EN interviewed Cristina Pojoga, Partner and Senior Consultant at fonduri-structurale.ro, to learn more about the organisation, its partnerships, its financing and funding experience and activities. Through the work of fonduri-structurale.ro, Cristina also spoke about their crowdfunding platform for social entrepreneurship and creative industries, consolid8. In addition to information on the Romanian social entrepreneurship ecosystem, Cristina shared with us a vision for the future of fonduri-structurale.ro, and their motivation to join Euclid Network.
fonduri-structurale.ro (translating to structural funds dot ro in English) was created at the end of 2006, just a month before Romania joined the European Union (EU). fonduri-structurale.ro was created as a platform gathering all the EU funding opportunities available for the country – Pojoga explained. Building on the expertise on EU funding, the organization’s mission focused on supporting the development of public and private organizations as well as start-ups and social entrepreneurs on their entire journey, from developing essential business skills, project management, and funding management to securing development resources through crowdfunding, grants and innovative financial instruments.
Since 2014, fonduri-structurale.ro has been running accelerators for early-stage entrepreneurs funded by the European Social Fund , one of the European Structural and Investment Funds (ESIFs) dedicated to improving social cohesion and economic well-being across the EU regions. This further contributed to establishing the organisation as an ecosystem builder and the key actor working towards making Romania a better country for aspiring entrepreneurs – she added. fonduri-structurale.ro created in 2020 a crowdfunding platform, consolid8.ro, mainly dedicated to social entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs from cultural and creative industries, with the goal – according to Pojoga – of finding alternative finance mechanisms to EU funding and focus on the social economy.
In 2022, fonduri-structurale.ro organised the first edition of the consolid8 Festival, an event dedicated to social innovation, impact, and green technologies. She underlined how this festival was an opportunity to inspire entrepreneurs to focus on impact and social innovation as the new way of doing business in Romania and to bring together different stakeholders from the social and traditional economy. Cristina emphasized how fonduri-structurale.ro has grown into the role of a relevant social innovation ecosystem actor in its national and regional setting and aims to continue to develop within this role.
According to Cristina, fonduri-structurale.ro has helped its clients access over 30 million EUR in EU funding and has accounted for over 5,000 individuals participating in the organisation’s training on project management. Its portfolio also includes over 200 early-stage businesses that have been supported with funding and/or capacity building services, out of which over 30 are social businesses.
When EU funding was first available in Romania, fonduri-structurale.ro played a crucial role in creating a better understanding of it and highlighting the opportunities available in the national ecosystem. As stated by Cristina, this quickly changed and the ecosystem players learned how to successfully apply for EU funding. However, they would apply without an understanding of their organisation’s needs and acceleration goals – she explained.
Today – Cristina clarified – the development, growth, and opportunities are prioritised when approaching funding. She added that EU funding is not the best option for all entrepreneurs and that’s why the organisation felt the need to create consolid8.ro as a tool to diversify available funding options. fonduri-structurale.ro has thus become a one-stop-shop for financing needs, not only focused on grants or EU funding but also on other funding approaches as the organisation perceives that growth and development should be approached in the context of a transition to a more green and social economy – she concluded.
The Romanian Social Enterprise Ecosystem
The Romanian social enterprise ecosystem is still an immature one. She highlighted a lack of opportunities and political support for the social economy. One of the main supporters of social entrepreneurship in Romania continues to be EU funding – she noted. However, the new generation of social entrepreneurs is not motivated by funding and profit but instead is more focused on purpose, impact, and on addressing Romania’s biggest challenges. She also pointed out that there are many businesses in the ecosystem that do not realise that their purpose is a social one. In this regard, fonduri-structurale.ro plays a crucial role in creating more awareness of social entrepreneurship in Romania and directing businesses towards this path. The organisation is working towards creating a thriving social enterprise ecosystem that continuously grows and renews itself with new members.
Since 2015, there is a legal framework for social enterprises in Romania that defines what social enterprises and work integration social enterprises are. This is a broad definition that Pojoga believes to be what is best suited for the development of the current ecosystem as it does not exclude any legal type of organisation to be a social one. To be considered social enterprises under the current Romanian legal framework, organizations must have to follow certain criteria, such as having a social mission that is public and transparent and the obligation to reinvest at least 90% of the organisation’s profits into its social mission.
According to Cristina, many social enterprises choose not to be accredited under this law as there are few advantages to doing so. Cristina indicated that organizations most often identify themselves as social enterprises to have access to EU funding. Pojoga hopes that in the future a database will be created with all organisations that identify as social enterprises regardless of being credited under Romanian law as such, to better understand the size of the Romanian social enterprise ecosystem.
fonduri-structurale.ro as a support organisation
To be supported by fonduri-structurale.ro’s programmes and accelerators funded by EU funds, individuals need to go through a formal process, where they participate in a training program that results in the creation of a business plan and a pitching session that then is evaluated by experts. By the end of this process, there is usually a new cohort of 10-40 selected businesses. fonduri-structurale.ro aids all types of businesses, supporting traditional entrepreneurs to become more social and bringing social ones closer to the market so that they can scale up their impact. Most of the supported businesses are part of the circular economy and have a concern with work integration – she clarified. Supporting these types of businesses comes with extra challenges – she admitted – as the market is not (yet) built for them and the extra costs their social mission entails.
Where will fonduri-structurale.ro be in the next 5 years?
fonduri-structurale.ro’s path will become increasingly connected with its role as a main actor in the Romanian social innovation ecosystem. Involved in capacity building, scaling and awareness raising, the organization aims to bring more inspiration and knowledge into the ecosystem. fonduri-structurale.ro is currently working on improving the user experience on its platform by integrating artificial intelligence into the process of identifying and accessing funding opportunities – she indicated.
Another key strategic activity will be developing the organisation’s alternative funding mechanisms. fonduri-structurale.ro is planning to scale up its crowdfunding platform towards crowdlending, a more sophisticated form of funding that becomes crucial as the ecosystem grows. According to Cristina existing grants cannot cover all the needs of the system. She also expressed the desire that, in 5 years, the consolid8 Festival would become the must-see event in the scene of sustainability, social innovation, and impact in Romania and the CEE region. fonduri-structurale.ro is currently organising the second edition of this event and it’s already a more powerful and meaningful event than the first one – she assured.
Why join the Euclid Network?
Around 6 to 8 years ago fonduri-structurale.ro started leaning into the role of a capacity-building support organisation. In doing so – she added – there was a need to connect with like-minded people, network, and acquire the necessary know-how to better perform this role. By joining resources, more impact can be created. fonduri-structurale.ro is looking to learn from other EN members how to better gather data, interpret it, and successfully share it with the public. Cristina also shared that one other incentive to join the Network was the mutual understanding that any organisations – regardless of its legal definition – can be a force for good and the more organisations that aim to create impact, the more impact will be created. She concluded by sharing her enthusiasm to be part of a community with such impactful and inspiring organisations.