The fifth edition of the Global Social Economy Forum (GSEF), the first ever to be held in Latin America, started off with a session moderated by Euclid Network’s EU Policy and Projects Officer, Toby Gazeley. The guests of the panel were mostly representatives from the Relaunching Employment with Social Economy in the Territories (RESET) project, which brings together regional authorities from across Europe to share best practices on supporting the social economy. The specific theme of this project, conceived during the COVID crisis, is that the social economy presents a way to fight unemployment. As Clemence Vidal, representative of Region Occitanie, went on to explain, the project revolves around three main workshops to be held in France (Montpellier), Spain (Valencia), and Italy (Bologna), whose scope is to discuss and draw recommendations to inform the European Action Plan on the Social economy.
The methodologies, and in particular the workshops, were then discussed more in details by Teo Petričević, representing ACT group at the panel. He underlined the importance of the collaboration with and between local governments, focusing on the uniqueness of RESET in bringing together stakeholders in policy-making, rather than only economic agents. This, he claimed, results in a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the difficulties which the social economy is facing, especially at the legislative level. Through a comparative perspective achieved also thanks to RESET, we are able to understand and set priorities in different countries, even while we are still looking for the best practices. Petričević then talked about the need for better communication and mutual conception between governments and social enterprises. Representing PULSE Serbia, Adrien Delaby spoke on behalf of the only organisation in the panel which was not part of the RESET project.
In the Balkans – he moved on to explain – there are two main challenges with the local authorities’ attitude towards the social economy. Firstly, since government do not agree on a definition of the social economy, there is no clear understanding of it, which brings to no recognition – and in turn to no legislation. This means that the businesses operating in this sector are understood as traditional enterprises by the authorities, hampering the development of tailored support measures for the social economy. Secondly, because of its scarse share of the domestic market, the social economy sector was hardly hit by COVID. Although this may seem good at first sight, Delaby explained that support measures for the recovery which specifically aimed that the social economy were completely absent. This meant that social enterprises only benefited from national support aimed at regular businesses. The current absence of Serbia from the EU has also deepened the lack of support and official recognition of social enterprises.
As Alessandra Medici, representing the Emilia-Romagna region and ART-ER, explained, the situation in her local area, before and during COVID, was hardly comparable to the Serbian scenario. In Emilia, in fact, a long tradition of cooperatives is present and active. According to Medici, a great focus shall be devoted to the multi-level type of governance which is present within the European Union. Instruments such at the NextGenEU, funds such as the ERDF and ESF, and national and local legislation such as the Reform of the Third Sector (Law 106/2016) have to work together for the development of the social economy. These big European programmes, she further explained, ultimately depend on national and most often local legislations, administration, and project implementations. These, most often than not, need some sort of reform in order to efficiently work towards the achievement of the EU goals with regard to the social economy. Therefore, RESET and similar projects are crucial initiatives to develop the right frameworks and extrapolating good practices, with a special regard to the changing environment in which the social economy shall operate.
After the first round of questions, the discussion took a more theoretical turn. Responding to one of the questions asked in the chat about whether a localised legislative approach to the social economy would hamper its internationalisation, Vidal explained that in her view the social economy is inherently local. An organisation rooted in the local community, would not find ease and be as effective once it is internationalised. This led Teo Petričević to point out that there is a need for a common understanding of what a social enterprise looks like, what its scope is, and what its scale shall be. Such ‘consensus’ would be needed in order to better comprehend the ways in which the social economy can be built and around which pillars. Further theoretical assessments and discussions would be necessary in order to find a clear common grounds on which to base the transition which would eventually bring all businesses to adopt social business models.
I envision a world where governments design policies in such a way that the ESG standards which are already in DNA of SE will be adopted by all business – Veerle Klijn, Euclid’s head of policy and EU relations.
The role of communication and collaboration between the different stakeholders in the social economy was once again discussed both by the guests and by the public, eventually coming to the conclusion that it is one of the keys to the success of this business model.
Final remarks were made by Petričević, who spoke in favour of a holistic approach to the legislation and support of social organisation. This would be a situation in which all stakeholders come together to discuss, share, and compose common practices which work for the social economy and the people.
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