Where next for Social Business?

Jonathan Bland, Managing Director of Social Business International, writes his opinions on what is next for social business.

By ESELA Posted 23/03/2017

Last autumn, after 18 months of hard work, the GECES group of social business experts and representatives from European member states published a report called ‘Social Enterprise and the Social Economy Going Forward’[1]. It argues for a European Action Plan for the Social Economy and Social Enterprises and makes a series of recommendations themed in four areas:

  • Increasing the visibility and recognition of social enterprises
  • Developing a European economic environment that enables the social economy and social enterprises to access finance
  • Improving the legal environment through provision of legal and regulatory frameworks to encourage the development of the social economy and social enterprises.
  • Increasing EU support for social enterprises in the context of international development

The recommendations are targeted at the European Commission, EU Member States (including regional and local authorities), third party countries and the social enterprise community itself.  In all there are 36 recommendations.

I would recommend a read of the full report, or at least the Executive Summary. I suspect there is a legal perspective on many of them. Three that I believe may be of particular interest to ESLEA members are:

  • The preparation of a legal recommendation to support Members States in establishing a dedicated national framework to develop social enterprises.
  • Developing training for officials in member states on how to take social aspects into consideration when drafting tender specifications.
  • Updating the Commission’s Buying Social Guide

My understanding is the European Commission is currently considering how it should respond and will set this out at the next GECES meeting in April. What is clear, is that at the present time, there is a very a small team responsible for the SBI and there are limited resources, so there will have to be a prioritisation.  We will see what happens in April.

On a personal level, I have been involved with the Social Business Initiative since its inception. I chaired the first workshop in 2011 which framed the SBI’s narrative and actions, I had the honour of co-ordinating the production of the Strasbourg Declaration at the landmark European Social Entrepreneurship event in 2014 and have been an active member of GECES. Reflecting back, I believe that the Social Business Initiative (SBI) was an expression of Europe at its best. It provided a bridge between two worlds which so are often completely separate – the “economic project” to create a single a market for goods, services and labour – the basis for prosperity, and the social project, where there is a common vision for a basic level of welfare for all and a commitment to try and ensure those most excluded are given support and the opportunity to prosper along with everyone else.  Social Enterprise by its very nature combines the economic and the social and the recognition and support expressed under the SBI was a very positive step.

However, since 2011, with disillusionment among those who have suffered austerity and exclusion, the rise of populist and extremist politics in many European countries and the vote for Brexit in the UK, I believe that social models for business have never been more important. There is a clear need for new economic models, for ways of engaging and empowering communities to take their destiny in their own hands, while at the same time expressing solidarity towards others.

Now more than ever, it is a time for those who work in or support social enterprises and the wider social economy to come together to realise the full potential of this way of doing business. I believe the members of ESELA can and should play an important part in supporting social enterprises to achieve their full potential as part of the mainstream economy, for the sake of all of us in Europe.



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