EUSES 2021: a European crossroads for social economy 

For two days, many stakeholders of the social economy came together online at the first European summit exclusively dedicated to this topic. More than 5,000 participants attended this pioneering event, broadcasted from the Rhine city of Mannheim. It was also an opportunity for many organisations to present their ambitious and innovative projects from all over the continent around workshops and keynotes.

The Social Good Accelerator was one of them, notably to introduce its new projects.

mannheim presentators
Hosts introducing the EUSES on May 27th 2021
Source: EUSES, Stadt Mannheim (screenshot)

The event had been expected for several months, but was postponed due to the health situation. The German Presidency of the EU Council chose to hold it in the city of Mannheim, which was entrusted with the organisation of this major summit.
Some important European personalities were invited to speak on this occasion, such as Mrs. Manon Aubry and Mr. Sven Giegold (members of the Parliamentary Intergroup on Social Economy), Mrs. Jeanne Barseghian (Mayor of Strasbourg), Mr. Thierry Breton (Commissioner for the Internal Market) and especially Mr. Nicolas Schmit (Commissioner for Employment and Social Rights). The summit gave the Commissioner the opportunity to present the roadmap of the first European action plan for the social economy.
Indeed, the European Commission launched an open consultation last month to prepare this roadmap, in which SOGA participated and detailed its proposals on the digital transition and on a more collaborative economy.

The association’s proposals were developed thanks to our partners, in particular Mr. Michel Bauwens, who made the honour of granting us an interview. These recommendations also helped the scientific committee to evolve their thoughts on what the next part of our research work should be.

A first conference entitled “Study on cooperation between the social and digital sectors
During a presentation given to the SOGA at the summit, Mr. Emmanuel Rivat (Agence Phare, France), who heads the committee, presented the work he has previously conducted for the association. He also detailed his hypotheses and avenues of research for this second chapter, which will focus on new models of the contributory economy in Europe. Mr. Nuno Comando (Casa do Impacto, Portugal) presented further work on bringing together the digital and social sectors to create added value. The opportunity was to take innovative examples launched by this Portuguese organisation to implement inclusive digital solutions.

Open data, no-code and social
The summit was the occasion for SOGA to launch its brand new tool, the Social Tech Atlas. This is an interactive mapping of more than 1000 European stakeholders that support social economy organisations in their digital transition, as well as organisations offering alternative open or peer-to-peer digital services.
This open-source tool was designed thanks to the help of our partners, who worked alongside us. Mr. Erwan Kezzar (>Contournement>, France) and Mr. Sander Van der Waal (Waag, NL) presented the interest of open-source for the social sector and their valuable work on the design of a mobile and web application for this Atlas. Mrs. Patricia de la Garza Revilla (Quiddity, France) detailed the interest and importance for an organisation to become a provider of open data, which would allow moving towards a more collaborative economy. Mr. Víctor Meseguer (Social Economy Europe, Spain) detailed the key role of his organisation’s work in building European policies related to the social economy and putting it on the agenda.

keynote Mannheim
Launching the Social Tech Atlas with the association’s partners
Source: EUSES, Stadt Mannheim, Social Good Accelerator (screenshot) 
euses OECD conference
Jeanne Bretécher and other European speakers at a EUSES conference organised by the EESC on May 27th 2021
Source: EUSES, Stadt Mannheim (screenshot)

The digital transition for limited profit companies
In the context of the Mannheim summit, another conference organised by the EESC provided an opportunity for the association’s president, Mrs. Jeanne Bretécher, to speak about what SOGA advocates for a better digital transition. In particular, she highlighted the problem of unequal access to public aid, the problem of cultural barriers to cross-sectoral cooperation, and the problem of the lack of skills among social economy stakeholders.

The opportunity was also taken to highlight the actions to be prioritised by national and European public authorities to facilitate the digital transition of enterprises along with a panel of speakers from Finland to Italy. This would ideally be done by setting up ideal conditions of cooperation for a collaborative and digital social economy. Secondly, the rise of the digital commons was highlighted and advocated to be put at the heart of the recovery plan. In a final point, the president of the association returned to the need to democratise digital acculturation and to increase the skills of the social economy.

Then, the president of the association returned to the tools, technologies and key conditions for promoting the digital transition of social organisations. In an inclusive approach, the Social Good Accelerator has chosen not to talk only about limited profit-making enterprises, but to broaden the scope of its action to all structures working for the common good.

Indeed, there is a plurality of existing configurations in the social economy. This pushes us to support and give fair access to funds related to the digital transition of the social economy, and not to confine them exclusively to classical SMEs. It seems important to ensure the digitalisation of products and services for all users in order to improve the overall performance of organisations. This is a real issue of resilience that public authorities must address, “through the unique breadth of their competences within their mandates”.

European flags
The main building of the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium
Image free of rights

Furthermore, the question of investment in digital social change stakeholders is crucial. These include those involved in digital education, digital employment and the re-skilling and refinement of equitable models. At present, without a strong alternative model to the US and China, addressing social issues seems like a pipe dream. This is all the more important in view of the growing inequality, which has been at its highest for decades in OECD countries. That is why the president of the association raised the three main aspects that we believe define digital transformation:

A real problem of access to resources allocated by public authorities
With nearly 100 million people volunteering in the EU, there is a problem of formulation and a lack of inclusiveness in the way public support is designed. Most institutional funders, both public and private, target projects before structural means and change management. Digital transformation requires structural investment in hardware, software and, above all, training – both for the staff and volunteers involved.

There is also a cultural problem, linked to the one of supply
The conclusions of the first chapter of our study conducted by our association were clear. The values of the social economy sometimes seem incompatible with those of the producers of products and services in the digital economy. There is therefore a very strong cultural barrier, coupled with a generational barrier. This is partly due to prejudices as well as a lack of clarity about the range of alternative products and services that are compatible with the values of the organisations (free, open, truly collaborative) and genuinely accessible to newcomers (such as the new “no code” market).

The existence of a lack of digital skills among social economy stakeholders
Although digital technology represents a real opportunity for Social Economy organisations, the orders or public budgets allocated to organisations in the sector were largely insufficient in relation to the challenges to be met. In the context of a recovery plan marked by the resilience of populations, these shortcomings have a direct impact on the audiences of these organisations.

mannheim stadt
Panorama view of the city of Mannheim, Germany, from which the EUSES was broadcasted
Source: EUSES, Stadt Mannheim (screenshot)

The Mannheim Summit was a real success for the association, which was able to show the interest of a better digitalisation for the social economy sector. Many organisations were able to meet other ones, while presenting ambitious and innovative projects and having constructive debates. The Social Good Accelerator had the opportunity to do the same, notably to put its ideas on the European stage. By being exclusively online, this summit also showed the possibilities of resilience in the current context, which was underlined in the roadmap of the social economy action plan. See you in November to follow closely its final publication. 

Sources:

– Michel Bauwens, Vasilis Kostakis, Manifeste pour une véritable économie collaborative : vers une société des communs, Editions Charles Léopold Mayer, Paris, 2017, 112 pages

– Marieke Huysentruyt, How European Governments Can Help Spur Innovations for the Public Good, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Stanford, 2021

About the author

Thomas Brisbart
thomas(at)socialgoodaccelerator.eu
Research and Public Affairs
Brussels, Belgium