Euclid Network (EN) was honoured to co-organise and co-host a session at EUSES with the European Committee of the Regions, the European Commission and RTES. Two esteemed panels made up of high-level political representatives from local and regional authorities, together with policy makers from the European Commission and OECD dove into the critical topic of whether local and regional authorities can really make a difference to the social economy.

The session kicked-off with a warm welcome and opening statement from Anne Karjalainen, Chair of the Committee of the Regions’ SEDEC Commission. Anne emphasised the timely and significant nature of the debate that is now occurring about the social economy, especially given the context of Covid-19. Anne emphasised the opportunity that is now presented to policy makers and political leaders to change the way the economy works adopting a focus on sustainable development and social justice throughout.

The OECD has been actively working collaboratively with the European Commission to highlight the potential of the social economy in supporting regional development. We had the pleasure of welcoming Antonella Noya, Head of the OECD Social Economy and Innovation Unit, as both the moderator of the session and part of the first panel. Antonella provided an overview of the work the OECD is doing to support regions across Europe to optimise their social economy and social entrepreneurship policies. She presented more specifically the conclusions and main policy recommendations of the 2020 OECD report on the Regional Strategies for the Social Economy: Examples from France, Poland, Spain and Sweden. Antonella also noted that raising awareness and understanding of the social economy at national level was identified as key with an emphasis placed on the role of local media for achieving this. She also mentioned the Better Entrepreneurship Policy Tool, developed jointly by the OECD and the EU as a valuable instrument that supports regions and cities to unleash the potential of the social economy and social entrepreneurship through the identification of best practices and issue areas.

The First Panel

The first panel brought together local political representatives including the host of EUSES, the Mayor of Mannheim Peter Kurz. With true pride, Peter discussed the achievements Mannheim has made: now a leading start-up city with many opportunities for social entrepreneurs and innovators. Ever more social entrepreneurs in Mannheim state their intent to achieve social impact and the city is now adopting an even greater focus on sustainable innovation. An emphasis was placed on the need for institutions and financial support services to be developed at the regional level for success to be achieved, developing the environment where the social economy can thrive.

Christophe Bolot, Head of the EU Delegation of Lille Metropole, discussed the development of their policies that focus on the social economy over the last 10 years. Working through ‘Action Plans’, their recent focus has been on five main areas: coordination between social economy actors; direct and indirect support to social economy companies; funding R&D; capacity building; and employment and social inclusion. They have also been developing policies and approaches to support social public procurement in the Lille Metropole. Christophe highlighted their embracement of innovative approaches and digital tools for social impact maximisation

Hanna Zdanowska, Mayor of the City of Łódź concluded our first panel, placing an emphasis on the need to collaborate and learn from each other’s regions. Hanna also stressed the need to include the social economy front and centre in the recovery process after Covid-19. Collaboration has been very successful in Łódź, benefitting social enterprises in many sectors. The work they are undertaking is developing a resilient and strong community that tackles their local issues together.

The Second Panel

Our second panel commenced with a contribution from Ann Branch, Head of Unit in the European Commission’s DG EMPL. Ann emphasised that despite differences in historical roots of the social economy across Europe and the strong local anchorage of these actors, they were often facing similar challenges. This made the case for the EU to work with and complement the actions of policy makers at all levels of governance to cultivate ecosystems, boosting access to finance and markets, increasing the openness of frameworks and supporting digitalisation. She recapped the actions the EU has undertaken in the past 10 years, noting the importance of funds like the ERDF and ESF for supporting regional development through the social economy. Ann stressed the importance of encouraging more local and regional authorities to buy social as well as to facilitate the setting up of local partnerships allowing social economy actors to better work with other interested local authorities and stakeholders. The European Action Plan for the Social Economy was highlighted by Ann as a key future-looking document, building on all the work that has been done in the past 10 years and that draws from the insights of those working on the ground, including local and regional authorities. Ann concluded with a call to local and regional stakeholders to contribute to the implementation of the future action plan.

Jeanne Barseghian, Mayor of the City of Strasbourg – the city to host the next EUSES event in 2022 – noted the city’s long commitment to the social economy and to placing people at the centre of economic development. Jeanne stated this as the approach that must be taken with local public policies embracing the social economy. She too noted the importance of clusters for economic cooperation and for creating local alliances between different social economy actors. Jeanne advocated an approach built on collaboration, designing and implementing projects for the benefit of the territory. She observed that Strasbourg’s geographic location offered a distinct advantage in terms of European social economy and championed their first cross-border social enterprise cluster between France and Germany. Jeanne is convinced that the social economy will be able to deliver its full potential if it is included fully in local policies but reiterates that social economy must also be brought to the European level.

Hermineke van Bockxmeer, Director of Urban Development at the City of Rotterdam concluded our second panel. Hermineke drew from the very current example of how the City of Rotterdam had employed social enterprises in their preparation for the Eurovision Song Contest. Rotterdam has an impact coalition and they seek to take strategic actions to strengthen the local ecosystem, support collaborations and promote social enterprise and local purchasing. Their policies particularly aim to target those at distance to the labour market.

Closing Remarks

The session was closed with a final statement from EN’s CEO Suzanne Wisse-Huiskes who stressed that as the European social enterprise network, EN is also invested in the local level. Working region by region, Suzanne expressed the belief that large scale change is possible. Through working together, local authorities and social enterprises will be able to make a success of the digital and green transitions, helping to develop a more social Europe and achieving a recovery post-Covid-19 that puts people and the planet at its centre. There is a natural alliance between social enterprises and local authorities, working in a complementary fashion to support each other. EN is committed to supporting this alliance, working with the OECD, European Commission, local authorities and social enterprises, using the Better Entrepreneurship Policy Tool in their RESET and RRESI projects.

Returning to the title and driving question of this panel “Supporting the social economy: can local and regional authorities make a difference?”, according to our panels the answer would seem to be a clear and resounding yes.

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