SE conference Kraków 2004

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Social economy 2004 in Kraków – gearing up for EQUAL in the new member states

Demand for EQUAL in Poland is high, and the workshop at the Social Economy 2004 conference in Kraków on 29th October was a welcome opportunity to learn from good practice examples and define plans for the future. The key conclusion: better prior concertation between the authorities and the social economy will lead to better results.

Every other year, a European Social Economy conference is held to demonstrate the contribution that the social economy makes to Europe’s well-being and prosperity, and to formulate plans and political demands for the future. Following Prague in 2002, this year’s event – entitled Social Entrepreneurship and Economic Efficiency – took place in Kraków, to emphasise the contribution that social economy approaches can make to the successful integration of new countries into the European Union. Its mixture of policy debates, inspiring case studies and specialist workshops attracted 900 people, including ministers and European policy-makers.

One of the 12 workshops, examining the Evaluation and prospects of the EQUAL Programme for the social economy in the new European countries, was also well attended, with approximately half the 50 or so participants coming from Poland. And it was lively too, with perhaps 20 of those present having their say. The main conclusion was that innovation and transnational work are worth doing – but need good planning. A practical proposal was made that some of the existing EQUAL development partnerships in the social economy might get together to jointly organise a higher-profile dissemination seminar in 2005.

Contents

EQUAL in the new Member States

The representative of the EQUAL Unit in the European Commission’s Employment and Social Affairs DG, Paweł Golsztajn, started off the proceedings by outlining where EQUAL came from and where it is going. He noted that three of the new Member States have allocated an EQUAL budget to the social economy theme: Poland with €36.7m, the Czech Republic with €4.5m and Slovakia with €5.1m. He pointed out even if EQUAL will disappear in 2006, the proposed regulations for the Structural Funds from 2007 onwards provide for social economy approaches. There was a call for lobbying to continue innovative programmes, as they are considered essential to fulfil the Lisbon objectives.

Toby Johnson, a member of the initiative’s technical assistance team, described what the 1,200 or so organisations that are currently taking part in the social economy theme have been doing, and what the results are likely to be. He then asked those people present who were already active in EQUAL to share some of their experience: they made a range of suggestions for EQUAL’s future:

  • a common set of indicators against which projects can be evaluated
  • a website to facilitate intertrading between social economy enterprises (a British national site is being set up)
  • better communication to minimise duplication
  • benchmarking for new projects
  • dissemination to the new Member States by the European Thematic Group (ETG)
  • support for the spread of social franchising
  • support for Member State governments (such as the seven new member countries that have not allocated a budget to the social economy theme) to understand what the social economy is

Three good practice cases

The workshop then heard from three case studies, which show the variety of the work under way in EQUAL’s social economy theme to influence policy and practice at local, regional and national level, and thus improve the entrepreneurial climate for people who are disadvantaged in the labour market.

  • Chambers of commerce – a new source of support for the social economy: Flaviano Zandonai of the Italian Quasar DP told how they have ‘mainstreamed’ support for the social economy into the business support services operated by the chambers of commerce in ten regions of Italy. This has considerably strengthened the sources of support available to social enterprises in Italy. 200 managers have been trained, and seven expert groups set up, to look at financial tools, social quality, local development, social services reform, operational tools, social economy observatories and training tools. But he said that the project has run up against the problem that the technicians in the sector work faster than their political representatives, so that the technical and political work get out of phase.
  • Scotland’s Social Economy Zones: Keith Wimbles from the Scottish EQUAL DP described how this unified national DP is working on ‘social economy zones’ and in particular to help social enterprises gain public sector contracts. Four zones have been set up, two urban and two rural. They are working on business development, ICTs and e-business, public procurement and new approaches to funding, which involve assets and equity. “For us, the most difficult things to manage have been the high workload the lead partner has to cope with, and finding matching finance for transnational work,” he said.
  • Tools to show social value added: Finally Hendrikje Knop from Germany’s BEST 3S DP addressed the issue of measuring the social added value of social enterprise. Their work has looked in depth at several systems of indicators, including the Balanced Scorecard and Social Audit. “Benchmarking shows how well the enterprise’s internal processes are working – how well its lifeblood is circulating,” she said. The process of benchmarking helps to involve all stakeholders, define a vision, raise motivation and improve quality. “It’s important to measure both hard and soft factors,” she said.

EQUAL in heavy demand in Poland

EQUAL plays a key role in reducing labour market inequality in the new Member States, and in the second half of the workshop, Rainer Schlüter, the General Secretary of CECOP, the European Confederation of Workers’ Co-operatives, Social Co-operatives and Participative Enterprises, introduced the ministry staff responsible for EQUAL from two of the three new Member States that have allocated a budget specifically for the social economy. From Poland, Sebastian Białenski announced that the EQUAL call for proposals had been exceedingly well received. They had received 752 applications overall, of which around 127 were for the social economy theme. The ministry and national support structure were currently hard at work to assess all these. In the end they expect to fund around 35 development partnerships.

The term ‘social economy’ in Poland is chiefly associated with the country’s 45,000 associations and 7,000 foundations, about half of which are active and employing volunteers. It is a growing sector, despite poor fund-raising and a presence that is concentrated in the cities. The Polish EQUAL programme aims to support the development of a Polish model of the social economy, work out the necessary mechanisms, revitalise deprived areas and bridge regional gaps. Activities include building the model, helping people to cross from the second to the first labour market, improved co-operation among actors, better instruments and mobilising local communities.

From the Czech Republic, however, came disquieting news: Jan Wiesner, President of SCMVD, the Union of Czech and Moravian Producer Co-operatives, reported that co-operatives were facing eligibility problems resulting from the excessively rigid division being enforced between profit-making and non-profit organisations – a distinction the social economy bridges.

Capacity building and national platforms needed

Some interesting facts and opinions surfaced during discussion. Peter Moore of Sheffield Council (UK), the rapporteur of the Committee of the Region’s opinion on EQUAL II, felt that to get the best results in the new Member States, the Commission and Member States need to reduce bureaucracy and increase capacity building. Others called for EQUAL to support the creation of national platforms for the social economy. A call was made for a common vocabulary. To ensure innovation, it was suggested that a minimum level should be set for the development partnerships’ transnational budgets. Work should be done to build a social economy dimension in the post-2007 Structural Funds and the INTERREG III Community Initiative, which provides for transnational work.

In conclusion, the European social economy consultancy consortium DIESIS http://www.diesis.coop will try to draw the experiences of the various social economy projects together, and capitalise them. Perhaps a joint dissemination seminar can be held early in 2005. ”Next time, if the Commission, Member States and social economy sector organise a consultation process early enough, we can take into account all the work that has already been done and avoid duplication,” said Rainer Schlüter. “But more resources are needed for capitalisation.” A further practical benefit of the workshops was that as it ended, participants had the chance to make partners for their future projects.

Training depends on the human factor

Earlier in the conference, the workshop on training showcased some more good examples of training in the social economy, which stressed the importance of the human factor. Victor Kaminsky told participants how the Polish National Association of Credit Unions http://www.skok.pl has trained 17,000 people in how to manage credit unions, and offers nationally certificated course in financial management. “Credit unions are a great success in Poland – because of people,” he said. Jan Svensson from Göteborg said e-learning risked being boring. What is important is ‘learning communities’, he said, which means working with the context not just the content. “When you embed learning in a task, this gives you multiple entry points. Success comes from having a simple and reliable system, a clear structure with a high level of student responsibility, and trained tutors”.

The conference concluded with a recommendation to “capitalise the social economy pillar in EQUAL programmes, and mainstream into the Structural Funds, and the National Action Plans for Employment (NAPs) and Social Inclusion (NAPIs)”.

References

The resolution agreed by the conference can be found at http://www.socialeconomy.eu.org/spip.php?article696&lang=en.

The Polish EQUAL programme is at http://www.efs.org.pl and http://www.equal.org.pl