A different way of doing business exists!

More than ever before, the European Union needs an economic system based on the values upon which it was founded 60 years ago: democracy, equality, solidarity and social cohesion. EU Heads of State and Government recently renewed their commitment to these values, making specific reference to the role of enterprises in achieving a prosperous and sustainable Europe. Enterprises that combine economic efficiency and social purpose have been very successful in interpreting the demands of the economic market and contributing towards the EU’s social objectives: the model I’m referring to is Work Integration Social Enterprises (WISEs).

The first WISEs were created in the 80s on the principles that “no one is a priori unemployable” and that labour is one of the key vehicles towards sustainable and effective integration into society. The idea was to create enterprises that produce and sell goods and services, just like any other company, while keeping the social integration of disadvantaged people as one of their main objectives. Many challenges must be overcome in order to achieve this; for example, an enterprise wishing to reintegrate socially excluded people into the labour market could end up diminishing its productivity in the short- and medium-term.

Nowadays in the EU, WISEs exist in all types of territories – from city suburbs to small villages – and operate in many different fields of activities: waste management, social services, agriculture and information and communication technology services to name just a few. Although WISEs may vary enormously in their activities, they continually demonstrate their sustainability and resilience.

WISEs are just one form of social enterprise, which make up part of the social economy sector. Social Platform believes that conducting business in a way that puts people and the environment before profit is possible. The social economy and social enterprises contribute to the social and professional inclusion of people in vulnerable situations, and provide services – including social and green services – for the benefit of the community. In other words, social enterprises, while selling products and services on the market, are committed to producing a positive social impact. Both Social Platform and the European Network of Social Integration Enterprises (ENSIE) are involved in the European Commission Expert Group on Social Entrepreneurship (GECES) – as a member and observer respectively. In October 2016 GECES called on the European Commission to develop an EU Action Plan to strengthen support to the social economy and social enterprises. A lot remains to be done both at national and European level to strengthen the development of social enterprises and build an enabling environment that includes all members of our societies, including people living in vulnerable situations.

By working together towards this common goal we can build a more inclusive Europe!

By Patrizia Bussi, Director of Social Platform member ENSIE (the European Network of Social Integration Enterprises)