EU Social Enterprise Push Has American Ring to It

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March 6, 2013; Source: Guardian

The debate over funding social enterprises is as active in Europe as it is in the U.S. In the U.S., the social enterprise lobby is very active and vocal in attracting government funding and support for programs such as the Social Innovation Fund. Social enterprises and their technical advisors and umbrella membership groups in the U.S. have developed strong and effective lobbying arms with impressive influence within the Obama administration.

Across the pond, last week included an inaugural E3M conference (“E” is for “Europe” and “3M” is for “markets, money and models”). At the conference, Deputy Director General Henrick Morch, the chief staff person for the EU’s important single market policy unit, told the social enterprise representatives at the E3M conference that, in 2014, European countries will for the first time be required to have a “specific priority to support social business.” He expects that the legislative bodies of the member nations will not have a problem with this requirement, but that the implementation of the policy by government bureaucracies could come with some challenges. “You, as stakeholders, have an important role to play,” Morch told the group. “You have to go to your authorities and make them aware of this priority. It has to come from [the] grassroots.”

The funding for social enterprise in the U.K. as part of this initiative is slated to come from the European Regional Development Fund and the European Fund, amounting to a possible €363 billion between 2014 and 2020. Additional EU social enterprise initiatives include a €90 billion Social Entrepreneurship Fund, a map of social enterprises throughout Europe, a “social innovation Europe” website, and, as you might have guessed, work on social impact measurement. Morch acknowledged that €90 billion wasn’t a huge financial commitment on the part of the EU given the multiple nations involved, but suggested that it showed that the EU understands that social enterprise is a priority.

So to recap, the EU has made a policy commitment to social enterprise. It has provided some money for a variety of initiatives. The money isn’t big, but it hopes that it will leverage other funding to promote social enterprise. And to make sure that stuff happens, the government calls on the constituents to lobby to ensure that the social enterprise policy and money gets used and not diverted or simply banked. We hope that EU people don’t feel insulted, but this all has a vaguely American ring to it. It sounds so much like the messages that emanated from the White House Office of Social Innovation and the Corporation for National and Community Service’s Social Innovation Fund during President Obama’s first term. We will have to ask our European readers to keep us informed on the development of Europe’s version of U.S. government-style subsidized social enterprise.—Rick Cohen