At the "Boosting Social Enterprises in Europe" conference held on 3 December 2015, a panel of experts focused on the issue of understanding how social innovation, the development and implementation of new ideas to meet social needs, can be created. The conference was organised as part of the Luxembourg Presidency of the Council of the EU. The experts also discussed the way in which social innovation could be systematically integrated into the launch and development of economic activities.
"Magdas Hotel", the first hotel run by refugees
One social enterprise which has attracted the attention of experts is the "Magdas Hotel", the first hotel run by refugees in Europe which opened its doors in Vienna (Austria) in February 2015. Gabriela Sonnleitner, who is behind this initiative, explained that this social enterprise aims to support refugees by providing them with training in order to enable them to integrate more easily into the work market. This initiative is, according to her, all the more important as the hotel sector is constantly on the look out for staff. "Rather than focusing on people's shortcomings, we are focusing on their resources", she added while explaining the philosophy behind her establishment. For its financing, apart from the support of Caritas Austria, this establishment relies on partnerships with museums and private players. "Magdas is a good idea, not only for Vienna, but also for the whole of Europe", she concluded.
Defining social innovation
As to defining social innovation, Heather Roy, the general secretary of the Eurodaconia social platform, a European network of churches and charitable NGOs, explained that social innovation is not an end in itself, but a process aimed at "producing desirable and socially necessary outcomes". "It involves pinpointing social means, then identifying how to achieve the given aim through social processes", she explained. Andreja Rosandic, manageress of NESsT, an association which develops sustainable social enterprises to solve critical social problems in emerging economies, believes that social innovation is also about creating employment.
Felix Oldenburg from Ashoka stressed the importance of redefining economic success in defining social innovation. A successful social enterprise is one that attempts to "change the world for millions of people", and not generate millions in revenue.
For Nicolas Hazard, social innovation is a sector with huge potential
For Nicolas Hazard, founder and chairman of "Comptoir de l’Innovation", an organisation which finances, guides and fosters the development of social enterprises worldwide, social innovation is a sector with huge potential. He noted that in France, this sector accounts for 10 % of GDP and 10 % of employment, providing the same economic clout as the car manufacturing sector. In his view, social innovation in particular enables youth and migrant employment to be created.
Nicolas Hazard then pointed out that, in the EU, few people know what social enterprises do. Hence the importance, in his view, of explaining the concept more clearly.
Denis Stokkink welcomes the efforts of the Luxembourg Presidency on the social-solidarity economy
Denis Stokkink, chairman of the European think-tank "Pour la Solidarité", a structure serving EU citizens and economic and social policy-makers for promoting solidarity in all its forms, and a professor at the "Université libre de Bruxelles", underlined the importance of pooling the efforts of social enterprises and boosting their cooperation so they can have "an important leveraging" effect. In his opinion, an ongoing dialogue is also "necessary" and "indispensable" among players on the ground, policy-makers as well as economic players which are not part of the sector.
The conference delegate then stressed the importance of ensuring that public authorities do not use social economies to disengage from the social sphere. Social enterprises and States should, according to him, cooperate on an equal footing.
In his view, another challenge lies in the need to ensure the social and economic profitability of social enterprises in order to combat inequalities and ensure social cohesion.
Lastly, he welcomed the efforts of the Luxembourg Presidency regarding the social-solidarity economy. He mentioned the conclusions concerning the promotion of the social economy as an essential driver for social and economic development in Europe that should be adopted by the "Employment, Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council" (EPSCO) in Brussels on 7 December 2015, the conclusions of which he deemed "extremely important". "This Presidency has shown how even a small country like Luxembourg can have a quite essential leveraging effect, enabling policy conclusions to shape the future" and "all European institutions which refer to them", he concluded.