The new stage
Małgorzata Lubińska, chief specialist at the Ministry of Economic Development, draws the future of Thematic Network on Social Economy, presents some of the Central and Eastern Europe’s challenges and key allies worth reaching, and answers all other questions asked by Łukasz Komuda, the Social and Economic Initiatives Foundation.
Before we talk about the future of the Social Economy Network, we need to look back.
Thematic Network on Social Economy is a form of continuation of the Learning Network created through the project Better Future of Social Economy (BFSE) (2009-2012), which was succeeded by the project Social Entrepreneurship Network (SEN), completed in January 2015. In both projects, the model was similar: managing authorities of the European Social Fund (ESF) in countries that decided to enter the network (usually: departments or units of various ministries or in some cases autonomous institutions dedicated to oversight of EU funds) sought an umbrella organizations representing the social economy sector (SE).
What were the tasks for Learning Network and SEN?
The idea was to create a framework to impose a rhythm and order for the process of international exchange of experience in the field of instruments for the development of SE as well as phenomena that affect this particular sector of the economy. But not only that. The network was built to facilitate the implementation of projects focused on more specific transnational cooperation in the area of SE.
It sounds a bit like endless work. Learning never ends.
That is why after the closure of SEN we want to continue meetings and our efforts within Social Economy TN. We enter the new stage. On the one hand, we no longer have financial support from the European Commission. On the other hand, we do not have to apply its rigorous rules. That means more freedom and more openness. The latter is worth a special highlight: Social Economy TN is not a closed club. All member countries of the European Union are welcome!
How many countries take part in the work of the Network of Social Economy?
Twelve. Actively: Poland, the Czech Republic, Italy, Sweden, United Kingdom, Belgium, Greece, and Cyprus, which were involved at previous stages of the network. Social Economy TN was just strengthened by Slovenia, Slovakia, Hungary, and Croatia. Romania is considering joining – for now it is observing engaged parties and the website of the project (socialeconomy.pl). Meanwhile, Finland – the country that was a co-founder of Learning Network from the beginning – is setting itself a little bit aside. In this country, the evolution of SE and above all social and regulatory environment made the SE integral, interlined part of the economy as a whole. As a result, Helsinki does not support the SE but simply entrepreneurship. It is hard to move this unique experience, e.g., on Italian ground where the process did not occur. Not to mention, e.g., Poland or Croatia, where the SE requires reconstruction from the scratch after the earthquake of the economic and political changes in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
What are the most significant problems afflicting SE in the Central and Eastern Europe?
In this part of the European Union, the fundamental issue is to finance the development of SE enterprises. Less wealthy countries—where additionally the tradition of philanthropy did not appear on the size typical for Belgium, the United Kingdom or Scandinavian countries—need to develop the model of SE growth-boosting. This is the topic that we want to focus our next Social Economy TN meeting.
You mentioned the event, which will be organized in Warsaw by the Polish Ministry of Economic Development. Could you list the most important topics, which will be covered during the meeting.
The first is the social impact bonds (SIB) – recently very smart idea for raising funds for SE entities, however not necessarily suitable for all countries. The second is a measurement of the social value added – a real challenge for the SE sector, administration and potential investors who can put up with a lower rate of return if you show them a solid data proving improvement in the quality of life of the community (preferably converted into Euro or Pounds Sterling).
Let us assume that we have found the best method for this calculation. What is next?
Exactly! This is the biggest challenge that the Network is facing right now. The fact that we are accumulating knowledge and seeking the best instruments, forms of financing and regulatory solutions are not enough. The next step is to find a way to convert this know-how into real reform and a real strengthening of SE in Europe. Practice shows that the key is to select a group of people (not only in the administration!) crucial for the needed change, who should get all necessary analysis and reports of Social Economy TN on the top of their desks. The people who need to be helped: inspired and even prompted with the ready solutions for the problems they struggle with anyway. I believe that the colleagues I have met over the nearly seven years of working together will look for such allies, both in their capitals and in Brussels. Moving away to other duties does not stop me from watching the Network activities from the side and cheer for its members.
Thank you for the conversation.