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Learned lessons and takeaways from attending the Social Enterprise and Innovation Forum 

On Friday, 05th May, I had the opportunity to tune in and watch the 2nd annual event organised by the Lithuanian Social Business Association (Lisva), together with the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania (the Lithuanian Parliament). This year’s forum, The Social Enterprise and Innovation Forum sought to create a space for continued dialogue on the topic of “accelerating social entrepreneurship in times of crisis”.

The forum gathered policy-makers and social entrepreneurship practitioners across different levels of governance (local, national, European) as well as friends of the Lithuanian ecosystem, such as authorities from Canada, representatives from Ukraine and European networks, to share insights from across the ocean. Over the course of panels, thematic sessions and discussion spaces, a multitude of topics and trends around social entrepreneurship, social innovation, legal frameworks, collaboration and cross-border exchange were brought up and complementary perspectives were shared. 

It was particularly empowering to hear from social entrepreneurs or intermediary organisations on very concrete projects they’re implementing as well as changes being faced, during project implementation. Noteworthy was also the overwhelming support and presence of key stakeholders representing the Ukrainian ecosystem. Lithuania and Ukraine have long been partners, and have intensified their cooperation in the previous year, to ensure there is investment and tailored business support programmes for social businesses in the region, thus fostering joint development.

A significant portion of the Forum dealt with the establishment and launch of the European Competency Centre for Social Innovation, in Vilnius, Lithuania. Many questions, as well as, propositions on opportunities for collaboration across the European and national competency centres were discussed. There was overall great excitement about this opportunity and the opportunities for Lithuanian organisations, not just from Vilnius, but all provinces to showcase their work and learn from the best practices and knowledge exchange with other ecosystems, something which is bound to happen by having the European centre in the country.

On the Lithuanian ecosystem, the Forum provided an extensive overview of the next steps of the revision of the 2019 Social Entrepreneurship law, and a consultation of social economy stakeholders in the coming months in support of an inclusive legal framework. Viktorija Braziunaite, director of Lisva, who also moderated the Forum for a couple sessions, emphasised on the importance of not making empty promises in times of crisis. Instead, she said, ‘we have to act and make our actions meaningful’. Additionally, interventions from different members and representatives of the Lithuanian Parliament and Ministries of Economy & Innovation, as well as the Ministry of Social Security & Labour, made clear the government’s intentions to place the social economy at the centre of the Lithuanian economy, raising the % of GDP for social economy organisations. These plans already integrate a government-wide strategy by the name of GALIU-2023, translating to ‘I can’.

While Euclid Network could not be there in person, I know my colleagues watched from home and enjoyed the exchanges and best practices shared by the participants. Euclid Network was happy to see another one of our members, Social Enterprise NL, represented by Jorien van Lokeren Campagne, Policy & Research Lead at SENL, share SENL’s perspective of social entrepreneurship ecosystem development based on the Dutch trajectory. 

Jorien provided an overview of the three levels (local, national, international) of governments/authorities with which SENL engages on a regular basis to continue developing the Dutch ecosystem. A concept that stuck with me, and that Jorien highlighted eloquently, is the idea that local governments and social enterprises are the perfect business partners. As Jorien put it, “while it may not always be so easy in practice, local governments are responsible for solving local issues, to which social entrepreneurs often develop a solution too. It’s their mission to contribute to the local community. SENL continues to work arduously to bring these two groups of actors together and facilitate the co-creation and co-implementation of projects across the Netherlands, and beyond.

In the last session of the day European Commission (EC) representatives as well as national authorities implementing ESF+ funded projects and representatives from intermediary organisations shared their learnings and best practices, as well as aspirations for the future of this funding stream. Calls were made for more community-businesses to be empowered to scale. The need for social incubators to support the entrepreneurs from the start was highlighted as a key mechanism of this ecosystem and all speakers agreed on the need to produce more data, across civil society, private and public sectors to produce in-depth snapshots of the ecosystems locally and globally and identify needs and gaps.

I enjoyed Lucie Moncton’s intervention towards the end where she summarised the 3 key elements for a successful social entrepreneurship ecosystem, building on the experience in Canada: 

  1. Build networks and partnerships 
  2. Provide targeted funding
  3. Establish a policy framework

These key elements align with Euclid Network’s raison d’etre and served, for me on Friday, as a confirmation of our mission and our objectives moving forward.

The closing words were from Patrick Klein, Head of Sector for Social Economy and Social Enterprise at the European Commission. This ability to synthesise the days’ discussion in a few minutes, was the most adequate way to wrap-up this great event. His emphasis on developing the B2B market for social enterprises, on providing for a more inclusive, green and digital economy via adequate capacity-building mechanisms, and on ensuring clear and continuous communication channels across the relevant actors of the sector was the cherry on top of the cake.

I ‘left’ the event with an inspired mind, empowered by the concrete examples provided during the event and eager to learn about new people and organisations I ‘met’ online. More to come on this topic – and if you don’t know the Lithuanian Social Business Association yet, go check them out. I have no doubt we’ll be seeing them a lot in the future.

By Marcela Neves, EN’s Community Engagement Officer

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