Weekly Report: Social Entrepreneurship for the Future6. March 2012 - 10:18 — Dejan Georgievski
The International Social Entrepreneurship Conference, held last week, February 29-March 1, 2012, at the Kadir Has University in Istanbul, Turkey, gathered more than 150 practitioners of social entrepreneurship, scholars and academics, representatives of civil society organisations from the countries of Western Balkans, Turkey, Ukraine and Georgia, Germany and the UK, to discuss current and future trends in social entrepreneurship in the region, Europe and globally.
The organizers of the Conference, TACSO (Technical Assistance for CSOs), the British Council and TÜSEV (Third Sector Foundation of Turkey) also aimed to strengthen connections between social entrepreneurs from the region with social entrepreneurs from the EU, and particularly the UK; strengthen relationships between social entrepreneurs and those supporting the development of social entrepreneurship in the public, private and civil society sectors.
“Over the past few decades, the boundary between private (business) and social (civil society) sectors has been blurring as many pioneering organizations have started to blend social and environmental aims with business approaches. Businesses are dedicating more resources to delivering social and environmental benefits. Meanwhile, CSOs are attempting to operate in a more businesslike way”, the organizers noted in their greeting notes to the participants.
TACSO, as an organizer of the Conference, was also interested in the potential role the social entrepreneurship can play in the process of finding a solution to the challenge faced by civil societies related to the generation of funds and income to finance their activities.
“We wanted to explore social entrepreneurship as an option to see if it was possible for social leaders to think in a more entrepreneurial way and if that approach would generate income to finance some of their activities”, Karin Schulz from the TACSO Project (SIPU International) told oneworldsee.org.
In the welcoming speeches, Mustafa Aydin, the Rector of the Kadir Has University, Rober Nelson from EC’s Directorate General for Enlargement, Karin Schulz, Hasan Süel, the Chairman of the Vodafone Turkey Foundation and professor Üstün Ergüder from TÜSEV, and a representative of the British Council Turkey greeted the participants and noted the growing importance of social entrepreneurship in contemporary world as an agent of social change and impact.
The first plenary session of the Conference, on February 29, was dedicated to the “New Trends and Developments in Social Entrepreneurship". Peter Holbrook from Social Enterprise UK, and Dr. Volker Then from Heidelberg University’s Center for Social Investment discussed the experiences in social enterprise and business in Germany and the UK.
Holbrooke noted that there were more than 68,000 social enterprises in the UK, providing a wide variety of products and services. He illustrated the growing importance of social entrepreneurship with the fact that even Queen Elisabeth II mentioned social entrepreneurship while major political parties incorporated points from the “No more Business as Usual – a Social Enterprise Manifesto” in their campaign platforms for the 2010 General Election.
Holbrook also noted the creation of the Big Society Investment Fund which provides £600 million in loans to social enterprises, mentioned the importance of social enterprise in the ongoing global debate on redistribution of wealth.
“Something big is going on and there is a lot of anger and frustration about redistribution of wealth in the world today. It is the communities that generate wealth and they should participate in the distribution of wealth”, Holbrooke noted.
Dr. Then talked about social entrepreneurship in Germany where, he noted, only the non-profit social business accounts for 4.7% of the national economy. He also remarked that while the term social entrepreneurship may be rather new, the actual practice was not, with practices that we would today call social enterprise were present in Germany 100 years ago.
Filippo Addarii, the Director of the EUCLID Network discussed the definition of social entrepreneurship and its relation to the communities, including the so-called “conundrum of profits”, i.e. whether social entrepreneurship should reinvest all profits back into the mission and community, or investors, in order to attract them, should get some return on their investments.
Addarii paid special attention to the future trends in social entrepreneurship, expecting that in the 21st century, civil society will transform into social entrepreneurship, which would help with the problem of youth unemployment, but also with generation of funds with the coming end of public funding.
The plenary session of the second day gave the floor to practicing social entrepreneurs, Melih Özsöz from Cop(m)adam, social enterprise that employs 600 women in Turkey producing bags from recycled materials; Mathias Scheffelmeier from Ashoka, global organization that identifies and invests in leading social entrepreneurs.
For us, in the region of Western Balkans, of special importance was the presentation by Zoran Puljić, the Director of Sarajevo-based Mozaik Foundation. Puljić presented Mozaik Foundation investment in a green-house producing culinary herbs and honey in the area of Srebrenica, providing employment to the local community which has previously seen unemployment rates exceeding 60 percent.
Puljić, working on the example of hook-worm problem in Bangladesh, was optimistic that the “next ten years offer a bright future with different local actors appearing to replace too expensive with local affordable options.
While noting the evident low awareness about social entrepreneurship on the behalf of government institutions – fact also noted by other participants in the conference in the Q&A sessions, and the lack of proper system of incentives, He did, however, warned about much mentioned tax incentives and relief, especially in countries with high corruption levels.
„I believe we should pay taxes. Corruption means that everybody will use the opportunity to claim and demand social enterprise status, and everything will come to a stand-still with the state being unable to collect any taxes, since everybody will be relieved from taxation”, Puljić said.
The afternoon sessions were dedicated to workshops on Financing, Impact, Enabling Environment and Structures (February 29) and Capacity Building, Cross-Sector Alliances, Marketing Strategies and Sustainability, organized with the application of the World Cafe Method. The Participants were encouraged to post their comments and proposals on a wall to be viewed and commented on by the other participants.
The conference did identify several outstanding challenges, presented mostly by the participants in the Q&A sessions. In addition to the above mentioned issues of low government awareness and lack of incentives, it was noted that, for post-communist countries, social entrepreneurship is too close to socialism which, as one participant from the Ukraine said “we all fought to escape”. Also, in conversations during the conference, representatives from former Yugoslavia noted the problem that social entrepreneurship faces with the history of socially owned enterprises which we all saw as a failure.
Also, there is a challenge if civil society will recognize the opportunities offered by social entrepreneurship.
Karin Schulz shares that view and she told oneworldsee.org that TACSO, as technical assistance organisation that bases its activities on the identified needs of the civil society organisations, organized the conference with the aim to explore opportunities for TACSO to get involved to support CSOs entry into social entrepreneurship in the future.
“We haven’t identified activities of that kind yet. But, we have had other workshops about financing and sustainability of CSOs and that has always been an issue – financing opportunities and generating income. Now, the challenge I hear about a lot is how to make NGOs think a bit more like businesses and not just seeking funds from other investors. Instead, to look “how can we generate income, how can we sell our services, products, etc.”, Schulz said.
The conference was concluded on a positive note, with encouragement to all innovators and social actors with a good enterprising idea to act on it.
The first day of the conference was concluded with a reception organized by the Turkey Vodafone Foundation, the strategic partner of the Conference, with performance by Social Inclusion Band, which is made of experienced musicians and children with disabilities.
Over the next month, Oneworldsee.org will prepare a series of articles on the general situation with social entrepreneurship in the region of Western Balkans.
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