EU ACTION PLAN FOR SOCIAL ECONOMY
– PREPARING OUR MORE SOCIAL FUTURE
Director for Skills at the Directorate-General for Employment,
Social Affairs and Inclusion, European Commission
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As momentum builds for the publication of the European Commission’s Social Economy Action Plan at the end of 2021, it is important to highlight the challenges this action plan will tackle as we forge a more sustainable and resilient economy across the European Union.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented a great many challenges in terms of employment, access to services and increasing inequality. In many cases, the social economy has proved resilient and worked to meet people’s needs during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has provided regional and local administrations with bottom-up solutions. These solutions often take place in the area of health and social services, to support vulnerable and at-risk-groups. For example, many social enterprises continued to work with and depend upon people experiencing barriers to access to job market to adapt activities and produce facemasks and other necessary sanitary equipment. The social economy offers many entrepreneurship opportunities, which can greatly contribute to meeting societal challenges for example, by providing necessary IT tools and relevant assistance to pupils doing home schooling. Unfortunately, some social enterprises also had to close during the COVID-19 pandemic, which represented a great loss to communities.
The social economy requires support beyond the Covid-19 crisis. In the context of the green and digital transitions, the social economy in its diverse forms offers a host of opportunities to provide smart solutions to multiple societal issues. For example, Simplon is a social enterprise that is active in France, Spain, Romania and Belgium as well as in Africa.(1) It offers courses in technical digital skills and hard-to-fill occupations for people furthest from the labour market as well as for employees in need of reskilling or upskilling.(2) When considering the role of social enterprises can play in the green transition, it is interesting to note that according to RREUSE “on average, a social enterprise creates 70 jobs per 1,000 tonnes of waste collected with a view of being re-used.”(3)
Many Commission initiatives highlight the strong potential of the social economy in a variety of policy contexts. For example, the Circular Economy Action Plan, the SME Strategy, the Renovation Wave, the Recovery Plan – Next Generation EU, the Africa Strategy, the Youth Employment Support Initiative, the Action Plan on Integration and Inclusion, the European Skills Agenda, as well as the Economic and Investment Plan for the Western Balkans. It is urgent to make it easier for social economy stakeholders to operate and for the benefits of the social economy to be widely felt across sectors.
With the Action Plan, the Commission aims to shed light on the benefits of the social economy at European level and provide tailored support will help social economy organisations and social enterprises. Our objective is to create an environment in which the social economy can fulfil its potential to contribute to sustainable and inclusive growth and a fair recovery.
This action plan will help to improve the visibility of the social economy, therefore further establishing its place as a key driver for economy sustainability. Increasing understanding of the benefits of the social economy amongst the general public, policy makers at all levels and funders is particularly important to ensuring its benefits are widely spread and have maximum impact. The action plan will also aim to facilitate access to finance. The European Commission is currently working on a variety of potential measures ranging from creating pipelines for financing social enterprises to improving the use of EU public procurement for social objectives.
The action plan will follow an evidence-based approach drawing on knowledge from numerous studies. For example, the 2011 study Impact of the European Commission’s Social Business Initiative gave us a very useful picture of the results of recent EU initiatives in relation to social economy, social entrepreneurship and social innovation. It was clear from this study that tangible progress had been achieved in a number of areas but that difficulties remained. The EU mapping of social enterprises ecosystems is also a valuable resource as it highlights the variation in the stages of development and forms the social economy takes in 35 European Countries, including Portugal. The action plan will thrive to offer support to meet these varying needs.
The Social Economy Action Plan will be the fruit of extensive consultations. In March and April, 133 stakeholders and citizens from across the EU and beyond sent us their feedback on the Roadmap published on the Commission’s website. Feedback from stakeholders, on the ground as well as at every level, is a vital part of process as it provides valuable insight into the needs and challenges faced. Further precious input from stakeholders was already and will still be collected at various events. For example, the European Social Economy Summit in Mannheim on the 26-27th May will be an exciting online event focused on knowledge sharing and showcasing the benefits of the social economy. The work of the expert group on social economy and social enterprises (“GECES”) has also formed part of the stakeholder consultation.
The Social Economy Action Plan will serve as a springboard providing further understanding, recognition and support to the social economy. We look forward to work with all relevant stakeholders on its successful implementation.
(1) Simplon https://en.simplon.co/
(2) Simplon https://en.simplon.co/
(3) Job creation in the re-use sector: Data insights from social enterprises