Establishing a comprehensive view of the situation, creating synergies and discussing future measures and actions to be taken in order to fully unleash the potential of the sector. These premises resonated throughout the July 1rst conference First European Day of Social Economy Enterprises from words to action” convened at the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) in Brussels.
Decision makers and stakeholders across sectors of the social economy enterprises engaged with a vibrant crowd of social player organizations that generate earned income but give top priority to an explicit social mission.
Sector outlook. There are 2 million businesses representing 10% of all businesses in the EU. More than 11 million people – about 6% of the EU’s employees – work for social economy enterprises. It is also true that in many member states the sector is new and underdeveloped indicating a significant development opportunity. «There are many legal forms that define social enterprises » said Oliver Ropke , president of the Permanent Study Group on Social Economy Enterprises «but they all share the same objective: serving the members and not to obtain a return on investment as a traditional capitalistic companies do. The sector makes significant contributions to employment creation, sustainable growth and incomes destribution».
Unlike most of the conferences in Brussels dominated by academics, politicians and lobbyists, the floor was also given to representatives of 3 social European enterprises who shared their first-hand the experiences and views.
RREUSE (Belgium) represents social enterprises active in re-use, repair and recycling. Its members employ people at risk of socio-economic exclusion and help bring them back into work. In addition they bring products back to the market at affordable prices, providing essential household items to low-income groups. Approximately 77,000 employees and over 60,000 volunteers and trainees work within our 30 member networks across 17 EU countries and one in the USA. RREUSE was represented by Paolo Ferraresi.
Progetto Quid (Italy) employs 23 disadvantaged women with difficulties to enter labour market and reuses textil waste of Italian fashion industry. Since March 2014 QUID has had a permanent flagship store in Verona city centre. Two more temporary stores were opened in spring 2014 in Vicenza and Trento.
Okus Doma, (Croatia) is a culinary cultural research project that introduces the culture, customs and countries of origin of refugees and migrants in Croatia by recording their memories of home, and the smells and tastes of their cuisine. By preparing the food they grew up with, refugees evoke memories and create new friendships and experiences in their new home. At the same time they build on skills that will help them find employment and integrate in the new society. Okus Doma was represented by Bashkim Fazliu.
The sector challenges
Access to finance - social enterprises are struggling to find the right funding opportunities due to the lack of understanding of their functioning and their small size.
Low degree of recognition - the Commission finances projects to review legislation, share good practices, awareness raising events and projects for the collection of statistical data, for cooperatives and mutuals and social enterprises.
Varying regulatory environments across EU countries and activity related obstacles for some legal forms of social economy enterprises.
Visibility and public recongition.
New concepts arising
A new societal landscape is emerging in Europe, calling for new social and economic models to reshape Europe as a modern and globally competitive economy.
To deliver growth for progress, social cohesion and well-being, a new mind-set is required with regard to innovation.
Enterprises are striving for social and environmental, as well as economic growth and impact. Consumer expectations and demand indicate support for this kind of approach.
Social innovation is tearing down walls separating sectors and markets, replacing competition logic with collaborative and long-term partnership solutions.
Awareness is rising that a more comprehensive view of value creation- economically, socially and environmentally, is at the heart of an attractive business case. Economic growth is connected to social and environmental progress.
Facing complex challenges often requires close collaboration between governments, the markets and civil society in order to create effective solutions.
Comment du Jour
It is not the banks that created the problems. It is the men. Its power, its greed. And here where social economy is different: it is driven by women.