On 28 February the Representation of the State of North-Rhine-Westphalia and the German Association for Public and Private Welfare, ESN member, organised a conference in Brussels entitled ‘Social, entrepreneurial, innovative’. Speakers at the event discussed what the Commission’s recent proposal on social entrepreneurship and social innovation is likely to entail, how social experimentation can work in practice and what role Member States and regional and local authorities will play in this process.

Emmanel Vallens (DG Internal Market) noted that social innovation and social entrepreneurship is not only about being ‘social’ in terms of the outcomes, but about incorporating the ‘social’ aspect into the means of projects and truly involving society. Tilo Liewald (Der Paritätische Association) defended the role of non-profit service providers in Germany and encouraged the EU to include them in the debate about social entrepreneurship.

During the roundtable discussions, panellists discussed the potential impact of Commission’s proposal on national and regional social policy and what can be done to encourage social innovation and social entrepreneurship. Ariane Rodert (European Social and Economic Committee) highlighted that the Commission is important in providing coherence and an internal logic as well as additional support through structural funds. At a national level “the door is already open, but we need to fully step through it”. This can be done, she argued, by linking the concepts of social innovation and entrepreneurship to national and local level to see how the model suggested by the EU will fit in with national welfare structures and regional and local policy developments.

Jutta Steinruck (MEP, Germany) explained that the European Parliament was at an early stage in looking at social innovation and social entrepreneurship. She emphasised that social innovation is likely to play an important role in light of demographic challenges facing many EU Member States, so a comprehensive strategy is needed to plan for this. She also highlighted that Germany is currently looking to Sweden for good practice examples on how to cope with demographic challenges in rural areas.

The event also included brief presentations of good practice examples from Germany about how social enterprises can work and work well. Here are some examples of social businesses models:

  • NRW Projekt Arbeit is a small local company, which provides consulting in the development and implementation for social projects in the North-Rhine Westphalia region. One of their supported projects was Haus Müllestumpe, where they advised parents of children with various disabilities on how to transform a former school building into a community centre for people with intellectual or other disabilities
  • Grünbau is a social enterprise in the Dortmund area, which supports young people and those who (re)entering the labour market after having been unemployed on the longer-term, by offering guidance and training in the gardening, landscaping and construction sector.
  • You Consulting works exclusively with migrants who want to become independent of state assistance and rely on their own skills. The enterprise runs a consultancy service and also provides training in business and marketing, seminars and workshops in the gastronomy sector and helps run a language institute in Düsseldorf for migrant women.