In past years, global societal changes ranging from the digital revolution to various ecological upheavals have sparked the emergence of new solutions and social innovations in Europe and throughout the world. Some of the core challenges we are currently facing: creating employment, addressing poverty and insecurity, developing local businesses, and taking part in the ecological transition. This article features a selection of major trends in social entrepreneurship hand-picked by us for you, complete with concrete examples.
1. Sustainable food system and short supply chains
Social integration gardens, urban farming, organic food boxes, cooperative supermarkets, bulk food stores… unique concepts like these drive change in farming and food supply and are often spearheaded by social enterprises. Take Cocagne’s Gardens, a perfect example of a French social enterprise that promotes consuming local and organic goods, or Le Paysan Urbain, an association for social integration that creates agro-ecological and educational urban farms. Another example, the Jean Bouteille company, combines a bulk sales system and reusable returnable bottles to provide stores with a zero waste solution.
2. Third places and revaluation of vacant spaces
More often than not, vacant spaces are located in underprivileged urban areas and brownfields, making them both a societal, economical and environmental challenge and a great opportunity for entrepreneurs. Many organisations are now venturing to revaluate such abandoned spaces, turning them into collaborative ecosystems that contribute to a collective process aiming to anchor their activities locally. For instance, the organisation Les Grands Voisins has succeeded in converting an old Parisian hospital into an innovative and inclusive solidarity space that houses budding businesses, people in rehabilitation, and artists alike. La Recyclerie, set up in an old train station, has the goal of raising awareness and promoting eco-responsible values in a fun and positive way. And along the same lines, Ground Control is an experimental and multidisciplinary space dedicated to social and environmental actions.
3. Circular economy
Sustainable designs, consuming differently, giving things a second life… the circular economy calls for us to rethink our production and consumption modes to reduce the waste of natural resources. Take Kippit, who designs and markets sustainable, repairable, and scalable appliances with ecodesign and an inclusive employment policy as their core values. Among their products, you can find a multifunctional electric kettle and a washing machine designed for easy repair, while their sought impacts include increasing the lifespan of home appliances, reducing electronic and electrical equipment waste, and taking part in spreading a repair culture. In the area of the social and solidarity economy, more specifically, organisations committed to a circular economy do bear in mind the human element of their actions. Green Collect, for instance, has two main objectives blending social and environmental impacts: on one hand, they support the inclusion of people facing barriers to employment, and on the other hand, they give new value to end-of-life products and materials.
4. Tech for good
In today’s society, digital technologies are an important pillar of social innovation. They offer broad opportunities across nearly all sectors – healthcare, environment, disabilities, education, crowdfunding or mediation, to name a few. Healthcare has an especially high digital presence: Invivox and D’Un Seul Geste (website in French) are two perfect examples. In the area of digital mediation, Simplon.co uses digital technologies as a lever for inclusion, revealing talents and assisting the digital transformation of organizations. Another effective example, this time regarding the environment, is the app Too Good To Go, which gives people the possibility to buy unsold food from local shops and restaurants at day’s end and at lower cost.
5. Social inclusion and integration
Promoting employment among those who suffer from social and/or professional difficulties, and providing lower-cost offerings for low income households are two examples social enterprises use to contribute to social inclusion and cohesion. Here are two concepts well worth your attention in the restaurant sector: Le Reflet is an “amazing” gourmet restaurant employing people with Down syndrome, while Beyond Food plays the card of inclusion for the homeless. On the topic of the migratory crisis, Ankaa is an emerging associative project that aims to provide a solution and make a positive contribution to tackling the various challenges currently faced by Greece. Lastly, in terms of young talents, Gold Finger Factory is a social enterprise working with young people to show the world that high-end design can and should be planet and people positive.
6. Ethical and responsible fashion
Did you know that fashion is the second most polluting industry on the planet? Upcycling, reusing, second-hand, renting and a return to local manufacturing are among the alternatives to buying new and are some of the key elements for combatting the effects of fast fashion. The brands Les Récupérables and Matandnat are two examples that promote committed, circular and eco-responsible fashion, whereas CareerGear aims to fight look-based discrimination, with the belief that clothes don’t make the man, but they help. To top off the list, The Social Outfit is a great example of a social enterprise that provides training and employment in clothing production to people from refugee and migrant communities.
7. Waste reduction and recycling
Protecting the environment has become an absolute priority and is also a concern of traditional businesses in regard to their CSR framework. Here are a couple green initiatives: Moulinot and Phenix work to reduce waste. Companies in the social and solidarity economy who are active on the waste reduction front often pursue objectives such as insertion, socio-professional training and combatting exclusion, thus combining social and environmental missions. This is the case of Green Connect, a permaculture farm that employs young people and former refugees to grow fair food and reduce waste to landfill.
The examples listed in this article are a clear demonstration of the countless opportunities at your fingertips. So get out there and get involved in the new generation of social entrepreneurs making a positive impact on our society! What will yours be?
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