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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

Catching up – my articles on the SEN website 17 July 2014

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SEN mastheadIf you’ve wondered why my flow of writing has slowed to a trickle this year, it’s because most of my articles have been written for the website of the Social Entrepreneurship Network, the ESF learning network led by Poland. Through a series of five 9-country peer reviews, SEN is preparing a matrix of good practice in creating a comprehensive support ecosystem for social enterprises. The cases can be found here.

The main articles you may have missed are as follows:

SEN clusters – the 14 cases so far 24 June 2014

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The Social Entrepreneurship Network (SEN) has now held four of its five peer review meetings, with the last one coming up in October in Cyprus.

At the Greek EU Presidency conference in Iraklion last week, the network’s facilitator Dorotea Daniele showed a slide summarising the clusters and the cases we have examined so far. Here it is – details are on the SEN website.
SEN clusters

SEN has its say in Strasbourg 3 February 2014

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My review of the Social Entrepreneurs – Have Your Say event in Strasbourg on 16-17 January, on the Social Entrepreneurship Network website.
Strasbourg conference
Key recommendation: “The European Economic and Social Committee, the next European Commission (with a dedicated inter-service structure) and the next European Parliament must take full ownership and deliver on the actions suggested in Strasbourg.”

Don’t forget to sign the Strasbourg Declaration!

(Brain)storm in Malmö 11 December 2013

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Toby presentingWe had a lucky break at SEN’s second peer review in Malmö last week – Storm Sven swept over us, closing the Öresund Bridge to the outside world – but it kindly waited till after we arrived, and abated before we left. It did make it hard to get to a decent brewpub though. And we had our own Sven, although he is more discursive than stormy in style.
I was greatly impressed by the ‘homework’ that the peer countries had put in, which resulted in an excellent set of comment papers. We had some new participants too: Eszter Kovách from OFA in Hungary and Ulrik Boe Kjeldsen from the Danish social affairs ministry. Denmark has set up a Committee on Social Enterprises, which has just published a set of recommendations and intends to establish a voluntary register. Further evidence of the convergence noted by Carlo Borzaga that is taking place among EU countries on social enterprises.

3 steps to capacity building

The event was excellently facilitated by Elisabet Abrahamsson of the Vägen Ut! consortium in Göteborg, which now provides 130 jobs. Learning from Trento, this time we cut down on the presentations and spent more time in small group discussions, which took the European Café format. I led the table on capacity building, which produced a very rich set of proposals. I simplified this down rather technocratically to 3 points:
1. Demand: raise awareness and smart procurement skills among public authorities
2. Supply: collaborative mechanisms to gain critical mass, such as consortia and social franchising
3. Appropriate financing – it is all ESF-able. A particularly interesting model came out in the form of the ‘wraparound’ support developed in NW England, where in 3 phases ESF is used to develop a business plan, an ERDF loan fund supports the start-up, and then ESF is brought in again to mentor and monitor its realisation.
The shared need for stronger bidding capacity was so evident that an idea arose; that several of the member countries could mount ESF projects to encourage consortium-building, and that together we could add a component of transnational exchange. I hope this plan might gain traction at the Strasbourg event in January
There was quite good evidence of transfer of ideas, and in particular Malmö might take up the idea of England’s Social Value Act and its future, more ambitious, Scottish analogue. There was widespread demand for translations of the Belgian guide to social clauses. Samuel Barco, our evaluator, made the point that ‘political will’ is not given, but constructed.
A decision on the network’s work plan was taken; that for logistical reasons the peer review on start-up support will happen in Scotland rather than Greece. Not to exclude that there may still be an event in Greece too.

SEN now on Storify 16 October 2013

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I’ve just created a Storify for SEN. It may be a bit recursive at the moment, but this will change over time as news items proliferate. A tale of European enterprise and high-tech clustering: Storify was invented by a Belgian, but moved to San Francisco to be taken over by someone with loads of money!

How to engage with stakeholders 15 October 2013

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Policies generally work better if you involve their stakeholders in defining, implementing and monitoring them – so much is generally held to be true. But in the hurly-burly of actually making policies, it’s easy to forget to ask the users and beneficiaries for their views. This issue came to my mind as we discussed strategic partnership and governance at the SEN peer review in Trento in September. I remembered that three years ago INBAS and Engender did a study for the EC on stakeholder involvement in the ‘social OMC‘ (open method of co-ordination). It looked at:
– who the stakeholders are
– what involving them means
– what tools exist for the purpose

Two tables set out the gist of the matter. First, how serious are we in involving stakeholders? The study drew on the Public Participation Spectrum, developed by the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) which defines five levels of engagement, saying exactly what we mean by information, consultation, involvement collaboration and (that vaguely used term) empowerment:
degrees of stakeholder engagement

Secondly, what actions make stakeholder involvement real? here. The study analysed 23 aspects:
Aspects of stakeholder engagement

Notice that some key issues are often forgotten: what better way to demotivate the people you consult than by never telling them the use you made of their comments? So always feed back to them how you handled their contributions. And what better way to stymie debate by never publishing the background documents in the first place?

The key outputs of the study are set out in a handy leaflet, and the full documents along with a selection of ‘interesting practices’ are on the website too.


A propos the study, I notice that the EC’s idea of ‘Elaborating voluntary guidelines on stakeholders’ involvement’, action 49 of the European Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion, has been “delayed” (see ‘ongoing actions‘).

How can SEN change the world? 24 September 2013

Posted by cooperatoby in EU, social economy, Social enterprise.
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IFAD logframe cartoonThe Social Entrepreneurship Network’s logical framework allows us to keep track of whether we are achieving our objectives:

(Thanks for cartoon to IFAD)

SEN logframe

I think at Trento we kept on track, assembled a great stakeholder group, and covered the critical success factors quite well.

What should we look out for? I would say that:
– as regards the food for our work, the partners‘ role is crucial in contributing examples of good practice
– as regards changing the world, we have to constantly ensure that Structural Fund programmers are aware of the options we propose

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.

Ecosystem means self-organisation 2 July 2013

Posted by cooperatoby in social economy, Social enterprise.
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tangleThe trope of describing the world – real or desired – of social enterprise as an ‘ecosystem’ has become popular, and was given poetic wings by the speech of Commissioner László Andor at the launch conference of the Social Business Initiative in November 2011 (inspired one may well imagine by Gerhard Bräunling’s fertile imagination).

When talking of recommendations for government policy, as in the Social Enterpreneurship Network, I prefer to talk of a “comprehensive support environment”. But the biological imagery sets one’s mind thinking. There are good grounds to draw analogies from the natural world when trying to describe the behaviour of humans and their organisations – after all the world has survived so far so by Darwinian principles it must have got something right. Therefore organisations that behave in the same way are more likely to survive. Hence for instance Jon Walker’s application of Stafford Beer’s Viable Systems Model or Keith Richardson’s comparison of social franchising to flocking starlings.

Red in tooth and claw

The speech looked at all the good parts of an ecosystem. It invited member states and other actors to become enabling and ‘responsible gardeners’ which ensure water and fertiliser, facilitate pollination, minimise pollution, and tend to the life cycle. Responsible gardeners don’t try to drive evolution but rather to strengthen endogenous systems.

But ecosystems are not cuddly. One of the most basic concepts is the food chain – a system which has weaker and stronger elements ineluctably linked by the process of death and consumption. A second concept is that of dynamic equilibrium, according to which there will be a continuous process of death and renewal which moves forward through continuous creative destruction. We need then to look at what sorts of social enterprises will starve and die out (go bankrupt), which will be eaten up (taken over) and which will degenerate through an excess of inbreeding. Supply your own examples.

To cultivate biodiversity we ought also to try to prevent ecosystem collapse, where the environmental conditions become so harsh that life is wiped out. We ought to try to build ecological niches – safe havens where species can carve out enough space to live beneath the radar of more powerful competitors.

We should also be aware that innovation, like evolution, is slow and random: a mutation in a gene enables a species to succeed in a certain niche, and then other species rearrange themselves around this new kid on the block. But the mutation and the niche are not planned by a divine intelligence.


In some ways this atavism is misleading, because competition is at the heart of ecosystems, and what civilisation allows humankind to do is to rise above brute competition, and to promote loftier values. In the niches that social enterprises occupy, competition takes place in more than one dimension. Social enterprises strive to win hearts and minds as well as fill pockets and bellies.

If we want to shift the point of equilibrium of the banking and business system towards satisfying human needs then we should seek to strengthen self-reinforcing mechanisms – positive feedback loops. These principally comprise all the federal and membership bodies that go to make up a movement, which provide role models, share ideas, boost confidence, help through difficult patches and reward success. They include the more technical types of network such as through consortia and social franchising.

Public bodies should support such self-organisation, not view it as ‘rent-seeking behaviour’ or an unnecessary overhead. This is the thought breakthrough in Commissioner Andor’s speech referred to above.

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