Helsinki 070205 workshop C support

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Helsinki social enterprise conference 070205

Workshop C - skills, training and support

Facilitated by: Kuba Wygnański (FISE – Foundation for Social and Economic Initiatives, Warsaw), Dorotea Daniele (DIESIS, Brussels)


C.1 issues

Contents and mechanism of delivery of support vary according to the context, the target groups and the sector’s development and culture. The major needs common to most European countries were identified as:

  • relations with the public and business sector
  • quality and impact tools
  • better communication and promotion
  • the improvement of entrepreneurial skills
  • innovative methods of scaling up, such as franchising, peer learning and role modelling.

An ideal form of support structure does not exist. Support can be provided by public administrations, the private and/or non-profit sector, professionals, social economy umbrella organisations or consortia or by a mixture of different actors.

C.2 Good practice cases

Kuba Wygnanski Helsinki 070205.JPG
Many EQUAL development partnerships have been trying to extend and improve the different models of business support that exist for the social economy in Europe (specialised public agencies, co-operative development agencies, specialised consultants and consortia).

In Italy, Quasar promoted a stable alliance between social co-operative organisations and chambers of commerce that resulted in the creation of Observatories of Civil Economy.

In Sweden, SLUP provided CDAs (co-operative development agencies) with new tools and methods to support co-operative start-up and development. CDAs are support structures characterised by public co-financing, a good mixture of representative and advisory functions and a strong local embeddedness.

Several examples of social franchising were quoted as a new form of organisational structure reducing business risk, increasing skills and creating employment.

Especially in the new member states, EQUAL has financed the creation of new models of support structure. The Polish government has decided to promote and finance a new kind of Support Centre for Social Co-operatives in order to provide advice and financial support to a rapidly developing sector.

In France, business and employment co-operatives (coopératives d’activités et d’emploi) give collective support to people starting their own businesses.

C.3 Recommendations

Recommendations to social enterprises

Social economy actors often think that lack of money is their major problem: if they can obtain funding they will be able to achieve all their goals. Instead, a certain level of self-criticism is needed in order to better assess real needs and understand the specific kind of support necessary to increase skills and know-how.

The social economy has to increase the participation and empowerment of beneficiaries at all levels. One of the primary aims of social economy is the integration of disadvantaged people, which also means helping people to recover their dignity and self-confidence – in a word a place in society.

Skills development is important and can take various forms (training, support, coaching, etc.) but it answers the know how question. This is a technical and instrumental question. In the case of social economy this technical perspective of efficiency should be balanced with the more substantial issue of empowerment and equity. This is a rather know why type of question which is quite often forgotten. To answer this question, not information and training, but rather formation (the examination of values and objectives) is needed. There is a great lack of this kind of support for the social economy. It is crucial and without it the social economy might risk gravitating to become “just another business” or just a “cheaper” service provider. Finally, social economy actors should increase self-confidence and promote what works. The social economy can provide excellent solutions to some of the major problems European governments are facing and make a relevant contribution to the achievement of the Lisbon objectives.

Recommendations to public authorities (local, national, EU)

Since EQUAL is not going to continue, many social economy support structures established under EQUAL (particularly in new EU member states) will soon face a serious challenge of survival. In these cases the social economy is at risk of collapse before it has really started. For that reason national or regional authorities should incorporate support for the social economy infrastructure in national action plans for 2007-13.

A panoply of different tools is necessary to support not only the start-up of social economy businesses but also their development. There is need for particular types of services like incubation, coaching and peer learning, correlated with access to start-up funds – in the form of grants, accessible loans or venture capital. A particularly promising mechanism for such a comprehensive development is social franchising which should be much more explored and promoted among social economy institutions. Support structures, the financial sector and authorities should work together in order to build this kind of mechanism.

On the EU level, a better correlation between ESF and ERDF programmes could allow the social economy to access not only funding for training (soft support) but also funding for investment (hard infrastructure). From this perspective there is also a need for better horizontal co-operation between the EU structures (DGs) and national and regional actors responsible for social inclusion and enterprise development.

European and national authorities should put new mechanisms for transnational co-operation and support to transnational networks in place, in order to continue and improve the work already carried out.

Recommendations to all

Support structures, although they might be organised by different sectors and institutions, should be tailored and adapted to the specific needs of social economy institutions in order to offer a wide and diversified (in terms of content and form) range of services. From the point of view of the beneficiaries, the efforts of different service providers should be either better harmonised or aggregated in the territorially organised form of one stop shops.

Last but not least, there is a need for specific education targeted not at social economy institutions themselves but rather at their environment. Particularly there is a specific need for education of the business sector so it will be more knowledgeable about the nature of the social economy and thus react in a more relevant way towards it (as partner or competitor). Similarly there is a huge need for education of the public administration. Lastly there is probably the most complicated “target” for education, which is the general public. Without public understanding and support for the social economy (as volunteers, contributors, consumers), the social economy will trap itself as a social artefact created by a mixture of subsidies and tax benefits.