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Helping Finland take a Wider Look at Social Enterprise

Early this year, SBI wrote a report for the Finnish Government about Social Enterprise in the UK. At its launch in May, Erkki Virtanen, the Permanent Secretary of the Finnish Ministry of Employment and the Economy, made a commitment to include social enterprise in the programme of the next Finnish Government.

Over the past seven years Finland has experimented with a social firms law, which gave a subsidy for companies employing disabled and disadvantaged people. For various reasons it hasn’t been as successful as first hoped. The Government is now considering how social enterprise could be seen in a much wider role in addition to developing labour market integration policies. The rest of this year will see careful preparations for a new Government programme which will be implemented after Finland’s parliamentary elections in April 2011.

As a follow-up to the report, Social Business International organised a study trip to the UK for a group of senior civil servants and representatives from local government, NGO’s, universities and funding bodies. The group had a special interest in social enterprise delivery of health and care services. They met with officials at the Department of Health, visited Central Surrey Health (a nurses’ social enterprise), PJ Community Services, SELDOC (a doctors’ co-operative) and Turning Point and took part in a mini-seminar with UK social enterprise experts at the CAN Centre in Old Street.

At SBI we have made a commitment to support other social enterprises whenever we can and we felt it was important that the participants also got a wider flavour of UK social enterprise sector. Therefore, all the food and transport was provided by social enterprises. HCT Group got us around to different places in one of their social enterprise coaches and we had a trip up the Regent’s Canal in the Floating Class Room (the Electric Barge of the Beauchamp Lodge Settlement). We ate wonderful, mainly local food on the barge, in the Water House Restaurant (Shoreditch Trust), Cafésunlight (Sunlight Development Trust) and Fifteen Restaurant (by Jamie Oliver). We invited several interesting special guest speakers to dine with us. We also kept our Finns going on the coach with ONE Water, Divine Chocolate and copies of the Big Issue magazines, all nicely tucked into the Co-operative Group’s Fairtrade cotton bag-for-life.

Back in Finland, many of the people who came on the trip will take part in working groups organised by the Finnish Ministry to develop a future strategy for social enterprise. While they won’t look to copy practice directly from the UK, the trip provided valuable insights into how social enterprises can transform the way public services are delivered. It also gave a wider perspective on how social enterprise, as a value driven business model, can make a real difference in the economy and to the lives of people in all kinds of communities.

At SBI we will continue to work with the Finnish Government and other stakeholder groups over the coming months as part of our mission to share knowledge about social enterprise across international boundaries.

This article was originally published on June 6th, 2010 on Social Business International.