Deng Xiaoping, leader of China after the death of Chairman Mao, established special economic zones in the 80s to experiment with market-based principles in a country than was then cut off from the global economy and riddled with poverty. The Chinese began to reform their economy by gradually testing new solutions and fostering their own interpretation of the market economy.
Those pilot schemes marked the beginning of the economic rise that has elevated China to the main table to become a geopolitical force to be reckoned with. It has arguably demonstrated the most successful case of wealth creation in modern history.
Europe is undergoing such a dramatic and deep upheaval that the only predictable outcome is substantial change. It is clear to most economic pundits that the European model is not fit for purpose in the 21st century. Europeans need a new political and economic machinery that integrates innovation, sustainability and social inclusion within a strategy for growth and employment. This is openly recognised by the European Commission in its 10-year strategy, "Europe 2020".
The financial crisis provides a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to establish a new socio-economic paradigm in Europe that serves both the interests of capital and people. In Athens, the epicentre of the crisis, a special social economic zone could be established to test how social enterprises and social entrepreneurs could steer the recovery. The financial resource would be provided by social investing, the new emerging asset class that seeks to deliver sustainable financial returns while seeking positive social outcomes.
This is one of the ideas that emerged in Brussels at the launch of the European Social Business Initiative. On 18 November, 800 delegates including policymakers, social entrepreneurs, charities, cooperatives, mutuals and various networks from across Europe gathered in Brussels for what was "the first ever mainstream political event on the social economy and social enterprise organised by the European Commission", according to Hugues Sibille, vice-president of Credit Cooperatif and a pioneer of the social economy.
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