Ingrid hears about social enterprise worldwide on Milan trip

COPE Manager Ingrid Webb attended a world forum in Milan last week which helped her gain an insight and learn from social enterprises worldwide.

The annual event examined the conditions needed for social enterprises to thrive and develop, and highlighted outstanding examples of innovation from all over the world. Besides three days of hearing speakers from as far afield as Australia, Canada, Korea, New Zealand, Japan and Tawian, visits to social enterprises in Milan, Berlin and Napels helped delegates see how companies functioned in other countries.

Ms Webb was supported by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) to attend the week-long forum and international study tour, which she described as an “amazing experience, one of the best things I have ever done.”

In Milan Ms Webb was impressed by the founder of the social enterprise movement, Muhammad Yunis from Bangladesh, who started by setting up a bank to offer access to micro finance and later won a Nobel Peace Prize.

In Germany she found out that all employers are required to employ people with disabilities as five percent of the workforce – if this is not possible, employers have to pay a levy to help emerging social firms.

Ms Webb said “Social enterprise is very well funded, the structure is promoted strongly. It was very interesting; they want people to get into employability.”

That included people with mental health problems, as well as physical and mental disabilities.

Visits to social enterprise firms in Berlin ranged from catering to events management, and social firms were also running hotels, restaurants , retail stores and theatres.

In Naples, in southern Italy, the social enterprise movement was working with families to get them out of the grip of the mafia, Ms Webb said.

She discovered that assets, including property previously owned by the mafia, had been confiscated by police and given to social enterprises – one such house was now a restaurant and others had formed meeting places for locals for the benefit of the community.

Ms Webb said: “I learned so much and met so many inspirational people. Now I know we can do even more and the netweokring opportunities sharing experiences and knowledge mean I can learn from everyone across the world.”

HIE staff were also participating at the forum, speaking about community assets and how social enterprises achieved social impact.

Director of strengthening communities Rachel McCormack stressed that the importance of social enterprise in promoting equality, creating jobs, developing skills and boosting the economy – a priority for HIE.

She said: “Social enterprises bring far-reaching economic and community benefits to many of our most rural areas. They create jobs, attract people and bring investment.

“Our region’s social entrepreneurs are very ambitious and optimistic. The sector is expanding and is well placed to drive further growth in areas such as creative industries, renewable energy, food and drink and tourism.”