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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Some Hope in the Balkans for social cooperation?

For some 20 years, a significant part of my life was devoted to the encouragement of community building – first at a neighbourhood level; then at that of a shipbuilding town; then, for more than a decade, at the level of a Region which covered half of Scotland. 
Initially the tool was simple mobilisation – talk and organisation. 
Then it was structural – setting up institutions which enabled hitherto voiceless people to gain the ear of those in power
Ultimately the tool was financial – to enable those evicted from the formal economy to create local companies which provided local jobs and services in areas from which commercial activity had been drained. In the mid 1980s I chaired Strathclyde Community Business which channelled millions of pounds into such examples of social enterprise..

When the wall fell in 1989, (wild) west-ern capitalism drove all before it – the few voices advocating an alternative to neoliberalism were soon drowned out. The very mention of “cooperatives” was enough to bring down a torrent of abuse – even so, I wondered every now and then about whether the time might not be ripe for this powerful model to raise its banner one more in this part of the world. After all, tens of millions of people are employed globally in cooperatives and social enterprise – why should Bulgaria and Romania be any different?
One such opportunity came in Sofia’s Ministry of Labour in early 2008 when I was team leader of a training project which selected 5 fields for stronger efforts at harmonisation with EC laws and practices. One of these fields was that of “equal opportunities” and I presented a short case-study of our experience in the West of Scotland (based on a much longer paper Organisational Development and Political Amnesia), hoping that it might encourage some thoughts about social enterprise.

In many ways, conditions in Bulgaria for such ventures seem more propitious than in Romania where so many have sold their soul to the capitalist devil – young graduates in particular mortgaging themselves to the hilt with apartments and new cars. The word I generally use of Bulgarians is “modest” since they have been more subdued in that respect – which seems indeed to fit their greater environmental appreciation. It’s significant that you find so many healthfood and traditional medicine shops in Sofia which I sometimes call Europe’s “retro” city. Both Bulgaria and Romania are orthodox countries but there is a touch of paganism in Bulgaria which you can experience in some New Year events and the Rila mountain in August.
“Resilience” has become a fashionable term – and Bulgaria gives the feel that will be better able to buckle its collective belt and make the necessary adjustments to life as austerity continues to grind us all down….

And yet today, I have been pleasantly surprised to discover that a fair number of people have been thinking and writing about the issue in Romania - although only 130,000 employed in the sector.

The Social Economy in Romania - a resource
Policies, practices and tendencies in social economy in Romania and EU (2010) – an excellent introduction to the concept and its practice in EU countries - although very light on the Romanian context. Focuses latterly on its scope for the disabled community.

Social economy – trend or reality (summary of 2012 Suceava conference) A useful note

Trends and challenges for social enterprise in Romania (2012) – a useful, if academic, paper which sketches the legal background and gives a fairly bleak assessment of progress until 2010 or so

Institutionalising social enterprise in Romania (2012) – a slightly better presented version of the same previous paper

A global view from RO (2013) a PhD student’s introductory notes to the subject (with no employment data)

Social Enterprises in Romania (2014) what purports to be a first attempt to put numbers on the sector

The State of Social Entrepreneurship in Romania (NESsT 2014) - the first consultants’ run at the sector

Building the social investment industry – the case of Romania (NESsT 2016) looks to be the most up-to-date and comprehensive assessment of the sector, focusing very much on different models and the practical steps which can be taken (with case-studies)

From Challenges to Opportunities – advancing social enterprise for Romania’s disadvantaged communities (NESsT 2017) After a brief intro to the current legal situation and support mechanisms, this is a report from one Swiss-funded body of its recent work

 Press cuttings

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