The challenges of civil society development and effective civic engagement: what role for social
The rapid economic growth of countries of Central East and South East Europe has been accompanied by a polarisation in living standards that poses new challenges for balanced and sustained economic performance across the region. To tackle problems of unemployment and social exclusion, governments and donors recognise the importance of civic engagement in designing effective solutions at both national and subnational level.
Also as a result of the continued efforts of the donor community over the past 15 years, the region is characterised by a vibrant civil society sector, whose strong advocacy function and capacity represents an important resource for improved governance. At the same time, the productive capacity and potential of certain civil society organisations involved in social welfare provision remains largely untapped. Citizen’s initiatives to provide goods and services to tackle local problems of exclusion are emerging throughout the region, but their capacity to deliver at local level is often dependent on international funding or hindered by regulatory obstacles, lack of recognition from central and local governments, and inadequate support services.
At the same time, OECD experience in social enterprise development shows that entrepreneurial forms of
civic engagement can become an effective tool to address problems of unemployment and social exclusion by mobilising local resources, developing new markets and stimulating social innovation. Building on the experience of other OECD countries, social enterprise development can therefore represent an effective policy option for countries of Central East and South East Europe to consolidate civil society development while at the same time strengthening the sector’s capacity to engage in the production of goods and services that combat social exclusion.
The seminar in Trento
To explore this potential, the OECD LEED Centre for Local Development organised a seminar in partnership with the Autonomous Province of Trento, the Trentino Federation of Co-operatives and the Institute for the Development of Non-Profit Organisations (ISSAN) of the University of Trento. The choice of Trento was grounded in the longstanding history and tradition of the Trentino co-operative movement in pioneering and consolidating social enterprise development through the Italian social co-operative form. According to the latest national census (2003), and just to refer to one kind of social enterprise, the average growth of social co-operatives remains steady in Trentino; there are 15 social co-operatives for every 100 000 inhabitants. The rich experience of the Trentino region allowed for seminar debates to be accompanied by a study visit to the Trentino Federation of Co-operatives.
The seminar was held back to back with the 3rd Donor Roundtable on Civil Society Development in New EU Member States, Western Balkans, the CIS and Turkey, co-convened by the Government of Italy, the World Bank and the EC EuropeAid Cooperation office.
It sought to review OECD experience on the emergence of social enterprises, to assess their role in combating social exclusion, and identify key financing tools for the sector’s development. The final workshop was devoted to producing a set of recommendations addressing the role of different stakeholders (governments,donors and the non-profit sector) for the further development of the sector.
Having defined the social enterprise sector, the seminar addressed the following questions:
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