Our views on Social Entrepreneurship: have your say!

On January 16-17, 2014, social entrepreneurs, decision-makers (Commission, Parliament, European Economic and Social Committee's representatives, Ministers), academics and students met in Strasbourg to express their views on social entrepreneurship. This happened at the conference "Social entrepreneurs: Have your say!": this big event was meant to be the closure of the Social Business Initiative that was launched two years ago by Vice-President Tajani, Commissioner Andor and Commissioner Barnier.

One merit of the conference was that it created real opportunities for people to exchange: opening sessions, 13 parallel workshops, open spaces, stands for social enterprises sponsored by the European Commission and other stands by stakeholders of the social economy in Europe, twitter and social media. Creativity triggered participants to exchange (warm-up sessions, exhibitions etc.).

At the Opening session, the exchange between the three Commissioners and social entrepreneurs was quite inspiring and there was a shift in the discourses that we have heard so far. Vice-President Tajani affirmed that Europe is not only about a monetary union and financial markets, but also solidarity. Commissioner Barnier continued by saying that it is necessary that banks restart doing their job which is giving money to businesses and people: "it is now time to go towards a social market economy". Commissioner Andor concluded that it hasn't been the welfare economy that caused the crises but financial markets; he reminded about the Social Investment Package, to promote sustainable and inclusive social investments.

Among the social entrepreneurs, Giuseppe Guerini (Federsolidarietà Confcooperative, member of EESC, member of GECES) said that while the general assumption from banks is that investing in social enterprises is risky; on the contrary experience shows that social enterprises are economic operators more reliable than businesses (in Italy the credit default towards social enterprises is only 2%, source: Italian Central Bank). Letizia Moratti (San Patrignano Foundation) also stressed that the main issue is to bring the financial markets back to real economy and social enterprises.

President Scholz affirmed that we need more social economy to recover from the crisis. The EIB finances banks but does not fund SMEs and social enterprises. In Europe we cannot accept that the state is withdrawing from social protection.

Several key-note speakers argued that Europe needs to rebalance its internal market and economic policies with social policies (Tajani, Guerini, Giovannini – the Italian Minister for employment and social affairs, Scholz).

In the morning Letizia Moratti introduced the need of having indicators based not only on GDP but also on social well-being. This was brought forward by the Italian Minister Giovannini (who asked why the Commission hasn't released yet its report on beyond GDP) and in the workshop on social innovation (where our President Heather Roy spoke – see the related article).

All this is very positive. European elections are approaching. We need to use the opportunity of the elections to reset the EU agenda at the service of its people. Will the newly elected MEPs and the new Commission remember about this, once the elections are over?

From the conference two key messages emerged:

  • economy as a whole has to become more social and responsible and the EU needs to strenghten its social dimension
  • social entrepreneurship is key to steering the whole economy in this direction and has proved to be more resilient to the crisis than ordinary businesses.

However, it is important to avoid that any business that is more responsible and more social is considered a "social business". The three key broad criteria laid down by the Commission in its Social Business Initiative have to be fulfilled by an entity to be considered a social enterprise: having a social objective, primarily reinvesting profits in the activities of the enterprise, and democratic or participatory governance.

The Strasbourg conference was concluded with the "Strasbourg Declaration", a final declaration summarising the outcomes of the discussions and representing the views of the various stakeholders. This Declaration is open to be signed. Its main message is that social entrepreneurship has to stay on the EU agenda in the next period. Social Platform and its members will analyse it and consider if we can support it.