Towards the Social Good Week 2022- Social Economy’s potential for a fair digital transition

Sara Bombardieri

AUTHOR

Sara Bombardieri

Get inspired by the potential of the new generation of social start-ups!

Having participated in the launch event of the Social Good Weeek, held as an online event on the 25th of January and co-organised by Social Economy Europe and its partner SOGA Europe, and also ahead of the Transition Pathways for the Social Economy and Proximity Ecosytem, I share some thoughts of why the digital transition is so relevant and why the social economy already provides solutions for a fair digital transition. Get inspired by the list of social economy start ups and organisations below! 

What is digital transition?

Since 2019, one of the six priorities at the core of the European Commission’s agenda is “A Europe fit for the Digital Age”. This means that the institution has engaged in empowering people and enterprises/organisations through new technological tools towards the achievement of a digital transition for Europe. The digital transformation approach is developed around three main building blocks.

  1. Building a technology that works for the people, meaning that the EU will engage in developing Europeans’ digital skills, in expanding innovative solutions to a variety of fields and in ensuring cyber security.

  2. A fair and competitive digital economy, aiming at facilitating access to finance for start-ups and small businesses, enhancing online services and protecting citizens’ data.

  3. An open, democratic and sustainable society, that is related on the one hand to solving the issue of disinformation and to contribute, on the other, to the objective of climate neutrality.

Why is digital transition important?

According to the European Commission, the digital transition will bring advantages to

  1. European citizens will be able to enjoy a more secure access to the internet, to data, to online contents and to services. In short, citizens’ daily lives will improve through the use of technologies.
  2. Businesses and organisations, especially small and medium enterprises, will be empowered by digital tools to start, develop and innovate.
  3. Environment will benefit from the use of technologies, as the latter will help to reduce the carbon footprint in the digital sector, contributing to the achievement of climate neutrality by 2050

Which funding programmes support the digital transition? (non-exhaustive list)

It is aimed at funding projects focusing on supercomputing, artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, advanced digital skills, ensuring the wide use of digital technologies across the economy and society. The underlying objective is to make use of digital technologies in order to favor businesses, citizens and public administration
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It is a funding programme for research and innovation that covers the period from 2021 to 2027. By acknowledging the importance of knowledge and technologies, the EU is concretely engaging in supporting the implementation of EU policies as well as responses to global challenges. As mentioned above, once again this programme relies on three main pillars. Pillar I, excellent science, that is achieved through boosting scientific and technological research. Pillar II, global challenges and European industrial competitiveness, meaning that technologies have to contribute to the put EU policies in action and to fulfill Sustainable Development Goals. Pillar III, innovative Europe, that embodies the increase of Europe’s innovation, competitiveness and jobs.
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It grants, for the first time, funding to the development of infrastructures in order to render them more advanced, more efficient, more sustainable, hence facilitating interconnected networks across Europe. There are three fields that are covered by the CEF, namely transport, energy and digital services.
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It provides innovative space technology and data, that are not only indispensable for EU citizens, but they are also pivotal for the delivery of services. This Programme favors important digital innovations, including autonomous vehicles and smart solutions.
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It is a revival of the model of the Investment Plan for Europe aimed at supporting investments across Europe in favor of recovery, green growth, employment and well-being. In this framework, by being an important part of EU’s recovery, digital technologies, infrastructures and skills will be boosted through investments under the umbrella of InvestEU.
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It has become a key word in the post-pandemic period, as it came to be known as the recovery plan for Europe. Under the motto “Make it digital”, this programme enables the achievement of faster and more secure digital technologies, efficient digital services and smarter cities.
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What is the link between social economy and digital transition?

The Social Economy Action Plan presents the initiatives that will fall under Horizon Europe programme with the aim to promote opportunities for social innovation. In particular, a European Social Innovation Catalyst Fund is proposed to provide concrete support to social innovations aimed at responding to one of the five EU Missions (Climate Change, Cancer, Oceans, Smart Cities, Soil). This initiative is addressed to citizens, academics, entrepreneurs, activists, philanthropists, impact investors and public administrators. Furthermore, the grants that will be provided under Horizon Europe will have the underlying objective to raise awareness and facilitate access of social economy entrepreneurs to innovation ecosystems at a multi-level scale. In conclusion, by granting support to research and innovation, this programme enables social actors to pave the way, through projects, for the digital transition.

On the other hand, InvestEU will provide new financial products in 2022 in order to encourage private financing into innovative social economy projects. The latter is going to play a pivotal role in responding to the needs of social economy enterprises, including easy access to credit, equity and quasi-equity investments and capital investments in financial intermediaries. Regarding the latter, the Commission engages in identifying potential beneficiaries through InvestEU Portal as well as the future Social Economy Gateway. The issuing of new financial products is likely to encourage social economy entities to choose the path of innovation contributing to the digital transition.

What does social innovation mean?

Social Innovation is related to the development of products as well as projects aimed at facing social needs and challenges, that can result in substantial changes. Innovative solutions will be supported by not only peer learning and ventures, but also by specific centers for social innovation at national level. Collaborations between the public sector, philanthropic and social investment actors have to prove catalyzers of available resources so as to make social innovation flourish.

Social innovation in practice: get your inspiration!

Girleek

2011 marked the launch of the start-up Girleek by Julie Foulon. Girleek core mission can be considered a social mission, as it aims at empowering women through digital skills. By developing entrepreneurial capacities, women are able to easily enter in the job market, becoming financially autonomous. Girleek concretely offers a blog to spread information on current Tech trends, masterclasses and webinars to train and network and eventually guidance to boost skills and career. In short, the experience of Girleek contributes to the creation of an alternative European model of digital economy, whereby the creation of an ecosystem helps women to develop their digital competences and foster their professional path.

SOCIALware

SOCIALware is a not-for-profit organization created in 2007 whose main objective is to provide appropriate technologies to association on the basis of their missions and needs. By offering this support for a little amount of money, if not for free, SOCIALware enables these associations to undergo a digital transformation. In this framework, social economy solutions can be scaled up through sharing best practices, engaging in awareness raising and tackling challenges posed by digital technology. In this way, it is possible to create a community that shares knowledge and paves the way for digital transformations.

FARI AI For Common Good

FARI is a not-for-profit Artificial Intelligence initiative that stem from the collaboration between two universities in Brussels, Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and the Université Libre de Bruxelles (ULB). It puts researchers and experts at the service of the public and common good. At the core of this initiative there is a virtuous cycle, according to which societies face issues that can be addressed by FARI. These projects, in turn, they are likely to put forward innovations, that are mainly useful in the field of AI, Open Data and human-centric Robotics. In this framework, social economy can occupy a place of catalyser in order to co-create among citizens, public authorities and researchers, technologies that can serve for the common good.

DigidemLab

DigidemLab is a Swedish workers' cooperative that provides digital tools and platforms to allow disadvantaged groups to participate in decision-making processes of the communities they are living in. By envisaging sustainable and inclusive frameworks, DigidemLab enables citizens’ participation to be empowered and valued. At the same time, the lab offers opportunities, especially to young people, to test and shape new methods and platforms.

Social Good Accelerator

The Social Good Accelerator is a network of associations, social entrepeneurs, social innovators and foundations, whose objective is to boost social innovation and its potential be widely recognized by public authorities, companies and investors. Through this initiative, Tech and Social Good actors are encouraged to collaborate with the aim to envisage innovative solutions across Europe.

The conversation on a fair digital transition driven by the social economy will continue during the whole year and especially during the Social Good Week 2022, an initiative of SOGA Europe and Social Economy Europe to be held in parallel of the Web Summit (first week of November in Lisbon). Get ready and join the conversation! Together we can support a new generation of social economy start ups!

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