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Partnership – from theory to practice in two days 19 September 2013

Posted by cooperatoby in cooperative, EU, Social enterprise.
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‘Peer review’ is a banalised concept but last week the Social Entrepreneurship Network took it from theory to practice. It took a high-flown concept – “Public sector capacity – strategic partnerships and governance models” – and turned it to practical use by people in a position to change things. I really enjoyed the event. Why?
SEN's Trento peer reviewFirst because of the committed people. Comparing it with an EU social inclusion peer review is was so much livelier and more committed. So much so that on the second day we moved quickly on past the concept of ‘transferability’ to a practical job. The people there were the right people – people who can make partnerships happen around Europe. So, instead of producing a theoretical comparison of different solutions to policy problems, we actually skilled up real live participants in the process – people engaged in the social economy as well as those running the ESF. This was enabled by the quick-witted and responsive facilitation skills of Luigi Martignetti of REVES.
Secondly the setting. I’d never been to Trento before, and quite apart from being fabled for its social co-ops, it’s a lovely place. A peaceful town with glamorous shops and bars selling wine at €2 a glass, with free tapas thrown in. The cathedral’s north transept has a remarkable Adam and Eve sculpture, in which the paintings on either side trompent l’oeil by become three-dimensional, and rising out of the frame. But it’s not all history. In the sleek modernist railway station, serpentine container trains thunder through from the Brenner pass, reminding me that isolated though it is if you try to arrive by air, Trento is there because it’s on a major trade route. Our meeting took placed in the provincial HQ on Piazza Dante, where the poet points upwards to the surrounding cloud-topped alps. The valley is full of vineyard and apple orchards, there is car-sharing and plenty of bicycles – and I was delighted to find an excellent micro-brewery in the shape of the Pedavena . This is sited just outside the old city walls, and has not only a shady garden (it was still summer in mid-September) but a massive and packed Bavarian-style beer hall surrounding its gleaming coppers and fermenting vessels. It brews light, red, dark and wheat beers and serves food to go with them.
So it’s a civilised town, and has civilised institutions to go with it. We were fortunate to be invited to spend the evening in one of them, the Samuele social co-operative. This is located on a hillside with wonderful views, in the Villa San Ignazio building that the declining Jesuit order no longer has a use for. The co-op started making leather goods, expanded by opening shop in the town centre, and then opened a bar and restaurant. The bar is called ‘Bar Naut’ an Italian pun on the ‘burnout’ that social workers can all too easily suffer from. The co-op’s president, Massimo Komatz, hardly had to introduce the enterprise before being pleasantly barraged with acute questions.
Antibodies to defeat the neoliberal virus
To kick off the meeting, we were treated to an inspiring introduction by Felice Scalvini ex of Federsoliderietà and CECOP, and now back home as a councillor in Brescia. He emphasised that the mushrooming growth of Italy’s social co-operatives – there are now 11,000 of them employing 301,000 people – didn’t just happen by accident: it was a conscious choice by a movement of committed people. This quantitative dynamic has led to a cultural, scientific and institutional dynamic. The two ‘evil characters’ in the story are:
• the ‘Washington consensus’ and the idea that injections of capital can solve social problems
• the European idea of introducing competition into the third sector. Co-operatives develop through co-operation – consortia, pacts etc. – not competition.
He urged us to be the antibodies that will defeat these dangerous viruses.
After an exhaustive statistical overview, the Con.Solida and four co-ops themselves then came to present what they did – and in those summery conditions I have to confess that with the best will in the world my attention wandered.
It was brought back into focus by the presentations of our three cases: the Polish Working Group on Systemic Solutions in the Social Economy, Trentino’s ‘Intervento 18’ which supports work integration co-operatives, and Scotland’s Public-Social Partnership at Low Moss prison. It was a rich menu. The three initiatives are at different levels – national, regional and local – and show how policy-makers can work with the social economy to solve serious social, problems like long-term unemployment and reoffending. They ranged from the overarching political to the technocratic evidence-based, but shared the feature of partnership between public authorities and the social economy.
I was particularly impressed by the quality of the nine peer comment papers, which made honest assessments of their own experience and contributed many acute insights into why the three initiatives we were reviewing worked, and how the lessons might be applied elsewhere.
Partnership is not optional
This was Luigi Martignetti’s reminder, referring to the EU’s Structural and Investment Funds. This heralded our second day’s work, in which we broke up into three small groups to discuss the tools for partnership. Concepts we explored included autonomy, objectives, leadership, sustainability, efficiency, transparency, opportunity, innovation, strategy, process, community, funding, human resources, contracts, quality, transfer, indicators and evaluation.
It was my particular pleasure to share with the group my feeling that the overused term ‘innovation’ doesn’t really mean much more than ‘problem solving’. The word has been borrowed from the world of technological R&D, where it is defined not just as the brainwave of inventing something, but of developing a saleable product and bringing it to market. In this sense innovation is an economic term. Similarly in the social field: what we judge to be an innovative project is one which identifies a problem, puts together techniques and resources to address it, and proposes a feasible way of solving it. This is in distinction to simply applying the traditional solutions.
Forward to Strasbourg
At the end, SEN discussed what we know as ‘mainstreaming’ – i.e. how we could make an impact on GECES and at the Strasbourg conference on 16th & 17th January 2014.
I think SEN has broken new ground with this peer review, and don’t doubt that the second in the series, in Malmö on 5th & 6th December on the topic of “Growth and Development”, lives up to my now raised expectations. Thanks to Malgorzata, Aleksandra, Dorotea, Luigi, our speakers and hosts, and everyone who came for making it such an enjoyable and productive two days.



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