In Captain's blog, Members, NEWS, Opinion

On a crisp and sunny day of January, we virtually sat down with Euclid Network’s CEO Suzanne Wisse-Huiskes to talk about the challenges and accomplishments of the past year, the impact COVID-19 has had on the social enterprise ecosystem and her vision for (a bright) future.

Suzanne spent the past 15 years working on capacity building for innovative entrepreneurs and projects, with focus on impact investing, crowdfunding and startup accelerators. She has lived in Nigeria, the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain. After her travels, she moved back to her native country, The Netherlands, where she now lives with her partner and their three kids. In 2018, Suzanne joined the team as Chief Executive to relocate EN to The Hague. Over the past two years, she has implemented her vision in which collaboration and partnerships are at the core of a sustainable, more equitable future for doing business cross-border.

Finding new ways to connect

The 2020 global pandemic has affected every aspect of the human experience. It has impacted the responsibilities and joys of being a leader, a mother, a team-member, a spouse, a friend. When juggling all these important roles, Suzanne said that the biggest challenge, in both her personal and professional life, was not being able to truly meet and interact with people.

“We are an ecosystem of busy bees – social bees. We love to connect and not having the ability to see each other face-to-face puts a strain on building those connections.”

She added: “The awesome thing about our work is that we get to connect with people who are inspired by creating positive impact and who are entrepreneurial, so our meetings and talks create a lot of energy. I noticed that some of that is not applicable in online meetings.”

We all faced plentiful of challenges this past year, however, we also got to see the resilient and innovative nature of the human spirit. People found new ways to be involved and stay connected. Suzanne says smilingly:

“What I am most proud of is that the activity and engagement of our impact network just sky-rocketed over the past year. Change makers are reaching out, instead of looking inwards-the work our members do is being noticed by partners on the European and global level.”

Scaling up responsibly

The primary goal of EN is to boost the social enterprise ecosystem in Europe by connecting, sharing resources, ideas and best practices. Our members collaborate on projects and benefit from each-others’ expertise. “Collaboration is all about knowing who and where to find partners, building trust and sharing information. It may feel uncomfortable to share information with peers in other countries at first, however we need it to get ahead and strengthen the position of the entrepreneurs who work on social and environmental challenges. A radical new mindset and approach are key to drive transformative change in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.”

EN’s mission is to be the European social enterprise network for all social enterprise support organisations. In the past two years, the organisation has expanded at the rate of 20% per year and continues to invite members from underrepresented European countries to join. At the same time, Suzanne prioritises to scale-up responsibly to ensure the network maintains its mission. As she puts it: “We want to keep the European family feeling. We need to strike a balance between size and the feeling of being a closely-knit family.”

Hear Suzanne explain the role of EN in the European social enterprise ecosystem:

 “Just because they make it look easy, doesn’t mean it is not hard.”

Since the beginning of the crisis, social entrepreneurs have stepped up and assumed the role of first responders by filling the gaps governments left behind. They adapted their businesses to ensure they can create positive impact for communities in times when it is needed the most. Suzanne repeatedly pointed to “impressive social innovation” achieved by social entrepreneurs during these stages.

Nevertheless, it is important to also recognise that impact practitioners are under a lot of pressure. “We must not forget that a lot of them are currently facing the biggest challenges in their existence, meaning that they need support from us more than ever. We need to take a close look at how we can get the pressure off their shoulders a little bit. This goes for social entrepreneurs but also for support organisations. We need to step up our game and convince Impact investors and other capital providers that this infrastructure is vital in building a really good ecosystem and pipeline.”

Moving forward, together

EN represents its members at the international level through establishing partnerships and high-level committees. “On the European level, the close partnership with the EU Commission enables EN to work strategically alongside the Commission. We urge them to lobby national governments and we contribute by providing them examples from the field.”

EN is also establishing its position on the world stage through memberships in global organisations such as the UNTFSSE, WEF’s COVID Response Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs and most recently, Catalyst 2030.

“We are very much a European network. We believe that there is still a lot to be done so the European ecosystem remains to be our main focus. At the same time, we believe that there is a lot to be learnt from our peers working across other continents, working in Africa, Asia, Latin America. We need to work together to capitalise on this momentum and get that acceleration.”

Expanding the bubble

Active participation in committees and collaboration on projects with global organisations enables EN to reach stakeholders outside of the impact sector. “Through our work with the EU Commission, the UNTFSSE and the WEF alliance, we are able to speak to organisations or people that we have not spoken before. One of the pitfalls is that in our field, we are very much preaching to the choir, we are in our own bubble. We need to make sure that we not only reach likeminded people but that we also reach governments, consumers, corporates. We need to get all these stakeholders aligned to enable social entrepreneurs to play their key role in tackling our most pressing global challenges”

Suzanne sees a shift in perception of social entrepreneurship and has an optimistic view of the future: “There really is a very positive vibe around impact entrepreneurs. We see that the talks about The Great Reset and the new economy are adopted by the world leaders.” Building strong partnerships and sharing resources is key to get stronger together. EN will continue its mission to support social entrepreneurs and together, we will work towards building a sustainable, more equitable economy for all.

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