Paving the way towards the European Social Economy Summit 2021, the roadmap event ‘Partnerships for Maximizing Social Impact’ brought together key stakeholders from around the world for a panel hosted by Social Economy Europe (SEE) and the UN Inter-Agency Task Force on Social and Solidarity Economy (UNTFSSE). The esteemed panel discussed the transformative potential offered by the social and solidarity economy (SSE) for achieving the UN SDGs (SDGs) and highlighted some policy recommendations relating to current international debates in the field and the European Action Plan for the Social Economy.  

While we have less than 9 years left to achieve the targets of the 2030 Agenda of the SDGs, inequalities are still increasing and environmental degradation is exceeding our planet’s limits. On top of this, the sudden outbreak and crisis of Covid-19 has made it even more difficult to reach these crucial SDG targets. It has also exposed many fragilities in our economy and society as well as exacerbated existing inequalities across the globe. Covid-19, however, has simultaneously emphasised the need for resilience, innovation, and cooperation – a point highlighted by Vic Van Vuuren, Chair of UNTFSSE. He stressed that to achieve the SDGs and an inclusive and more sustainable future, we need to transform our economy and society. While governments play an important role, SSEs are crucial in scaling up this change by creating local impact and finding innovative solutions to global problems. 

“SSE organizations are part of the solution and a very key part of the solution, especially in addressing the needs linked to the social and environmental deficits [of today].  A human- centred economy represents the future, actually, it represents the present” – Vic Van Vuuren, Chair of UNTFSSE 

Social enterprises are crucial in implementing the SDGs, as they can change entire industries highlighted Suzanne Wisse-Huiskes, CEO of Euclid Network (EN). They do so by providing new and sustainable business models, new products and setting a new way of doing business across the world. The work of social enterprises is transformative and impactful because their innovation is driven by existing and concrete needs in their communities. Suzanne mentioned for instance: Live Love Recycle, a regional social enterprise in Lebanon who created an innovative app for recycling and whose founder took part in Euclid Network’s MEDUP! Project. Since 2018, Live Love Recycle has prevented 600 tons of recyclable waste being disposed of in less environmentally friendly ways. The development of their app and the work they do was only made possible with the support of foreign investments, digital technologies and co-operation with existing social enterprise in Lebanon.   Live Love Recycle shows what can be achieved by social enterprise when investments are made and co-operation is pursued, all whilst complementing rather than replacing state services. Another example, aiming at tackling the environmental degradation caused by paper production can be found in The Netherlands, where Paper on the Rocks NL created a new ‘21ts Century paper’ from upcycled stone waste. These are just a few examples of social enterprises working towards SDG 12 and 13, supporting the work of EN and its partners whose work covers all 17 SDGs.  

According to Eva Cantele, General Delegate of the SSE International Forum, SSEs are leading the implementation of the 2030 Agenda as it is an integral part of their strategies and action plans. SSEs pay particular attention to vulnerable populations, find solutions that really address local needs. They have a positive impact on job creation and incomes, the right to work, social protection and dialogue. Eva highlighted the work of Karo Jiginew, a mutual savings and credit institution that fights poverty and increases the economic opportunities of people who do not have full access to banking services in Mali by offering local financial services through, for example, microinsurance and credit.  

By democratizing our economy, SSEs generate an economy with less exclusion, underlined Béatrice Alain, Executive Director of Chantier de l’économie sociale, Co-chair of TIESS and CIRIEC-Canada. The role of the social economy in reinforcing women’s leadership is tremendous. In Quebec more than 50% of social enterprise boards are occupied by women, as opposed to boards of private or public businesses. Another way that SSEs are enabling the contribution of women to the economy is by offering quality services for social needs says Béatrice Alain. For example, when an affordable day-care service network was developed in Quebec, the number of women in employment skyrocketed and led immediately to a reduction of 1/3 of the poverty rate.  

Listening to the panel of speakers and learning about the abundance of SSE organizations catalysing the implementation of the SDGs across the world made it clear: The impact and stories of SSEs must be told and inspire policymakers to ensure an enabling environment for SSEs to scale-up their impact and increase their visibility. SSEs must be recognized as crucial partners in achieving the 2030 Agenda.  

Policy recommendations highlighted by the keynote speakers:  

  • Intersectionality of Policies: Public policies must be intersectional, to adequately address the agile environment in which SSEs are operating and to foster growth. 
  • Stimulation of partnerships and funding: Partnerships, networks, synergies and funding is crucial for SSEs to scale-up their impact and stimulate cross-border collaboration. 
  • Dissemination of good practices: Sharing good practices must be promoted to scale up innovation and support the implementation of the SDGs across regions and countries. 
  • Increasing visibility: Increasing the visibility of SSEs so they may advocate for a stronger role of SSEs in innovative processes, raise awareness of different business models and clarify the definition of SSEs to create an enabling ecosystem that allows SEEs to flourish. 
  • Recognition and Consultation: Recognizing the potential of SSEs in the implementation of the SDGs e.g., by consulting SSEs in SDG reporting and creating a specific target or goal under the SDGs that highlights the transformative role of SSEs in achieving the SDGs. 
  • Training and education: Investing in training and education is of great importance for SSEs to develop a greater capacity for self-representation and to make contributions more relevant. 
  • Storytelling: Storytelling is an integral part of sharing the impact SSEs are creating on a local, regional and national level by implementing the SDGs. 

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For further clarification and other questions, please get in touch with Veerle Klijn!

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