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EU Interview: Nicolas Hazard of Le Comptoir de l'Innovation

Kevin Bosc speaks with Nicholas Hazard

After a European education in Politics and Economics (Sciences Po Paris, F.U. Berlin, HEC Paris), Nicolas Hazard worked as an advisor at the office of Romano Prodi (L'Unione), former President of the European Commission and President of the Italian Council. He subsequently created a business start-up in international trading. In parallel he co-founded an association, developing scholarships for Kenyan children.

He is now Vice-President of Groupe SOS, a leading social enterprise (10,000 employees, $650M turnover) and the Chairman of Le Comptoir de l'Innovation, an investment and consulting company for all businesses involved in developing innovative economic models to increase their social impact throughout the world.

What social needs do Groupe SOS and Le Comptoir de l’Innovation address?

Groupe SOS’ mission is to fight against poverty and social exclusion. It is composed of 44 social enterprises operating in five main sectors: health, seniors, education, employment, solidarity. These enterprises address a large number of issues such as access to housing solutions, access to employment, access to healthcare for low-income people, homeless and drug-addicted people or prevention and treatment of drug addictions.

Groupe SOS is a non-profit organization which was established in 1984 and has a proven track record on the field of social integration for the past 28 years. It now counts 10,000 employees and over 1 million beneficiaries in France and abroad. With 44 social enterprises, the group operates 283 structures with consolidated revenue of 750 million USD.

Le Comptoir de l’Innovation is one of the social enterprises of Groupe SOS. It finances, supports and promotes the development of social enterprises in France and in the world.

How would you describe the context of social innovation in France? Do you feel it is supported by the government and by private initiatives?

In France, the government, public agencies and investors are mainly focusing on promoting and supporting technological innovation. Indeed, incubators – public and private – are overwhelmingly focused on SMEs developing technology-based innovations. If we consider Paris only, there are more than 20 incubation establishments dedicated to technological innovation. In terms of financing support, it is even more significant, with many private equity funds specialized in technology-based start-ups. In addition, the state-owned agency – Oséo – only provides assistance and financial support to French SMEs developing technological innovation and does not recognize (yet) social innovation. As a result social innovation is only supported by few players such as Le Comptoir de l’Innovation.

You wrote an article for the Guardian on French social enterprises going global. Could you give examples of successful French social enterprises and do you believe they can succeed globally?

I can provide you with two examples: one operating in the health sector (Siel Bleu) and one involved selling fair-trade and organic products (Ethiquable).

Siel Bleu offers an alternative and complementary solution to workout and healing, by actively participating in the reduction of mobility problems and addictions through physical activity programs. Siel Bleu’s activities consist of a variety of physical activities which contribute to improving the well-being of beneficiaries and to breaking the vicious circle of isolation, addiction and disease. The company generates revenues from offering its services to various players in the field of health prevention and dependency of the elderly ((medico-social institutions, communities, associations, insurance funds and health). Thanks to its different areas of activity, Siel Bleu can diversify its sources of income. Hour intervention is charged from 35 to 7 € depending on the service and average customer. A wide price range allows for making its services affordable to a greater number. The action of Siel bleu reduces mobility and dependency problems for the elderly and people with disabilities. It generates a triple social impact: physical, behavioral and social impact for 60,000 beneficiaries every week in 2,500 establishments; affirmative action on health equity; reduction of health curative care costs. A study has showed that if all seniors were eligible to Siel Bleu’s services, the cumulative savings would amount to €15 billion between 2012 and 2015, and €59 billion between 2012 and 2020.

Ethiquable is a French cooperative company designing, producing and commercializing fair-trade and organic grocery products, ranging from chocolate to rice and tea. Ethiquable addresses both social and environmental problems. The company decided to promote organic farming, both in emerging countries and in France, in order to fight against the global deterioration of the environment. Moreover, Ethiquable fights against the impoverishment of small producers worldwide by guaranteeing a fair income to its suppliers. With a turnover of €14 million in 2011 and over 6 million products sold annually, Ethiquable is one of the leading fair-trade companies in France. The concept of fair-trade advocates the idea of building fair relationships with small producers in developing and emerging countries. These fair relationships are based on the guarantee of a decent income, the promotion of social rights and the preservation of the environment. In addition, Ethiquable favors organic products which have little impact on the environment. Ethiquable commits to organic, local, fair and sustainable farming and aims to promote sustainable development as a whole. The company partners with 42 farming cooperatives in 23 countries. 40,000 smallholder families benefit directly or indirectly from the sale of its products. Since its creation, Ethiquable has sold 55 million fair-trade and organic products and established 19 fair-trade channels in 10 years.

What do you think will be the greatest challenges on the horizon for France? Where do you see the greatest need for innovative solutions?

Today, unemployment, access to quality healthcare services for everyone and quality support services for elderly people are some of the most urging challenges we have to face. We really need to find innovative solutions to fight against these three crucial issues, which are also global challenges. We need to share best practices, to identify successful models and to promote their replication globally.