The Balkans to Baltics PeerEx exchange took place between 16th and 19th of August 2022, in Riga, Latvia. Maja Marković, project manager of PULSE (Groupe SOS) Balkan’s antenna and RISE project, was hosted by Regita Zeiļa and Līva Švarce, director and project manager, respectively, of Social Entrepreneurship Association of Latvia (LSUA). The exchange focused on developing the relationship between Baltics and Balkans social entrepreneurship ecosystems, transferring knowledge about advocacy and access to finance from a more developed ecosystem to the less developed one, comparing circumstances and opportunities and exploring potentials for future collaboration.
When in Riga…
The first day of the three-day exchange was dedicated to setting expectations, learning about the main strengths of Latvian social entrepreneurship ecosystem, the intricate collaboration between different actors within the field and outstanding results that LSUA has been achieving.
The second day exchange was dedicated to multi-stakeholder meetings and practical introduction to the main actors. LSUA organized a roundtable discussion with the ecosystem leaders of Latvia, including Kristine Verpeja, Reach for Change and LSUA board member, Juris Cebulis, Ministry of Welfare of Latvia, and Agnese Fridenberga, Providus (a public policy think tank) and LSUA board member.
During this meeting, besides presentations on the state of play and legislation, particular topics were considered:
- Overview of the Balkans and differences between ecosystems;
- Main challenges and general information and learning about the ecosystem, and differences in private-public relationships.
The Latvian partners described their joint effort in adopting the Law on Social Entrepreneurship, the strong connection between decision-makers and researchers/representatives of the third sector, and the outstanding implementation of ESF+ program. Similarly, the Serbian partners discussed the legislative efforts to adopt national Law on Social Entrepreneurship, context of scope that the Law entails and next steps in the effort to ensure proper implementation of the fresh Law.
After this meeting, Maja, Regita and Liva visited Sonido, an innovative social business that offers employment opportunities to people from socially marginalized and risk groups and provides an excellent service aimed at businesses. After an inspiring story of the grassroot initiative that grew into a sustainable social business, the team met with representatives of the Free Riga. This association is a public-benefit organization, that is organizing activities to open unused buildings to residents of Riga and provide premises for those who implement social activities in the field of culture to help socially least-protected groups of society and the poor, looking for new solutions or starting innovative projects.
One important goal that wasn’t recognized beforehand, but that was nevertheless met , was intercultural learning and understanding between two organizations. Significant learnings came from understanding the historical, socio-economical, cultural and governance context of both Balkans and Baltics region. Participants were also able to understand the obstacles as well as the advantages which originated from these circumstances in which both ecosystems thrive.
The third and last day of the exchange was dedicated to exploring new options for future collaboration. Both organizations identified topics and activities that they strongly desire to collaborate on, but failed to recognize quality funding opportunities at this point in time. Both sides agreed to monitor eligible opportunities and to keep developing ideas for partnership. The day ended by meeting representatives of OWA social business, whose goal is to change the prevailing stereotypes in society about the disabled and their working abilities, as well as to encourage people with disabilities to study, learn new and useful skills for the labor market, and get involved in the management of projects and companies.
In conclusion, the exchange proved to be very fruitful, inspiring and beneficial for both sides. Significant comparisons were drawn from other ecosystems’ innovative solutions and approaches which will inspire new methodologies and activities to be implemented in the future.
What happened next?
In January 2023, EN checked in with Regita and Maja, to find out if there has been any follow-up or further collaboration between LSUA and Pulse and their networks.
Both peers highlighted that while they were not able to develop new project ideas between August 2022- January 2023, they are still in contact with each other. Some brainstorming sessions have taken place, yet financing for projects and initiatives and internal team capacity remains a challenge. The peers also reported that they began to connect their networks of social enterprises and social entrepreneurs. Regita highlighted that there’s a general understanding within the region because of the similar history of the Baltics and Balkans. This, in turn, can profit from projects to raise awareness of these similarities and differences and spark curiosity across the communities.
When asked about one takeaway from each other’s SE ecosystem, Maja emphasized the intersectoral collaboration within the SE ecosystem in Latvia. She credited the work of Regita and Liva (and the LSUA team) in facilitating this relationship across Latvia. In turn, Regita highlighted the vibrancy of the Balkans (more specifically, Serbian) ecosystem. According to her, this vibrancy stems from a true passion for social entrepreneurship and innovation.
The doors remain open for cooperation and collaboration across the Baltics and Balkans.