Last week in Strasbourg, European institutions, led by the European Commission and its Social Business Initiative (SBI) and joined by hundreds of entrepreneurs, policy makers and social advocates, hosted a 2-day conference on social entrepreneurship (“SocEntEU”) and took an important step forward in furthering commitment to grow Europe’s social business sector. The conference recognized the importance of social enterprises and the benefits that they provide for all parts of Europe.
The conference, which offered live web streaming as well as the opportunity to follow along on Twitter (#SocEntEU) throughout its programme, also recognized the need for a better system to support social enterprises, and for more effective ways to engage youth in the social economy. Where do we go from here, in order not to lose the momentum in “promoting eco-systems for social enterprises” and to ensure, as noted in the Strasbourg Declaration, that the Commission’s “commitment to create an eco-system for social enterprise is mainstreamed in its policies“?
Shifting Our Mindset about Growth
With a stronger and thriving social economy at its core, Europe will have the chance to leave the current long-term economic crisis in a different – greener, more equitable – way than how we entered it. Social enterprises thus play a critical role in Europe as represented by its social ideals, not just as an economic or political mechanism. We need to ensure that our economy doesn’t only look after the rich but also benefits all communities and families.
Many at the Strasbourg conference emphasized the need for shifting our mindset about economic growth in order to not just talk about achieving such social ideals but to actually translate these discussions into actions that bring about lasting changes. The message is clear: “Let’s NOT go back to business as usual. Let’s embrace the vision for change, new way of envisioning our society.”
Achieving such ambitious goals as changing people’s mindsets and reimagining economic growth will require bold actions, and effective and specific measures to create necessary conditions for success. It is critical, therefore, that policy discussions around social entrepreneurship and social economy include tangible steps to address unemployment issues, skills gap in job markets, and youth empowerment.
Employment and Empowerment
Social economy is about supporting the weakest in our society and those in need. But it’s not only about social good and social impact. Promoting social entrepreneurship as a way to drive positive social change and innovation can also address a very important issue of the negative impact of unemployment on our social fabric.
More and more students and young professionals today are seeking to build their careers based on a set of values that are different from those embraced by older generations. Freedom and flexibility are important. Doing good is important. Sense of community is important.
In addition to improving funding mechanisms and crafting better policies, therefore, one area of critical importance where EU and the member states can make a difference in creating a prospering social economy is training and education for skills development that encourages innovation and entrepreneurship, and enables today’s and tomorrow’s social business leaders to pursue a new business model focused on social cohesion and inclusive growth.