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Naslovnica arrow English arrow Ivanković-Knežević: It is high time for a development strategy for social entrepreneurship
Ivanković-Knežević: It is high time for a development strategy for social entrepreneurship
Author: Željka Mandić. Translated by: Karin Taylor   
Četvrtak, 01 Prosinac 2011

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K. Ivanković-Knežević, MINGORP
Social entrepreneurship should be recognized a way of reducing the number of unemployed and socially excluded. Today, the concept of social entrepreneurship is already much clearer than it was, let’s say, three years ago – thanks to the systematic efforts of civil society and cooperation with institutions with an affinity to the social economy. Social entrepreneurs, in a few words, manage an organization not for profit but to promote social values in their environment. Let’s dwell on this a little. There are so  many definitions of social entrepreneurship. The terms “social business” and “social economy” are also in use. A lot of question marks surround these terms, especially when they are translated into another language.  In Croatia, these question marks will continue to muddle things until we have a clear document or strategy defining them and creating the right kind of environment for developing social entrepreneurship. In fact, an initiative is already underway: the idea to draft a strategy for the creation of an enabling environment for the development of social entrepreneurship (for now, this is a working title). The project to create a draft strategy was initiated by associations who see themselves as social entrepreneurs and is being conducted by the Ministry of Economy, Labour and Entrepreneurship (MINGORP). Inside the Ministry, this topic has been assigned to the Department for International Cooperation in the Area of Labour and Social Welfare headed by Katarina Ivanković-Knežević. Pomakonline talked to her about the draft strategy. 


 

First, let´s try to define the current situation regarding social entrepreneurship, and the role of MINGORP in its development. What has been done till now? What is the “state of the art” in this area?

I would like to emphasize that we have a very positive picture of social entrepreneurship as a valuable impetus and opportunity for employment – everyone thinks it’s a wonderful thing. But that is insufficient and will not, in itself, lead to an institutional framework for social entrepreneurship and financial support without additional efforts. However, MINGORP has already taken some steps. For example, in 2010 it distributed funds amounting to a total 2.5 million kuna to associations providing services for initial investments, services and consulting. Of that sum, associations developing as social entrepreneurs received around one million kuna, which included resources earmarked to co-fund the salary of one employee. I would like to emphasize the “Promemorija” programme, which was designed to create the conditions for social entrepreneurship. Around 1.5 million kuna have been invested in the programme, which is being implemented across the country with the special aim of training people starting out as entrepreneurs, as well as to support developing entrepreneurs and promote entrepreneurship in the whole community – among war veterans, women, the unemployed over 50 and more years of age, in other words the category of social excluded citizens. But that is certainly not enough. We need clear guidelines and a document, a strategy.

In what phase is the “Strategy for the creation of an enabling environment for the development of social entrepreneurship”, to use the working title?

It is in the conceptual phase. The idea has developed and there is no doubt about the need to adopt a strategy. Now it is time to form working teams who will draft the strategy. We plan to invite representatives of civil society to join the teams, so, members of associations already established in the area of social entrepreneurship and who have already implemented projects and acquired valuable experience in this area. I am sure they will make a huge contribution. Representatives of MINGORP and other ministries will also participate, for example from the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, because social entrepreneurship is an area that “flows over” into many ministries as well as into related departments and offices. We will also include businesspeople and the media, in short, everyone interested in this topic and who has something to say on it. 

Seeing as things are now in a conceptual phase, is it at all possible to talk about when the strategy might be adopted?

Yes, at the moment it is difficult to give a precise answer. All the same, we need to tackle the task dynamically. It is up to us, the task force, to work as best we can and that will certainly contribute to making the strategy a reality as soon as possible. It should not be just one more “Christmas list” of wishes but a document with clearly defined aims, tasks and deadlines. That’s imperative. 

It is an election year, that’s a fact we cannot ignore. How relevant is this to the previous question?

Like I have said, it is up to us, the people operating in various sectors participating in drafting the strategy, to get down to work. To form working groups as soon as possible and to define the strategy’s structure and thematic priorities, and to finally decide on what exactly to call social entrepreneurship. There is a lot of work ahead and the best start is to get to work without worrying about the elections. Some topics, and this is certainly one of them, since it is linked to the possibility of reducing the pressing problem of unemployment, cannot be bypassed or considered irrelevant by whoever is in power, or deferred for a long time. 

How much money from European Union funds or consulting by EU experts would help, and how much is generally available for drafting this strategy? 

It would be possible to draw on that kind of help and consulting for this task from the EU, but what puts us off is that we could only close that kind of consulting contract in 2013. Why? Because we can’t receive funds as long as the new financial agreement is not signed, which will not happen until the end of next year. We can only compete for funds once it is signed, not before. That means that we could only benefit from services in the second half of 2013. Keeping this in mind, I’m not sure if this is what we should opt for or whether we can or should wait so long. But I am sure that here in Croatia we already have a large number of people who have very useful skills and experience. NGOs, like “Slap”, “ACT”, “RODA” and others who have grown together with social entrepreneurship and who know exactly what we need as a country. The question of funding in all of this is of course inevitable. But as much as it is essential, it can also be burden when it is made the main issue. Financing from EU funds, including the European Social Fund, is linked to the accession process – that’s just how it works and we can’t expect any big changes.  

In regard to funding, is there a possibility of financing from the Croatian state budget, perhaps in the form of a special fund for financing social entrepreneurial activities... or maybe a contribution from the banks?

That is a very difficult question! The need for various funds of a different nature has sprung up in the past, for other reasons. It would be necessary to analyse precisely how successful these funds have been. In the present phase, we are not thinking about such funds although that may not remain so in the future. I would like to mention the microfinance facility at the European Social Fund, which helps to provide loans for setting up small businesses, particularly including social enterprises. This kind of fund has been very successful, for example in Latvia, where it has been exploited to 100 per cent. Experiences indeed differ significantly. 

Talking about experience, could the experience of other countries be helpful in drafting the strategy?

They certainly can. But I must stress once again that what we need is our own, Croatian strategy, which takes our specific circumstances into account and will be best suited to our environment. There are good examples abroad, for example strong social associations have developed in Italy, and Great Britain has useful experience and traditions. We must familiarize ourselves with these models, maybe “borrow” some elements from them, but definitely develop our own specific strategy. As soon as possible. And we must work on promoting social entrepreneurship, on networking, connecting, stimulating. We must take every opportunity, for example when representatives of our institutions travel, to take along products that send a message about social entrepreneurship. We must come up with various ways of promoting social entrepreneurship, among other things there should be an award for the social entrepreneur of the year. It is vital to start work now, systematically and dynamically, so that we can set up a development strategy for social entrepreneurship as soon as possible.

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