Social economy network Finland

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Finland's social economy network in EQUAL

The EQUAL thematic netwwork on the social economy was one of five that were set up, along with networks on employability, adaptability, equal opportunities and asylum. Its membership consisted of all six development partnerships in the theme. It was managed by the ELWARE development partnership, according to the terms of a tender published by the ministry.

Regional awareness-raising semainars

To raise public awareness of social enterprise, the network took to the road and organised five regional seminars, based on the existing local examples, thus directly reaching some 350 people. The subjects covered varied from region to region, but included human resources management, business start-up support, finance and recommendations for legal reform.

Recommendations for reform

Network members also organised a series of workshops to draw up a set of recommendations for social enterprise, which have been distributed in booklet form. The booklet is entitled 'Integrating Social Enterprises into the Mainstream' and was published in both Finnish and English. The network also published a book called Yhteisötalous ja sosiaalinen yrittäjyys ('Social Economy and Social Entrepreneurship') that presented articles from representatives of the public, private and social economy sectors. The book has exhausted its first print run of 3,000 and is now being reprinted. It has been distributed to the EQUAL development partnerships and their contacts, to the ministries – the Labour Minister Tarja Filatov contributed a chapter – and parliamentary committee members, as well as to business development agencies.

  • Legal reform: “On the one hand this fulfils a promotional role as we need to make business advisers aware of the options and potential that social enterprises offer,” says co-ordinator Eveliina Pöyhönen. “On the other hand it is a policy document. The law on social enterprise (law 1351/2003) came into force at the start of 2004, and was reviewed in 2006/7. It is a helpful law, but it was drafted too fast. It defines social enterprises very strictly, so we are pressing for a broader definition. We think the law could be improved in several ways: the level of subsidy, an option for tax relief, a stronger focus on job creation, widening it to cover other target groups. For instance as the law currently stands, at least 30% of employees have to be registered as unemployed. This excludes mentally ill people, who are not on the employment register.”
  • Business support: There is also an issue of government perceptions of social enterprises. “During EQUAL, start-up support was provided by the VATES foundation, with help from the Ministry of Labour and the Slot Machine Association. However, this was a short-term project. What we need are permanent solutions, which means incorporating social enterprises into the mainstream business advice structure in Finland. As we state in the Development Recommendations, the Ministry of Trade and Industry and business advisers should treat social enterprise as a mainstream issue as well.”
  • Finance: A third area where change is called for is in finance. ”There is no ethical investment sector in Finland, and banks take no account of social aspects and tend to look at the presence of disadvantaged workers purely as a risk. A special investment fund is needed,” says Ms Pöyhönen.

An added push to this sectoral development will be given by the national Forum for Social Entrepreneurship http://www.syfo.fi that forms part of the work of the HOT development partnership in EQUAL’s second round. It has the virtue of bringing together people who would not normally talk to each other about how to create more jobs and develop a more mixed provision of social services. “It involves industrialists, trade associations, governors, mayors of the big cities, researchers and social enterprises, and operates at a high political level – in fact it is chaired by the husband of Finland's President, Mr Pentti Arajärvi,” says Ms Pöyhönen.

In December 2005 SYFO published a manifesto (the full leaflet is available at http://www.hothanke.fi/eng/index.htm

Contact

Eveliina Pöyhönen
STAKES (National Research and Development Centre for Welfare and Health)
PO box 220
Lintulahdenkuja 4
00531 Helsinki
Finland
Telephone: +358 9 3967 2617
E-mail: eveliina.poyhonen@stakes.fi
http://www.elware.fi/teematyo

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