29. February 2016

On February 26-27, 2016 FutureLab Europe took part in the Ronda Forum 2016, an international forum organised by the Real Maestranza Foundation and ITER Alumni. This year’s Forum, entitled The Cities We Want, The Cities We Need, focused on social entrepreneurship and its role in transforming Europe’s small cities and peripheral regions into attractive places for its citizens, especially for the young generation.

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During a dedicated Europe@debate session, FutureLab Europe participants Hanna Pieńczykowska and Franz Allmayer discussed with Member of the European Parliament Sofia Ribeiro their ideas for new models of local economic development and reflected upon the role of social entrepreneurship in fostering sustainable growth both in remote areas and in the periphery of Europe. Ribeiro, who is also Vice-Chair of the European Parliament’s Intergroup Social Economy, Social Economy Enterprises, Social Entrepreneurship and third sector, stressed the importance of social entrepreneurship in promoting local development arguing that fiscal systems should be reoriented towards people, to create an environment in which entrepreneurial-minded individuals can thrive. According to her, economic indicators should be complemented by social ones, such as (i) activity rate, (ii) youth unemployment and (iii) long-term unemployment rates. Ribeiro added that EU countries and local communities are facing different problems that require different solutions. The EU can provide a general framework but solutions should be found at local and community level, without expecting one-size-fits all, top-down measures from EU institutions.We can’t rely on the European Institutions to provide all the answers that we need. Engagement at the local level is very important and solutions should be sought after at the local level” – she argued.

FutureLabber Franz Allmayer – who is a social entrepreneur himself – talked about the framework elements necessary to create an environment in which social entrepreneurs and enterprises can thrive. According to him, social entrepreneurship could be promoted through the introduction of financial, educational and infrastructural incentives, such as facilitated access to financial resources, mentorship programmes as well as the construction of co-working spaces. In particular, Allmayer argued that introduction of an unconditional basic income would be an important pre-condition for entrepreneurs-to-be to explore creative solutions, as it would enable them to initiate socially relevant project with low-profitability without having to worry about making ends meet. 

Along similar lines, FutureLabber Hanna Pieńczykowska, President of the Board of BETA Poland and Partner Relations Manager at the Global Entrepreneurship Week Foundation, stressed that sustainable forms of employment for NGOs workers – often forced to take on parallel jobs in the private sector to support themselves – would boost the impact of social enterprises and NGOs. In addition to this, Pieńczykowska shared her experience with entrepreneurship education in her native country, Poland. While on the one hand, Poland is the only country in Europe featuring a separate course on entrepreneurship in high school curricula, the course on entrepreneurship does not teach about social entrepreneurship. According to Pieńczykowska, including a chapter on social entrepreneurship in high schools’ business education could also help reversing the negative reputation that social and cooperative forms of business often have in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), where social enterprises tend to be negatively associated with cooperatives from CEE shared socialist past. The EU and CEE members of the European Parliament should work towards improving CEE societies’ perception about social entrepreneurship too, emphasizing the benefits it can bring to local communities. As final remark, Pieńczykowska argued that transforming NGOs into social enterprises could help NGOs cope with funding problems and ensure not only the long-term sustainability of their activities but also their independence from governmental authorities and business interests.

The Forum brought together citizens, entrepreneurs, students, academics and decision-makers from all over Europe to discuss, design and put into action ideas for a better future. In a unique event mixing the local with the global, the Forum connected great thinkers with real citizens and infused decision-makers with new ideas and alternative policy solutions.

The Spanish newspaper El País wrote an article on the event, read it here. [IN SPANISH]