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Social innovation is political 17 February 2020

Posted by cooperatoby in social economy, Social enterprise, social innovation.
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At the DIESIS strategy day on 11 February, I chaired the world café tables on social innovation, and wanted to go beyond the standard discourse.
The social innovation project is a worthy attempt to transfer the glamour traditionally attached to technical innovation to the social policy field. And the transfer of innovative methods is what gives the EU the competence to intervene. But what underlies it?
The usual definition is phrased in rather technical terms:
• social innovations are new (in their context) social practices that aim to meet social needs in a better way than existing solutions. They are innovative in method as well as results – i.e. they create new relationships;
• They tend to be hybrids of existing elements, rather than completely new, and to cut across organisational or disciplinary boundaries;
• They can be launched by anyone – government, research institutions, companies, professionals, NGOs, the social economy…
• Their crucial feature is that they let new actors in. They empower and strengthen civil society, and therefore increase the effectiveness of change.
Some examples are open universities, social co-operatives, microcredit, fair trade, Wikipedia, community planning and architecture, carbon trading and socially responsible public procurement.
But it’s also important to remember that there are also what might be termed ‘antisocial innovations’ such as the privatisation of public housing: this certainly changes social relations and empowers tenants – but it correspondingly disempowers the homeless who will never get a council house.
Therefore we should remember that social innovation is essentially political – it aims to make everyone winners, but it may also have losers. This is especially the case for so-called ‘disruptive’ social innovations. Disruption sounds grand, but Uber’s gamble that it can dismantle public transport and replace it with its own monopoly is scarcely a progressive step.

Social enterprises are how we sustain social innovation

A second political angle is the suspicion that social innovation is a cloak for public service cuts, a way for governments to shuck off their responsibilities and force citizens to solve social problems themselves. I don’t really buy this – people have a natural desire to improve their societies, and public policy should give them ways to do this. The crucial role of the social economy is that it is the only way of making social innovations economically sustainable. If they don’t have a ‘business model’ then they will forever be controlled from the top down. Social enterprises are the vehicles through which citizens can directly control their living and working environments.

Thirdly, we should avoid digital capture. Not all social innovation is digital. One can certainly use digital methods to bring people closer to power – see the example of Simba’s Comme à la Maison (CALM), which links up migrants with offers of accommodation. By the essential point is power, not technology.

Finally, the pot of gold at the end of the social innovation rainbow is ‘transformative’ social innovation, which not only introduces new approaches to seemingly intractable (‘wicked‘) problems, but also changes the social institutions that created the problem in the first place. It’s slow and requires capacity for multiple partnerships and engaging policy, legal and economic institutions.

Comment now to influence the EU’s Social Economy Action Plan 17 February 2020

Posted by cooperatoby in social economy, Social enterprise.
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At a strategy day held by DIESIS on 11 February, Risto Raivio of DG Employment set out the state of play with the EU’s Social Economy Action Plan, which was added at the last minute to Commissioner Nicolas Schmit’s mission letter last December.

The SEAP will be cocreation with stakeholders according to the following timetable:
• 2020: evidence (GECES meets April & September)
• 2021 1st half: drafting
• 2021 2nd half: launch

As it currently stands, the plan’s content will be structured as follows:

Social economy & social enterprises:
• civic engagement
• local communities
• labour market integration
• social investment
• local green deals
• social innovation – innovative solutions in: education, healthcare, energy transition, housing, social service delivery

It will fit into the policy framework including the 14 Jan 20 communication on just transitions, the Green Deal, the SME and industry strategies, the skills agenda etc. The study on the impact of the Social Business Initiative will be published in Oct 20 in time to feed into the SEAP.

There is an opportunity to input your views NOW, since there may not be a separate consultation on the SEAP. You can take part in the consultation on further implementation of the Pillar of Social Rights before 30 Nov 20 at https://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=1487.

Amazon-offsetting – how about a 1.5% self-levy? 20 November 2019

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One of my friends just told me she buys a lot of stuff from Amazon, but feels guulty about it because they pay so little tax. The growth of online shopping is causing our high-street shops to close and our city centres to die. This has just come up as an election issue in Britain, with city-centre retailers complaining they pay higher business rates than out-of-town warehouses. As well as urban liveability and inclusive access, there is also an environmental issue as shopping and deliveries switch to fleets of vans, but it’s difficult to estimate the net effect.

We can however do something about the tax shortfall. In 2016 and 2017, Amazon made sales of €46,500m in the EU, and paid a measly €71.5m in tax, which is 0.15% of sales. Given that the top 20 FTSE companies make 8% of net income on sales, then we can estimate Amazon’s ‘hidden’ profit at €3,720m. The €71.5m they paid amounts to about 1.9% of profit. If they had paid (for example) UK corporation tax of 19% on that, it would be €707m.

If we buy something worth €100, Amazon might be thought to have made a profit of €8. They ‘ought’ to pay corporation tax of €1.52, but have actually been paying €0.15. There is a shortfall of €1.37 on each €100 of what we buy.

So if we wanted to make up for that, we could simply impose a levy on ourselves, offsetting the damage in the way we do with carbon dioxide, and pay the €1.37 direct to the tax authorities. It’s letting Amazon off the hook, but until the EU tackles tax evasion seriously, it might satisfy our consciences.

NB This post was amended on 21 Nov thanks to a correction from Michiel de Jong. I had miscalculated the tax shortfall as €1.51 rather than €1.37 per €100 of purchases.

Walk-on part 14 April 2019

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Toby at Pro Europa rally 10 Apr 19

I have just been amazed (and pleased) to find this picture of me in the Guardian, holding an anti-Brexit placard outside the Berlaymont. The photo illustrates this article: https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/apr/10/brexit-delay-will-squeeze-transition-period-negotiations?CMP=share_btn_tw

The occasion was a Pro Europa rally chaired by Nick Crosby and featuring speeches by Gina Miller (by video), Richard Corbett and Molly Scott-Cato among others. It cheered me up no end: Brexit has run out of road, the momentum is with us, pro-Europeans are mobilised as never before, and we are going to win the coming European elections!

We need EQUAL+ 22 February 2018

Posted by cooperatoby in social innovation.
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At the Investing in People – the Way Forward conference in Sofia last week, it fell to me to revive our memories of the EQUAL programme, which from 2002-2008 engaged 20,000 organisations in innovation through transnational cooperation. It was cleverly designed to build partnerships within countries – e.g. between local authorities, research institutions and cooperatives – which then carried out projects with partners abroad, to test new solutions to employment and social problems. There was also an obligatory ‘mainstreaming’ phase to embed the results in policy and practice.

Here’s my presentation.

Asked whether EQUAL was too complicated, I said the ESF is not about spending money, it is about spending money intelligently. It is precisely the methodological support, analysis and dissemination that made the difference. And it did make a difference: many of the partnerships built during EQUAL are still alive today. One key outcome was the invention of a policy on inclusive entrepreneurship (see COPIE), which simply did not exist before.

There is grassroots demand for transnational cooperation, as is shown by the over 100 people who have registered for the ESF-TP’s Partner Search Forum in Warsaw next month.

Simplification – the answer to everything

It should not be beyond the wit of ESF policy-makers to use our new simplified rules to recreate an ‘EQUAL+‘ programme for the 2020-17 period. Using lump sums and standard costs cuts out so much of the paperwork and allows managers to concentrate on results. Flanders does this, preserving the spirit of EQUAL.

Aside from work, I remember Sofia for Wilkinson & Pickett’s presentation on The Spirit Level, the snow-capped massif of the Vitosha overlooking the city, the ruins of roman Serdica under the town centre streets, and the ornate art nouveau Balkan Hotel where we dined as ecologists demonstrated outside.

Money not laws 23 June 2016

Posted by cooperatoby in EU, social economy.
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160623 EP SE report coverThe European Parliament has published a report on the social economy. I’m glad to see it features a lot of good practices we identified in SEN, like the UK’s Social Value Act and the Le Mat social franchise, although the authors seem never to have visited the SEN website.

The study packs a lot into its 120 pages. It has 6 big-country studies (DE, ES, FR, IT, PL, UK), boxes on EQUAL, DIESIS and Mondragón, and makes some interesting proposals on taking the social economy forward:
– a digital transformation – on the grounds that “The digital single market can help protect Europe’s economic and social model and increase citizens’ well-being, by being a key component of the renewal of public services”;
– indicators of added value other than GDP
– a clear definition.

So it comes up with another new definition:
“Distinctive features of the social economy can be identified – par ricochet – on the basis of what sets them apart from other enterprises. These elements include:
(i) the primacy of people: the social economy is based on the primacy of the individual and of social objectives over capital,
(ii) sustainable growth: the overall aim of the social economy activities does not emphasise the pursuit of profit and its distribution to the owners as an ultimate goal,
(iii) social and economic balance: in conducting their activities, social economy actors are engaged in a social aim and
(iv) democratic governance: social economy entities function in accordance with democratic, transparent and participatory decision-making processes.”

I think the social economy could improve service delivery by using digital tools more, and that the EU agenda should give an explicit place to them. Measures of social value are definitely needed, and the SBI as well as SEN worked on this. The main issue is for stakeholders such as public authority customers to start using them.

It’s difficult to disagree with the four ‘distinguishing features’ above, but I’m not sure they are any clearer than all the definitions we’ve navigated between so far. I fear that the again repeated call for a supposedly clear EU-wide definition misses the point. Will it enable very much to actually happen? It’s much more to the point to improve access to public funding programmes such as the ESIFs and to private investment in projects on the ground, and to help the sector’s federal support bodies to do their job. As in: “Existing social innovation and social investment programmes tend to reflect a focus on investor-led models and could be opened up to innovation based on member capital and on participatory innovation.”

See: http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2016/578969/IPOL_STU(2016)578969_EN.pdf

Bremain 18 June 2016

Posted by cooperatoby in EU, Uncategorized.
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Of course I’ve become infuriated and dismayed by the referendum campaign, and doubt that even Jo Cox’s incomprehensible murder will bring campaigners to their senses.
Of course also I’m something of a Brussels insider – but this is a rational choice, by a political refugee from Thatcher, you might say.
I’ve been dismayed by one of my oldest friends teetering on the brink of voting ‘out’ because he sees the EU as undemocratic (people who live in glass houses…) or – an argument even harder to counter – not up to the job of world unification (but it’s the best approach we have). I’ve been annoyed by facetious French calls that Britain should just go away and leave Europe alone (playing with fire). And I’m intrigued to wonder how much the referendum result will matter: whichever way it goes the Tory party will be riven down the middle so the sniping will go on. I’ve been given pause for thought by being called a ‘transnationalist’ in the ESF community, as if transnationality was something odd, rather than being the raison d’être of it all.
Multi-level governance and subsidiarity are complex arguments to make. It seems to me that the popular sentiment against ‘Europe’ is a matter of displacement, a sleight of hand by the UK’s own politicians. The government has hollowed out democratic accountability, stripped local government of its relevance though centralisation and privatisation, so that people have lost their sense of agency. The country they “want back” has been stolen from them not by Brussels but by Westminster.

A slight change of tack? 14 April 2016

Posted by cooperatoby in Social enterprise.
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It’s good news that Elżbieta Bieńkowska, the hitherto elusive Commissioner in charge of social enterprises (her portfolio comprises the internal market, industry, entrepreneurship and SMEs), has finally found the time to meet members of the European Parliament’s Social Economy Intergroup, as Social Economy Europe reports.

Sadly, one thing the Commissioner did not do is announce that the Commission is planning to launch a “Social Business Initiative II”, though this has been hinted at by officials. But she did at least signal her desire to avoid any potential rift between the two main tendencies in the social enterprise sector – those that institutionalise participation and democracy in their legal structures, and those that don’t. So the drift in terminology from “social business” to “social enterprise” continues and the buzzword is now “social economy enterprise”: “The Commissioner agreed on the necessity to share -within the different EU institutions- a common and inclusive understanding of the social economy. In this way, she stressed that the term “social economy enterprises”, seems to be the consensual one and therefore it should be used by the different institutions whilst developing its policies.”

Hopefully this hatchet-burying means that the Commission and the sector can concentrate on increasing the number, scale and impact of social economy enterprises. Their potential contribution is recognised. It would be a wasted opportunity if the Commission did not focus efforts on maximising it.

3 factors in mainstreaming social innovations: needs, social policy-makers and financers 24 February 2016

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I’ve just been at the kick-off meeting of the Social Innovation Community (SIC) project, which involves many of the big names in social innovation and is co-ordinated by AEIDL. Its job is to establish a Europe-wide community of social innovators, comprised of 8 or more networks on issues such as public sector innovation, corporate innovation, digital innovation and the social economy.
I was struck by the debate on which part of the phrase ‘social innovation’ is more important. For ZSI in Vienna, the more important point is that innovation policy should become more social. For me, the point is that social policy-makers should become more innovative.
It seems to me to be misleading to model social innovation too closely on the model of technological innovation. New products are often invented out of love for the product itself – a desire to improve the way something works. Inventions become innovations once they have successfully made it to the market – i.e. they are economically successful. The main beneficiaries are the producer and the purveyors of the new thing.
Social innovation on the other hand has to start with the apprehension of a human need, and the people who benefit will typically not be the inventor or the purveyor, but the clients. Ideally, as in the case of a co-operative, both producers and customers will benefit, and altruism and self-interest will both be satisfied.
In mainstreaming social innovations, it seems vital that the theoreticians of innovation as a process take a back seat and prioritise three things:
– the identification of need, through stakeholder participation and mapping
– the engagement of social policy-makers who are the people who can close the implementation gap
– the bringing on board of the institutions which can provide finance for social innovations – including public authorities, funds likes the European Social Fund and corporate philanthropists as well as crowdfunding platforms.

EU funding for sustainability and inclusion 22 February 2016

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The Green Group in the European Parliament has compiled a very useful compendium of sources of European funding for sustainability and inclusion. Your Guide to EU Funding covers the ESF (p14), CLLD (p19), FEAD (p25) and everything else from Horizon 2020 downwards.

Download: http://www.greens-efa.eu/fileadmin/dam/Documents/2014_2020_YourGuidetoEUFundingLowRES.pdf

By contrast, as part of building up the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI), the Commission has issued guidance on how to combine public and private funds – for instance in a ‘layered fund’ where the Structural Funds can be used to limit the risk too private investors.

Webpage: http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/en/newsroom/news/2016/02/22-02-2016-investment-plan-for-europe-new-guidelines-on-combining-european-structural-and-investment-funds-with-the-efsi

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