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A WISE way of Working 25 November 2009

Posted by cooperatoby in cooperative, EU, social economy, Social enterprise.
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Yesterday I was privileged to do the summing-up of the Brussels dissemination seminar of the WISE project, which has been running for the past 2 years as part of PROGRESS. It is led by CGM, the leading consortium of Italian social co-operatives, and involved 8 countries: AT, BE, ES, FI, IT, MT, PL & RO, as well as key European partners like EAPN. These have radically different situations as regards work integration social enterprises, so the four pair/peer reviews the project held threw up some interesting contrasts.

WISE Way of Working coverThe Brussels dissemination seminar on 24th November had as its centrepiece the launch of A WISE Way of Working, a booklet containing 10 sets of recommendations for policy-makers along with 10 examples of how WISEs contribute to different EU policies.

Key actions

Policy on WISEs has definitely evolved over the years. WISEs have been round for at least 30 years under various names, and we can trace the steady growth in the visibility of the idea through Community initiatives such as HORIZON and more recently EQUAL. It is time for more explicit recognition! We shouldn’t waste time on exact definitions, but we do need an umbrella concept to enable mutual learning and transfer.

For policy-makers I would pick out two super-important points:
a) Policy co-ordination: it is very welcome that this seminar has attracted 5 Commission officials from both the Employment and Enterprise DGs, but this togetherness is relatively rare. We need to find ways of avoiding ‘silo’ thinking, and there are various tools – interservice groups and the EP Intergroup to mention two. A number of member states have instituted high-level co-ordination systems: Poland with its Social Economy Working Group featured in the WISE Guidelines, Sweden with its national thematic group and the UK with its Office of the Third Sector. The European model which needs re-establishing is the EQUAL European Thematic Group (ETG). This is at present in pieces, although a new Learning Network is being restarted under the Learning for Change programme. We have lost two years as a result of EQUAL being scrapped. This shows that the Commission must show leadership where transnational collaboration is concerned.
(b) Use the resources that are there: WISEs grow and replicate fastest and most easily when they are supported by their own federal bodies such as consortia. They have values and they grow by sharing with each other. Yet the value of this network of home-grown support structures seems to be a blind spot for the European institutions. Consortia, federations, co-operative development agencies are not parasites or overheads; they are on the contrary he mechanisms that clarify goals, inspire motivation and give practical help. They are what makes a movement work. Public policies should recognise the added value that a movement style of operation brings.
It’s very heartening to see moves in this direction such as the Key Networks that the Employment DG supports at EU level. The WISE guidelines showcase the successful use of the Global Grant mechanism to do the same at national level.

For WISEs, we have to focus on opportunities, and here the Commission speakers have given us a number of clear pointers. We must feed them with the evidence and arguments they need to develop policy. We must:
– respond to the consultation on EU2020 – i.e. the post-Lisbon strategy
– make an input into the Innovation Action Plan – social innovation has to be part of this, not just technical or process innovation, and the social economy is the motor of social innovation
– make an input into local development strategies
– propose subjects for the Peer Review meetings in Social Protection & Social Inclusion, a key part of the mutual learning system among member states (in which Greek and Belgian WISEs have already featured)

I congratulate CGM and the partners on taking a significant step forward in raising the visibility of WISE where it matters. And I thank all the participants, the interpreters, and especially the project co-ordinator Dorotea Daniele and the DIESIS team

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