrepreneurs'.

They achieve this social mission through the development of activities or services that generate revenues. Along with traditional sources of income such as agricultural leases, they may be renting some of their facilities, developing leisure activities, cultural events, ... What motivates in particular private estate owners is not necessarily financial gains, but being able to pass their landholdings successfully to the next generation of the family lineage in a ‘financially healthy state’.

The development of a new business model urges for a Herculean familiarity with a daunting range of disciplines and a broad social network, coupled with a keen eye for innovative solutions which might not be present at other familiar estates. Information on different sources of revenue for rural estates is scattered and difficult to access. In the Netherlands two very useful books have been published by Hans Kamerbeek with a focus on the 'natural capital' of rural estates. The research team at the University College Ghent is working on a new book which gives a comprehensive overview on different development models for rural estates in a European context.

Kamerbeek, H. (2012), Waardevol groen. (Utrecht: InnovatieNetwerk).

Kamerbeek, H. (2015), Ondernemen met natuur: tips voor grondeigenaren. (Utrecht: Uitgeverij Matrijs).


European Historic Houses is currently also working on a project about innovative business models for family-owned historic houses. More information about this project can be found on: