Social enterprises play an important part in the European economy. The equivalent to about 6.3% of the working population of EU and 2.8 million entities are involved in the social economy according to a report from 2016. The European Union has acknowledged the importance of social enterprises since the Social Business Initiative was launched in 2011. 

Work is underway to produce a European Action Plan for Social Economy. Already in 2018 Social Economy Europe produced a set of recommendations for an European Action Plan. The task of producing the final Action Plan has been given to Nicolas Schmit, the new Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights. This shows that social economy and social enterprises are increasingly high on the EU policy agenda.

Our Interreg Europe project partners and practitioners from social enterprises support organizations shared their experiences in providing effective business support to social enterprises. Discover the importance of the social economy in the webinar replay below and presentations. 

Webinar agenda overview

00:06:55 Introduction to the topic and relevance of social enterprises by Mart Veliste 

00:17:10 Presentation by Gael Drummond on Scotland's agency for social enterprises and entrepeneurs

00:29:30 Q&A: How do you convince or encourage people to turn their idea into a social enterprise? 

00:31:10 Q&A: You emphasise community a lot. Do you have recommendations on how to develop the community spirit? 

00:33:10 Q&A: How relevant are physical hubs or incubator spaces for facilitating social enterprises development? 

00:36:50 Presentation by Mauricio O'Brien on a network for active participation for the social economy

00:46:35 Q&A: What are the main reasons for social enterprises ideas to fail?

00:48:50 Q&A: How do you ensure the sustainability of this type of enterprises? 

00:51:25 Presentation by Alexander Kesselring on the financing of social enterprises

01:03:05 Q&A: What would be your advice to regional policy makers who are thinking about setting up a financial support instrument for social enterprises? 

01:04:43 Q&A: Could you explain more about social impact bond, who takes the risk? Is it the social enterprise? 

01:07:30 Presentation by Paula Santarén Rodríguez on the internationalisation service of social enterprises

01:18:20 Presentation by Paula Santarén Rodríguez on a transferred Good Practice of the RaiSe project

01:27:18 Q&A: How did you convince local authorities to participate directly in your project? 

01:30:20 Q&A: Where do you think support is needed most today in social enterprises?

01:34:40 Q&A: How do you raise awareness about the social enterprises business models?

Presentations

The webinar was hosted and introduced by Thematic Experts of SME competitiveness Mart Veliste and Rene Tõnnisson. This was followed by presentations from Interreg Europe projects and stakeholders. Access the presentations below: 

Alexander also shared a relevant document from Finance4SocialChange: Summary report on good policy making practices

Key learnings 

Inspiring examples came from different regional and local ecosystems with various degrees of social entrepreneurship culture and available funding, there is something to be inspired by for all listeners. From the presentations and discussions, we could identify some key elements:

  • Simple application processes are important for early stage support measures if you want to encourage people to turn their innovative social objectives into viable social enterprises. Seed funding is equally relevant for kick staring innovative ideas. Small amount of money can really help somebody to take their idea off the ground and give them a much stronger start. 
  • Tailoring your support services to the needs of the local communities is a key to success. Bespoke approaches show best results in rural or disconnected communities.
  • The ideas are out there as people care about their local communities. People just need encouragement and little push to get started as a social enterprise. Social enterprises should not think of themselves as less than a regular SME.
  • Social enterprises need access to a wide set of financial instruments, both public and private. In order to support the social economy, it is important that public bodies introduce new procurement procedures that address social businesses and social impact. 
  • Internationalisation of social enterprises is doable if a regional development organization has international offices. By providing consultancy knowledge of suitable commercialisation channels, potential distributers, etc, a social enterprise can be internationalized just as any other enterprise.
  • Social enterprises rely on access to social systems and markets. Public bodies and public authorities should try to make social institutions more open and responsive to innovation. This is important for setting up long-term partnerships between the sectors.
  • Social enterprises are no longer outliers in the entrepreneurial landscape. Gone are the days where they should be seen as something separate. Social and environmental ideas are more and more embedded into all businesses. Therefore, we can expect the future to be about social enterprises.

Further readings

Image credit: Photo by Pixabay from Pexels