2009/2010: A New Series of LEED Cross-Country Studies
The LEED Programme has been working since its early days on the multiple topics related to social cohesion and social inclusion at local level. Not limited to the traditional approaches to tackle the issue of social exclusion and poverty, the analysis has been mainly directed to explore the most interesting social innovations that have contributed to improve social inclusion, such as for instance mechanisms to lift people out of poverty, like the Individual development accounts in the USA or community initiatives to deliver services to the less well-off. Over the years the complexity and multi-faceted nature of social exclusion has been well-noted: poverty, deprivation, unemployment, health, poor housing, low skills, etc., all contribute to the inability of individuals and groups to participate in the economic, social and cultural life of the society in which they live. At times of economic and financial uncertainty the numbers of people excluded, and those vulnerable to social exclusion, rises and the challenges to social inclusion grow ever more evident.
The challenges of social exclusion cannot be met by a single actor – governments, whether at national, regional or the local level – must work with others, including the private sector. However, an actor who is frequently overlooked is the social economy – a label given to a wide-range of organisations which inhabit the space between the state and the market, including associations, co-operatives, foundations, mutuals, and social enterprises. Rooted in local communities, social economy organisations are in an excellent position to identify the needs of their localities, and to respond quickly to social and economic changes at the local level. At the same time, they are also often in a position to be able to reach those groups who are ‘hard to reach’, further increasing their effectiveness in addressing social exclusion.The local embeddedness of social economy organisations, and their ability to harness resources (such as volunteers) from their local communities, is critical to their contribution to fostering social inclusion.
However to operate effectively they need an environment which not only recognises their potential role, but is also supportive of their activities. There are three key areas where supportive policies can play a critical role in enabling social economy organisations to tap their potential. The first is the creation of an enabling environment; the second is the development of mechanisms for financial sustainability for the social economy: the third is the inclusion social economy actors in the decision making process.
The LEED Programme has launched a new project whose specific focus is the improvement of social inclusion capacity through the social economy, and the provision of guidance to national, regional and local actors as to the most efficacious ways of doing so. The project aims to assist national, regional and local governments, and their partners at national and sub-national levels, to build their capacity to design and implement effective strategies for social inclusion. To this end, the project is identifying the obstacles which preclude the effective working of the social economy and drawing attention to the potential opportunities for the social economy to improve social inclusion.
The development of tailored recommendations to promote and enhance the contribution of the social economy in fostering social inclusion is the key objective of the project and to this end, guidance is being provided to national, regional and local actors on how to improve social inclusion capacity effectively, in particular, by leveraging the social economy.
Cross country studies have been undertaken in countries to assess the current strategies of social inclusion in selected localities and in selected policy areas, and to explore the contribution of social economy organisations in fostering social inclusion.
Another area of work which has an important contribution to make to social inclusion, is that of building community capacity. Community capacity building has been recognised as an important strategy for stimulating community involvement and participation in local development strategies. Ensuring that local communities are in a position to develop their resources and their capacity to respond to local problems has an important role to play in addressing the many challenges which they confront. Approaching community capacity building holistically and establishing the most appropriate ways to integrate the diverse dimensions of community capacity building is central to effective community capacity building.
Social inclusion can only be achieved through a collective commitment of a set of stakeholders and social economy is certainly an actor who can provide innovative solution to create more inclusive economies.
The project has been undertaken in Slovenia, Poland and Korea (as well as France). A publication bringing together the key findings and providing a general overview of the way in which the social economy can be fostered and supported will be published in early to mid-2011.