Social entrepreneurship 'the new normal' in Utrecht


From 22-23 September, Utrecht hosted the EUROCITIES working group on smart social inclusion and presented the city’s strategies and experiences in supporting the social economy and social entrepreneurship.

Victor Everhardt, first deputy mayor of the city of Utrecht, welcomed participants and shared his vision of Utrecht: “We want social entrepreneurship to become the new normal. Cities have a lot of examples to hand that show social innovation at the local level can have a significant impact”.
For the past few years the city has tried to enable and empower social enterprises through different mechanisms and partnerships. One major cornerstone of the city’s strategy is the Social Impact Factory, which was initiated by the local government, but operates as an independent foundation. The Social Impact Factory provides social entrepreneurs with advice, support and networking opportunities - through this it attempts to mainstream social entrepreneurship in the Utrecht and support the start-up of new social enterprises . The underlying idea is to ensure that the enterprises pursue a concrete social impact build on a sound business model.
As part of the meeting participants visited two local social enterprises, the I-did fashion factory and the Colour Kitchen. The I-did fashion factory manufactures products from textile waste and trains people who previously struggled to get onto the labour market. The programme provides a good working environment with in-company training and personal development, helping participants achieve a higher degree of independence. The Colour Kitchen uses Social Impact Bonds and trains unemployed young people (17-35 years old) for one year. After which participants receive an official certification and are encouraged to pursue regular employment. Currently, the rate of people transiting to stable employment is 45% and the vast majority of them remain in the hospitality sector. For both projects the city provides links to potential candidates for the programmes as well as financial support , either through a partnership with the city as with I-did fashion factory or through Social Impact Bonds with the Colour Kitchen.
Risto Raivio, the European Commission’s senior expert on social entrepreneurship spoke to participants about EU initiatives that foster social enterprises and their relevance for the local level. "Any EU agenda to promote social enterprises must consider challenges and opportunities at the local level", he said. Afterwards representatives from Utrecht, Rotterdam, Netwerkstad Twente, Amsterdam, Nantes, Brno, Vantaa and Lisbon had the opportunity to share their experiences. A commonly identified challenge was the lack of capital for social entrepreneurs, often linked to the limited awareness and recognition of this newly evolving sector.
On the second day of the meeting, Ashoka Netherlands and social entrepreneur Adam Molyneux-Berry gave presentations and presented different models of up-scaling social innovations. “Don't reject social innovators if they don't have a viable business idea, but support them to develop it”, encouraged Erlijn Sie, co-director of Ashoka Netherlands. Hiske van den Broek from the city of Rotterdam then gave a presentation on how the city uses Social Impact Bonds and what opportunities the 2014 Public Procurement Directive brings.