Head of Social Economy and Innovation at the Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs, Regions and Cities, OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development)
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the social economy has supported those in need, championed change and inspired us. In the wake of the pandemic, policy makers need to invest in it to build a better future for us all.
History shows that crises can be powerful drivers of change. The COVID-19 pandemic has been no exception, inviting us to question the way we live, work and do business. It has also shown us that there is no better business than the social economy.
Succeeding against the odds
Despite the difficulties they faced, social economy organisations moved quickly to support their communities to deal with the impacts of COVID-19. Two social enterprises from Belgium, EcoRes and Travie, initiated a decentralised production line for personnel protective equipment for frontline healthcare workers, producing 240,000 masks in 1.5 months. Organisations like La Cantine pour tous in Canada worked with partners to provide food to vulnerable groups such as the elderly during the lockdown period.
The COVID-19 crisis made it clear that we need to rethink how social gains for society can be given the same importance as economic ones.
Pointing the way forward
The social economy is also leading the way in adopting more sustainable, responsible business practices that will be needed if we are to tackle the great global challenges we face. For example, RREUSE, a social enterprise network, diverted 1 million tonnes of material from landfills through repair and recycling activities in 2019 and estimated that 40-100 jobs could be generated per 1,000 tonnes of waste collected.
An investment in our future
Governments all over the world are now finding ways to support the social economy including through their recovery and resilience plans. Canada’s Social Investment Fund is one such example, injecting CAD 755 million to provide flexible financing for social economy organisations.
There is also strong policy momentum in Ireland to support the social economy. In 2019, Ireland adopted its first ever “National Social Enterprise Policy.” The policy included the establishment of the Social Enterprise Development Fund to support social enterprise start-ups and the development of a new Trustlaw Guide on legal forms for social enterprises and promote their growth.
A paradigm shift on the way
The COVID-19 crisis made it clear that we need to rethink how social gains for society can be given the same importance as economic ones. Social economy activities are therefore gaining traction for all the right reasons. We need to invest in their potential to transform our society and tackle the challenges we face now and in years to come.