On June 4th the first Baltic – UK Social Entrepreneurship Forum took place. In this phygital* event a row of social entrepreneurs, as well as the government officials shared their stories and knowledge about the social entrepreneurship ecosystem in their respective countries. Throughout the day it allowed not only to find out more about the current trends and the development of this area in the Baltics and the UK, but also gave the chance to gain new ideas and inspiration about new approaches. The main topic of the event was cooperation, and here is a short recap on what was discussed.
The event consisted of three parts – the Forum, workshops, and “house parties” at six Baltic social enterprises. During the first hours of event a brief insight in the Social Entrepreneurship (further SE) field in the Baltics was established. First, by pitches from the ministries, then the associations. It was great to see the differences in the established policies and trends in social entrepreneurship, and especially the role of partnerships.
For example, Andrew O’Brien from “Social Enterprise UK” gave a great insight on how this field of business has developed in the UK in the last decade. Back then the biggest challenge for SE’s was the ability to be trusted and recognized, but nowadays it has shifted to finding ways to ensuring resources for support of all the many entities that have been founded in the last years. In the Baltics, on the other hand, the field is still developing – in Lithuania and Estonia the governments are yet to establish a unanimous definition of SE by law. One might think that the experiences of the UK is something that social enterprises in the Baltics should look at in order to predict the potential course of development locally.
Meanwhile the global turn of events with the Covid-19 has pushed many relatively robust SEs to transition into more digital ways and increased their responsiveness, but then again upping the digital presence required bigger financial capital. A good example of a business model taking advantage of this situation is a UK based company called Bikeworks. They repair bikes, teach people to bike and bring the message of a more sustainable means of transportation. After the virus struck, they introduced a Cycle Delivery Service, using the bikers and the bikes they already had to keep the business going, but also further the social impact.
According to many of the speakers there is a common understanding that the SEs are the innovators, the disruptors of standard business practices, and thus have this strength in finding new ways to make things work also in the toughest situations. But nonetheless, they are just businesses irrespective of the social goals. As Tim van Wijk, the Founder & CEO of „Pirmas blynas“ said: “We don’t want your help, we want you to buy our product!”
Some conclusions and advices from the speakers:
- The main goal of the social entrepreneurship is to increase a social impact. Through partnerships we can be more successful and create larger resonance.
- Social entrepreneurship is becoming more and more recognized. As Colm McGivern said: “The next big social enterprise could be invented by someone on this call today!”
- Competition and collaboration goes hand in hand when talking about SEs. While collaboration is crucial, competitiveness with other businesses is the driving force that allows SEs to bring new approaches and disrupt the classic business models. It is the aspect that brings innovation and drives change.
- Even when collaborating with larger corporations, the SEs should not lose their integrity and move forward only if the values for the cause align for the both entities. Simultaneously, as the turnover of the SE increases, one should never lose the focus on social change.
- Being an SE, you have to be better than most ordinary businesses. People will expect you to be average and fail, but your task is to achieve more.
- If you are a beginner or an aspiring entrepreneur willing to start your business, the best way to do it is by finding out if your idea is viable and sustainable. The easiest and quickest way to do it is by googling and finding the closest SE accelerator or incubator, and signing up for a consultation. This way you will get a quick feedback – does it makes sense going forward!
If you missed the Forum, but would like to see these inspiring speeches in full length yourself, watch the recorded video here.
To strengthen the impact of the gained insights, forum proceeded with four practical online workshops and concluded with a possibility to visit one of six online “House parties” at Baltic social enterprises – “Natures’ Horses” (LV), “Glass Point” (LV), “Tėviškės namai“ (LT), „Pirmas blynas” (LT), “Soomlais Studio” (EE) , Fudler” (EE). First of all, what a nice way to package this part of event in such a fun concept! I joined the latter one myself to see what is it all about, and had a chance to hear their story of success together with about 10 other listeners. Fudler is a platform that connects hungry customers with more than 50 restaurants in Estonia that have leftover meals. The main conclusion they mentioned was:
“There were many similar initiatives in Estonia before us, but none of those saw the daylight. We managed to do it because we actually made the platform and were consistent at our efforts, we didn’t quit!”
The Forum was supported by the British Council Latvia, and organized by Social Entrepreneurship Association of Latvia in cooperation with the Estonian Social Enterprise Network, and the Lithuanian Association of Social Enterprises.
* Phygital is an event concept where the physical and digital worlds are blended.
This publication has been prepared within SENBS project No. 2020- 1-EE01-KA204-077999. The content of this publication is the sole responsibility of the project coordinator and may not always reflect the views of the European Commission or the National Agency.