Societies are the product of people, and are at their best when the people who live in them work together for the common good. A healthy society can be seen when a private enterprise funds a community organisation to combat homelessness or a not-for-profit opens an education centre for early school leavers. This is social economy - systematically putting people, instead of profit, first – reinvesting back into the community, focusing on responding to social issues, and creating a more participatory form of governance through entrepreneurship and innovation.
A dedicated Social Economy Action Plan was launched by the European Commission in December 2021 to help the European social economy thrive, tapping into its economic and job-creation potential, as well as its contribution to a fair and inclusive recovery, and the green and digital transitions.
The European Social Fund Plus is a key funding instrument for implementing the new Social Economy Action Plan. It has a focus on social innovation and integrates the existing European Programme for Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI) which has already been used for funding social economy projects:
- In Austria, Sign Time is leading the SiMAX project to develop digital technology that provides real-time sign language translation, removing communication barriers for people with hearing disabilities.
- The HomeLab project developed and tested Social Rental Enterprise models in order to build better, more integrated housing and labour services for some of the most vulnerable groups in Czechia, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia; This highly innovative approach is now promoted to other countries from Central and Eastern Europe.
- In France, Makesense Seed, managed 100% by women, is a EUR 8.2 million fund to support early-stage social enterprises with investments of up to EUR 500 000. It builds up on the achievements of the Makesense social incubator, which supported 2000+ social enterprises since its creation in 2014 and developed a network of 100+ Business Angels and impact investors. The project was backed by the European Fund for Strategic Investments and the EaSI Programme.
ESF+ includes a new, dedicated Social Innovation Plus initiative, which has been allocated EUR 197 million from ESF+ for EU-wide, multi-national projects to develop, replicate and scale up innovative solutions. As part of it the European Commission will also establish a European Competence Centre for social innovation that will collect, assess, develop, validate and disseminate suitable tools and methods for advancing social innovation at all levels. Member states are encouraged to support social innovation with ESF+ funding through specific actions in their own national/regional context.
Building up on the EaSI Programme, the EaSI strand of ESF+ will include EU-wide social experimentation calls for proposals, to support the implementation of the European Pillar of Social Rights, as well to respond to emerging needs on the ground.
According to Nathaniel Molle, who at the age of 24 launched his first venture, SINGA, a not-for-profit that connects refugees with host communities, ‘Social entrepreneurs are looking for impact, for systemic change. The EU is one of the main actors supporting these types of policies’.