To learn more about Social Entrepreneurship Association of Latvia (SEAL), we met with the Executive Director, Regita Zeiļa. Regita is a social impact professional as well as an active advocate for community involvement and growth. Completing her education at Latvijas Universitāte and gaining work experience in Boston, MA as well as Latvia, she is certified as Innovation Associate by Global Innovation Management Institute and Analyst by Management Consulting Institute. Regita has a strong passion towards working to develop the social entrepreneurship ecosystem and sustaining the social economy.
SEAL was founded in 2015 and is a member organisation which aims to promote the development of social entrepreneurship in Latvia. Bringing together like-minded individuals and organisations who share the common goal of creating an encouraging ecosystem for social enterprises, SEAL aims to strengthen social entrepreneurship in Latvia. The association operates in three salient directions. Firstly, it advocates interests at a local, regional and national level as SEAL cooperates with municipalities, support organisations and local, regional and national stakeholders. SEAL’s second direction focuses on improving the capacity of their members and developing their experience and knowledge sharing platform. Lastly, the association is involved in various events and campaigns in order to increase awareness and inform the wider community about the opportunities offered by social entrepreneurship.
During our discussion with Regita, we were able to learn more about the current social enterprise sector in Latvia. The COVID-19 crisis as well as the unprecedented Russian attack on Ukraine is felt amongst social entrepreneurs in Latvia. According to Regita, the crisis is severely felt in neighbouring countries such as Latvia where Russian speaking communities are prevalent. The Ukrainian invasion causes the Baltic region to be viewed as unsafe, ‘and we are not really happy about that, it also prevents social activities such as tourism which impacts the economy and creates stereotypes,’ says Regita. Moreover, many businesses rely on Latvia as they are the bridging nation between Russia and the European Union. Due to Russia’s current economic situation and sanctions, Latvia faces a hit. Moreover, Regita shares her concern surrounding the economic and social effects of the war.
‘Food chains are affected; gasoline also partly comes from Russia and prices have grown. Social enterprises working with sectors such as tourism are being hit since the population spends less on that. This changes what people can afford and will have long term effects,’ says Regita.
In order to deal with this, members are keen to act first and build systems of help where they are able to act as pioneers of just doing simply the best they can as they create supportive measures in Latvia which allow Ukrainian citizens to integrate faster. Moreover, Ukrainian citizens in Latvia have been recognised as a socially vulnerable group, therefore the country aims to be quick in providing help through support measures. Social entrepreneurs have the ability to integrate Ukranian citizens together with municipalities and aim to create awareness surrounding socially responsible public procurement. Regita sheds light on this procurement as municipalities have provided incentives and extra points to entrepreneurs who provide social inclusion and job opportunities to Ukranian civilians in Latvia.
‘The association began advocating for more economic opportunities for people from Ukraine. Promoting it as a good mechanism, we are working on the ground to create help and job opportunities – forcing the issue of change.’
This year SEAL has greatly benefited from joining the ESEM process. Almost half of the social enterprise community have responded to the benefits since it has contributed towards implementing concepts and providing status to social entrepreneurs in Latvia.
Furthermore, being involved in the civil society panel was an important step for social entrepreneurship in Latvia as ‘social entrepreneurs are born from civil society and develop from there,’ says Regita. In this regard, a community of likeminded individuals are linked by common interests and collective activity which flourish overtime. She claims that the main conclusion from working groups showcased that there is a need to work towards stronger communities and democracies where everyone has a say in decision making.
‘Including the voices of socially vulnerable groups and under-represented people, this direction is very strong,’ says Regita.
Working with Euclid
Regita states that Euclid allows SEAL to be connected with many ecosystems. Through this, social entrepreneurs can share stories, what they are doing and can learn from one another.
‘The social entrepreneurship community is quite small hence we should be cooperating; in the long term this would give benefits.’
In the long run, SEAL would like to create an academy for existing entrepreneurs. Currently working with 18 leaders, SEAL wishes to promote ideas, experiences and establish meaningful relationships.
‘We are trying to help members develop initiatives in other areas such as tourism,’ Regita says, ‘we see the importance of sharing with others – we must benefit from that.’