Impact of EQUAL work in the social economy

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EQUAL programme evaluation, executive summary, page xxviii

17. Secondly, added value has stemmed from the exploration and/or further structuring of relatively new fields of intervention. ... Another example of thematic added value lies in the global approach taken to the social economy. Whereas it is often considered merely as a vehicle for the reintegration of vulnerable people in the labour market, EQUAL has promoted it as an economic sector per se, in the sense of an alternative organisation of economic activity. It thus contributes an alternative approach, not just to employment, but also to the economy as a whole.

Potential and initial impacts of EQUAL at the EU level and across Member States

115. Overall it is still difficult at this stage to form a fair view of the impacts achieved by EQUAL in the different Member States. Many DPs were still at the beginning or in the midst of their Action 3 (transfer and mainstreaming) projects at the time of evaluation fieldwork. Institutional impacts have by far been the most documented. Impact on policies are said by most evaluators to be limited, however quite significant examples have been provided. There is a notable lack of reporting on impacts on organisations (other than partner organisations). Impacts can be said to still be very much local in scope.

116. Drawing on the work of the European Thematic Groups, on our review of national evaluation reports as well as on our own fieldwork, we have nevertheless identified innovations and their potential or initial impacts in areas of relevance for the European Employment Strategy, the Social Inclusion process and other Community strategies and programmes. We have related these achievements (innovations and impacts) to those of the Integrated Guidelines where we thought they made a contribution, as well as to the relevant Social Inclusion objective and other European strategies and programmes.

117. Potential and initial impacts on Integrated Guideline 15 (Promote a more entrepreneurial culture and create a supportive environment for SMEs):

  • Reinforced support mechanisms and access to finance in existing business support centres and creation of new integrated support centres: ‘non traditional’ entrepreneurs, especially women (e.g. in remote rural areas) have been drawn in the business creation process. In some Member States (ES, UKgb) there is evidence that some of these initiatives have secured or are in the process of securing mainstream funding. However, the ‘opening up of the business creation to all’, which was supposed to be an important added value of EQUAL with regard to the Guideline has not been well documented so far with regard to access of marginalised and vulnerable people, and questions have been raised as to the relevance of such an objective.
  • Creation of second level networks, i.e. networks between business support centres or between social enterprises, which have contributed to the professionalisation of their members.
  • Recognition of the social economy as an economic sector rather than only as a vehicle for the labour market reintegration of vulnerable people: new support structures, such as offices of social entrepreneurship and social franchising systems, have been developed. The status of ‘social co-operatives’ (an Italian institution) has been taken up in GR and SE. Governance arrangements were improved, particularly with regard to the place of social enterprises in public procurement. Many of these developments have good sustainability prospects – indeed some of them are already institutionalised.