The Guest Blog

Guest blog post by Elinor de Pret, Head of Policy at EVPA & Suzanna Sobolewska, Public Affairs Manager at EVPA (European Venture Philanthropy Association)

It is not every day that the social entrepreneurship agenda draws so much attention at EU level. The Expert Group of the European Commission on Social Entrepreneurship (GECES) has released an important milestone – a report titled “Social enterprises and the social economy going forward.” It lays out a set of thirteen recommendations for policymakers to support the development of social enterprises. The report is seminal in the visionary nature of its comprehensive policy framework proposal, which enhances the potential of existing social entrepreneurship initiatives.

”Social enterprises combine societal goals with entrepreneurial spirit.”[1] The European Commission recognises the vital importance of these entities in attaining broader social aims, and has demonstrated its support through a number of initiatives. The cornerstone is the 2011 Social Business Initiative, a Communication which delineates the Commission’s commitment to fostering an enabling environment for the flourishment of social enterprises. The SBI consists of eleven short- and long-term measures to facilitate funding for social enterprises, improve their visibility and recognition, as well as to create a favorable legislative climate. A noteworthy component of the SBI is the Employment and Social Innovation Programme (or EaSI), aimed among other things at boosting both the supply- and demand-sides of the social enterprise funding market.

The SBI coexists among a spectrum of other initiatives partly supporting European social enterprises: the Investment Plan for Europe (known widely as the ‘Juncker Plan’), Horizon 2020 stimulating innovation through SMEs and private-public partnerships, a program dedicated specifically to entrepreneurship (COSME), as well as the Social Impact Accelerator of the European Investment Fund and a new instrument (EFSI Equity Window), both for financing social enterprises through local intermediaries.

To assist in carrying out the objectives of the SBI, the Commission appointed a dedicated consultative body. As an outcome of its work, the GECES adopted last October a seminal report which was formally endorsed at a Bratislava conference two months later. Containing specific recommendations for measures to support the development of social enterprises, this bold proposal for a comprehensive European Action Plan for the Social Economy and Social Enterprises encompasses four key thematic areas, which reflect and build on the SBI plan:

  1. Raising awareness and legitimacy of social enterprises, to stimulate increased attention and initiatives dedicated to social enterprises;
  2. Increasing public funding and unlocking private funding for social enterprises; assisting social enterprises in attracting financing;
  3. Developing an enabling legislative environment at the EU and national levels, with the aid of a soft legal approach at EU level;
  4. Catalysing conversation and collaboration regarding the social entrepreneurship on the international arena, with the EU acting as a thought-leader.

 

Chapter Two measures are noteworthy due to their pan-European approach to the issue of access to finance. Led by rapporteur Lisa Hehenberger and supported by the expertise of the EVPA, the thematic working group recognised and addressed the diversity of funding needs, instruments and actors across the EU landscape. The recommendations aim to tangibly increase and facilitate the flow of funds in support of social enterprises, unleashing the potential of both supply- and demand-side actors, and coordinating their efforts in a complementary way.

The report is a bold call to action, compelling the Commission as well as other actors involved in the social economy to actively participate in co-creating a favorable ecosystem for social enterprises. Informed by an understanding of the landscape of existing initiatives, the GECES proposal complements and enriches it – adding value especially in a policy dimension. The Action Plan is invaluable in its practicality – it will likely guide the Commission’s future political leadership and efforts to promote the development of the social economy and social entrepreneurship sector. Addressing the issue of access to finance in a decisive manner and inviting other actors to co-create the social entrepreneurship policy space jointly with the EU, the report stands to give a significant boost to the social economy. Moreover, calling upon the EU to play a leading role in stimulating international cooperation, the report paves way for positioning the EU as a key player on the global arena, and carving out a potential space for building the EU’s competitiveness.

[1] http://ec.europa.eu/growth/sectors/social-economy/enterprises_en

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