Time to “Grow a New Economy”

The Social Enterprise World Forum 2015 was held in Milan, Italy this year and Tiziana O’Hara from Co-Operative Alternatives found the event hugely inspiring.

Tiziana writes:

The three day event, “Growing a new Economy”, featured sessions developed along the themes: Nurturing Ecosystem, Social Enterprise Against Poverty, Impact Investment and Feeding the Planet. With over 500 delegates from all over the world, the place was busy and buzzing at all times.

The opening day was at the EXPO 2015, the Universal Exhibition where more than 140 participating countries have gathered to show the best of their technology “to guarantee healthy, safe and sufficient food to everyone while respecting the planet and its equilibrium” and it helped convey the idea that the world is seriously reflecting on its long term sustainability.

The delegates and speakers were from social enterprises and co-operatives mixed with a variety of Ministers, academics and a Nobel laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus, founder of the Grameen Bank , the pioneer of the concept of microcredit and microfinance.

Stories were eye opening from the ingenious Afropads in Uganda, to the Light ladies of Fiza Farhan, Pakistan, the minigrids on solar power of Devergy in Tanzania and the work of Rustam Sengupta, Boond in India as well the HiSbe new supermarket in Brighton, and Lican in Paraguay addressing river pollution caused by slaughterhouses.

Inspiring ideas, underlining the need to address social justice issues by changing the way we think about ownership, distribution of profit and access. The models varied from co-operatives to community interest companies and trade arms of non-for-profit organisations and all with their own financial mechanism. In some countries this was done by utilizing philanthropic resources, in others by transforming grants into hybrid capital and supporting the enterprises with appropriate capital at different stages of their development.

The discussion at policy level was fascinating with Government officials tracing the progress in framing and supporting social enterprises within economic and social development strategies.

An “inclusive economic growth” focuses in solving problems of social and environmental injustice. It is based on co-operation instead of competition and adopts social enterprise models with strong “external
drivers” and not the internal need to maximise profit.

We also heard that one of the ways to stimulate the growth of this sector is to create “social enterprises ecosystems” where innovators, financial and development services are all connected and easily accessible. The constant formation of new collaborations, partnerships and sharing of ideas forge a culture that does not fear “taking  risks” and develop new ideas.

This conference really shined a light on new and different ways to do things – it is time for us in Northern Ireland to think more creatively, to embrace alternative ways of making the economy work for us to make a better society.