There is an increasing realisation that advanced economies are suffering from a new wave of rural depopulation as a consequence of a ‘perfect storm’ of rural outmigration and falling birth-rates. The issue of managed decline (i.e. rural demolition) has actively been proposed as the only inevitable solution to this issue of rural decline, but experience shows is that it is not a solution to the question of where and how to live for the populations that inhabit these condemned places. In this paper we are concerned with whether expressions of rural populations can contest policy-makers’ visions for these shrinking rural regions and address the central policy pessimism. In particular, we are concerned with attempts by residents themselves in these rural areas to address the issue of loss of vital services through their own interventions. In this paper, we focus on the process of “social entrepreneurship” as a means by which local communities can attempt to address the vicious circle of rural depopulation. We focus on the issue how can we characterise rural social entrepreneurs’ different kinds of motivations as a starting point to develop policy approaches that seek to support rural communities. Drawing on a case study of the Twente region, we identify nine motivation narratives expressed by social entrepreneurs. These are primarily concerned with doing useful and rewarding things, and only secondarily with embodying various kinds of entrepreneurial identity. We conclude with a typology of rural social entrepreneur motivations and its potential applications in improving rural development policy.
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