In Interviews with Top 100 Women in Social Enterprise

Who is Ann Branch?

Ann is the Head of Unit for Job Creation in the European Commission’s Directorate General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (DG EMPL). This is a position she has held since 2015. Ann grew up in London as a dual national of both the UK and Finland, something that greatly contributed to her European perspective and identity. Ann has been a European Official since 1999, working number of fields previously such as EU Cultural Policy.

What brought Ann to work on social economy?

Ann has pursued an interest in achieving social impact throughout her career, also influencing her decision to enter the European Civil Service. Her experience as a child growing up in London contributed to her interest in the idea of social entrepreneurship. Initially, entrepreneurship for Ann was not something associated with a positive social impact, rather the pursuit of individual wealth.

“When I was growing up and where I was growing up, social entrepreneurship wasn’t known or spoken about. Entrepreneurship was: you wanted to make as much money as you could and get rich…If you were interested in social impact, entrepreneruhsip wasn’t really something you’d think about”

In her desire to achieve social impact however, Ann saw that it was not only possible, but also beneficial to be entrepreneurial. While there is a distinct and important role for both the public and private sectors to play, there is a definite space in between them – the space for social enterprise and innovation.

What does she do?

Ann’s current work focusses on promoting social and inclusive entrepreneurship through developing policy and funding-support from the EU. This includes direct actions such as facilitating loans to social enterprises. This is a collaborative effort, with DG EMPL also working with the European Investment Fund and local financial intermediaries. Ann stresses the key nature of these local intermediaries as they are the closest entity in the implementation of the Commission’s policy to the citizens. Ann’s work also includes other measures seeking to strengthen, professionalise and connect this network of intermediaries across the EU. From this EU policy action, there is also a hope that it may inspire national policy-makers to take additional action to support social enterprises. Additionally, Ann’s Unit is charged with leading the development of the forthcoming Social Economy Action Plan. This will seek to further support the growth and development of the entire European social economy sector.

What is her biggest achievement?

Ann finds it hard to name just one thing as her biggest achievement. She describes herself, perhaps with classic British modesty, as “satisfied” with many of the initiatives she has worked on – both in her current role and previously. She is particularly happy with the way that access to funding for social enterprises has evolved and how much the framework conditions that they operate in have improved. Ann is also happy to see a growing community at the European level who are involved and engaged with the social economy.

“There’s still a lot to be done…there’s still too many people that don’t know what the social economy is. I want to develop some concrete measures that really help the field develop in the coming years, nudging the mainstream to evolve.”

What is Ann’s advice to those starting out in the social economy sector?

Ann reflects on the advice she would give considering the biggest obstacle she faced may have been the feeling “that perhaps the time isn’t right, that you might have an idea that’s ahead of its time.” She advises therefore to be patient, not to get discouraged and to wait for the necessary paradigm shift.

“Thinking does change, paradigms do alter. If you have a good idea, hang on to it and hopefully come back to it later. What really makes a difference is your approach to how you handle problems.”

Ann emphasises the importance of professional networks as they enable sharing experiences, knowledge and frustrations. Especially for women, she says, learning how to foster a professional network can be key in career advancement. Ann was also candid about the challenges of being an entrepreneur or having a career and also having children. Her advice was “I would advise women to choose their life-partner well. Choose someone who’s fit for them twenty-first century”.

See more interviews with changemakers from the Top 100 Women in Social Enterprise List HERE.

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