Social entrepreneurship and social investment in the Eastern Partnership

Insights from the Collaborate for Impact Regional Launch Event, which EVPA organised from 9th to 11th June 2021, jointly with the partner organisations of the “Collaborate for Impact” project, to explore how social entrepreneurship and social investment are developing in the Eastern Partnership region and Russia. 

Social entrepreneurship and social investment in the Eastern Partnership
Photo credit: Anja Strelec

The event brought together 450 participants from 36 countries, representing diverse stakeholders from the region - social enterprises, civil society organisations, business and state institutions, who are either already implementing some forms of social investment and social entrepreneurship, or are interested in engaging in the topic. The event gathered 40 speakers, who gave their diverse perspectives on social entrepreneurship and social investment, representing social enterprises, capacity building organisations, business community and corporations, individual philanthropists, policy makers and EU representatives. You can watch the recordings here!

A platform for social entrepreneurs to grow their business ideas for strong social impact

During the first day of the event, participants were introduced to the Collaborate for Impact project, its partners, and what is planned for the coming years. They also learned more about social impact investment and venture philanthropy core principles.

The event was opened by the EU Ambassador to the Republic of Armenia, Her Excellency Andrea Wiktorin, who shared her perspectives on the need for the development of social entrepreneurship, as a tool to address economic and social challenges in the region. She highlighted that this project has potential to provide talented civil society leaders and aspiring entrepreneurs with a knowledge platform to test, develop and grow their social business ideas into profit-making businesses with strong social impact. She also represented a strong female voice, emphasising the role of the women and their entrepreneurial spirit in leading social organisations, and paving the way for other young entrepreneurs. The inspiring introductory remarks set the stage for following speakers: Bella Nestorova, head of the Centre of Expertise on Civil Society at the European Commission’s DG NEAR and Roberta Bosurgi, CEO of EVPA.

Mobilising corporate resources for social change – in partnership

The second day of the event was dedicated to social-business partnerships for impact and how they can achieve social change together. Experienced corporate social investors shared practices from their work in supporting social entrepreneurs in Central Europe and Latin America. We also heard from companies who are pioneering innovative financial instruments for social enterprises (NIS Western in Ukraine), and offering capacity building programmes to them (HSBC in Armenia).

Representatives of companies such as SAP, MAN and Yunus Social Business highlighted social procurement as an entry point for social businesses to engage with corporate players. Another focus was the need for employee engagement in corporate programmes supporting social purpose organisations (SPOs). This is a way to leverage corporate resources and respond to external expectations on sustainability. However, this requires a mind-shift in the company, otherwise compliance with external regulations remains another checklist to be ticked. The quality and sustainability of the engagement with SPOs will attract more engagement from employees – patience is needed on both sides.

Speakers representing corporations emphasised that intermediary organisations are perfect partners for many companies wishing to multiply their impact, engage their employees, and contribute to achieving UN Sustainable Development Goals. Building social-business partnership is a long-term process - getting to know each other as partners and talking about the impact to be achieved from the start, is critical. The next step in this process is experimenting, starting small to test the relationship, and then committing to something bigger.

Public-private collaboration for better societal outcomes

The third day of the event was dedicated to public-private collaboration, and the role of public institutions and the government in shaping the ecosystem for social investment and social entrepreneurship. The sessions featured EU and OECD representatives, and representatives of the Eastern Partnership countries, who are engaged in legislative frameworks for social entrepreneurship ecosystems.

Anja Koenig from EVPA discussed extensively the complexity of impact ecosystems. She explained how mapping stakeholders can reveal the role of invisible power dynamics and interconnections between players, and therefore help us understand these complexities. Irene Basile introduced the Better Entrepreneurship Policy Tool, co-developed by the OECD and the EU, which provides useful policy guidance for social and inclusive entrepreneurship.

We then heard examples and lessons learnt from EU public-private collaboration. EU investment in the social entrepreneurship space has significantly influenced the professionalisation of financial intermediaries regarding the types of instruments they offer and groups they target. Though there is still a lot to be done, EU funding is a game changer in driving public funding in many countries, and in catalysing private funds. Examples of public-private partnerships by Portugal Social Innovation and TISE from Poland presented the catalytic and market building role of public funding. The Portuguese online knowledge hub ‘One Value’, which aggregates information and data on public investment allocated to address social issues, can be an inspiration for other ecosystems.

Though state authorities in the EaP countries may not have such funds or other resources at their disposal, the lessons learnt from those initiatives can serve as inspiration to governments in the region. Many of them already undertake interesting legislative or funding initiatives as in Russia or Moldova, which are possible thanks to committed decision makers, who understand the catalytic role of state authorities in shaping the social investment ecosystem.

Representatives of GIZ and EcoVisio in Moldova, and Our Future Foundation from Russia agreed that it is crucial to debunk social enterprise myths and misconceptions, especially among decision makers. Demonstrating the impact of social enterprises through concrete examples will lead to better understanding and support, and enable intermediaries to make the case for regulation to further develop the social economy sector. Identifying champions to push the topic forward in the public sector is as important as finding allies in corporations.

The event was a first stepping stone towards developing the social impact ecosystem in the Eastern Partnership region and Russia, together with our local partners, in the coming years.