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  • Writer's pictureSERI

European Social Economy Summit, Mannheim, May 26/27, 2021

A personal reflection from John Kearns, SERI Board member and expert advisor to EU on GECES.

This was truly a mammoth undertaking confirming the EU’s commitment to the essential role of Social Economy in Europe and in the post-Covid recovery period. Weeks earlier the ‘Proximity and Social Economy’ had been officially added as one of the 14 designated industrial ecosystems driving the EU’s industrial strategy. This summit brought together over 3,000 participants from 100 countries, 300 speakers and 80 sessions. The discussions and contributions over the two days were brought together to develop the ‘Mannheim Declaration’ which will also feed into the Action Plan for the Social Economy currently being developed.

The declaration can be read at:

Given the amount of topics and speakers, it was not possible to get an entire overview and I could only attend a fraction of the sessions. However, it was possible to discern an overall trend in the new approach to a social enterprise that we can expect to become part of our lives in the months and years ahead. In no particular order these are some of my notes from the event:

  • A very definite theme was emerging of social enterprises taking their role as co-creators in the new landscape. There were repeated references to breaking the silos within which we operate.

  • There was a refocussing of actions back to local level (Think Global/Act Local and sharing and replicability of ideas across borders to be enacted locally)

  • There was the call to change the unit of measurement from GDP to a unit that was more encompassing and reflective of the totality of a successful society.

  • It was announced that Social Enterprise World Forum is working on a system of verification and certification of social enterprises to accommodate the ‘Buy Social’ brands and ease procurement issues

  • Local and Regional authorities need to be pressed to include social economy in the co-creation process. The role of social enterprise can be to bring the entrepreneurial drive to the public sector role without the threat of speculative enrichment and greed from other potential stakeholders.

  • In a session about the ‘New European Bauhaus’, it was described as calling all Europeans to imagine and build together a sustainable and inclusive future that is beautiful for our eyes, minds, and souls. Within this vision, social enterprise is called on to take on the role of urban (and rural) developer, making fragility visible and integrated while creating a new living environment based on sustainability (including circularity), quality of experience (including aesthetics) and inclusion (including affordability). This in particular struck me as a higher and more evolved role for a social enterprise that has for too long been the hidden and underestimated partner in society. I believe that we will hear a lot more about and be strongly influenced by the New European Bauhaus.

It is impossible to give a full report on such an enormous wealth of material and discussion that was on offer at #EUSES2020 but the resources remain online and are highly recommended (you can view information about the event here). It should also be noted that Ireland’s own Chris MM Gordon was co-host of the proceedings and acquitted himself very highly and professionally – Tubridy should beware!


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