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Staffan Nilsson's Comment (former EESC President 2010-2013)

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The elephant in the room

21 Nov 2011 By: Staffan Nilsson 1 Posts

From left to right: Muhammad Yunus, Waldemar Pawlak, Michel Barnier, Staffan Nilsson. © European Union, 2011

Imagine a world where your broker recommends a stock that empowers disabled people, or a bond that provides a financial return while at the same time supporting the education of under-privileged young people in Europe!

Last Friday, social business was taken up jointly by Commissioners Barnier, Andor and Tajani at a high-level event to promote the Commission's recent policy proposals on social entrepreneurship, a field in which the EESC has been an active and consistent contributor. Muhammad Yunus, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for having invented the micro-credit, attended the event, along with many other enthusiastic people working in the field. The Commission's President Mr Barroso together with the other Commissioners present, Mr Yunus and a number of social entrepreneurs had clearly concluded that there was an elephant in Europe's room that no one had really seen before: social enterprises.

My message is that social entrepreneurship is one of the smartest responses we can give to the crisis in Europe. Because it helps to meet the increasing demands of an ageing population with more and more welfare and social needs. Because our response to these needs in our knowledge-based society must be to develop new skills via our education systems, which should foster entrepreneurship and thus create new jobs. And because social business engenders great potential for job creation, for self-entrepreneurship, and for creating and developing SMEs.

I see social business as a kind of European smart phone concept for restarting growth. It is, for me, simple, clever, useful, and a source of profit for the EU! Finally, social business is a key to reconciling the need for growth and jobs (competitive Europe) with the need to protect the most vulnerable (social Europe) during challenging times.

Three key actions are needed: education and dedicated programmes, trust and visibility, and financial support. We must foster innovative social change through education, research, and cooperation. Let's promote each idea, and support each creative project, keeping in mind these ironic words often attributed to Mark Twain: "They didn't know that it was impossible so they did it!" At the same time, we cannot create social enterprises without giving them greater visibility and recognition as a vital sector in society.

We know that there has been a major banking crisis and that it has affected flows of capital, especially to SMEs. Social enterprises have been caught up in that liquidity problem too. The economic outlook that we are facing is very difficult. We are confronted with the negative effects of an ongoing global re-assessment of risks. It is our responsibility to rebuild confidence and trust in the Union as a whole. Without trust we cannot re-build our nations' and the EU's well-being and ability to compete.

Social enterprises can contribute to that trust. Muhammad Yunus could not have put it better: “When I see a social problem, I come with a business solution to it. Social business is based on selfless action instead selfish profit-making”. Yes, we need wealth creation and economic growth for the future but not without solidarity and a better quality of life for the people!

There is an elephant in the room... but now we can all see it.

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  • 24 Nov 2011 19:29
    Posted by Michael.G

    If we link social charity to enterprises and stocks we risk that these enterprises will be affected just as much as other "normal" enterprises by financial crisis or any other circumstances which can destroy an enterprise. Where will the money for the needy come from if the enterprises who provide for them are wrecked? It must be of utmost importance that the part of the enterprises profit that goes to the needy is CLEARLY defined and that in case of emergency the money for the needy is not paid out in the form of bonus payments worth millions to managers who then make their getaway...

    Furthermore, the enterprise should not have the focus on charity but on enterprise. I would not invest in a charity program because its main function is to give money to people who dont have money. Wheres the profit in that? but if there is a good company and "by the way..." they are supporting needy people, why not invest in them?

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