System support and public awareness are key factors for the success of social entrepreneurship
Social economy enterprises are gaining importance in Slovenia, but they are more or less left to the mercy of the market. According to the assessments made by the participants of today’s conference in Maribor, system support to such enterprises is therefore the key factor, but even more important than that is the public awareness about their importance, so they could easily survive on the market.
"Social enterprises cannot be typically competitive, because they pursue different goals. Therefore, it is not fair to expect of them to be in competition with classical for-profit companies," said Karolina Babič from the Tkalka Cooperative Society in Maribor. She notes that, consequently, social enterprises are pushed to the limits of their capabilities, which even causes such enterprises to exploit their workers, which is in stark contrast with the principles of the social economy.
The country has made numerous steps forward in recent years, was the response of the State Secretary in the office of the Prime Minister, Tadej Slapnik; he also referenced sustainable ordering as one of the good solutions. He also stated that, "The country recognizes and buys their products on the market, and by doing so positively discriminates social enterprises."
According to his estimates, public awareness about the importance of purchasing from social enterprises is more important than enacting laws. He added, "We cannot write this in the law, but we try that at least public institutions would take this component into account when they are placing public orders."
Actual practices do not confirm his statements, as more than 95 percent of public orders, according to Mojce Žganec Metelko from the Association Social Economy of Slovenia, still rely on the lowest price as its main criteria. Therefore, she also agrees that raising awareness is of the utmost importance.
The conference was organised by the movement "When I lift myself, I lift up Maribor" (Ko dvignem sebe, dvignem Maribor), whose purpose is to elevate the awareness about the importance of taking personal responsibility for your own life, as well as the life of the community. "Social economy enterprises are not focused on maximizing profits. It nevertheless has to exist, as it is necessary for the continuing operation of the enterprise, however, a positive effect on the society and the environment also has to be present," explained the representative of the movement, Miro Mihec.
His colleague, Iris Magajna added that the public often has a wrong understanding of such enterprises. "The term itself - social enterprise - is wrong. Because it is not an enterprise of socially poor people, or those, who the state has to financially support, but rather a socially responsible enterprise. As a matter of fact, each company should operate in such a way, but because it sadly isn’t so, social economy enterprises are being created," she explained.
The Maribor company Mikro+Polo was also presented at the conference, among other things. "Officially, we are not a social enterprise, but we act like one," explained their representative Mirjana Mladič and listed unlimited leave, organised meals, and the possibility to bring children and animals to work as successful practices, which help them have a decisive impact on the welfare of their employees. "This is possible only if the responsibility is transferred to each individual," she added.
Within the framework of today’s conference, the Podravje branch of the Association Social Economy of Slovenia, which otherwise originates from Maribor and will now have two local units, has been opened.