23 March 2022

Why and How Should Social Entrepreneurs Engage with Policymakers?

Social enterprises (SEs) are essential players when it comes to accelerating the transition to a more just and sustainable world. However, they often fail to understand and be understood by policymakers, which constitutes a barrier for their work to be mainstreamed. To get the support social entrepreneurs need, it’s key to engage in policy initiatives.

On March 10th, Impact Hub threw a LIVE with Impact Hub session to discuss why and how social entrepreneurs should engage with policymakers. Gabriela Gandel, Impact Hub Network Board Director, hosted the conversation and shared our network’s learnings with the Better Entrepreneurship Policy Tool led by the OECD & the European Union. As guest speakers, Ute Stephan, Professor at King’s College London, spoke about the topic from a prominent academic perspective, while Antonella Noya, Head of the Unit on Social Economy and Innovation at the OECD Centre for Entrepreneurship SMES Local Development and Tourism, shared the takes from an international organisation specialised in shaping and building better policies.

The ‘Whys’

“Why should social entrepreneurs engage with policymakers and proactively create a dialogue? Why should they care about policymaking?” This is how the exchange between Gabriela Gandel, Antonella Noya and Ute Stephan, kickstarted – by touching on the central reasons that fuel collaboration between two fundamental stakeholders in the process of developing the social economy.

From the point of view of public interest, “it’s important to understand whether what is being designed corresponds to the actual needs on the ground”, says Antonella Noya. Ute Stephan reinforces that governments take care of the large issues concerning the majority, but “they sometimes miss out on minority interests. That’s where social enterprises can truly bring the perspective of the minorities and often discriminated populations they serve”. 

Considering that businesses that participate in the social economy are majorly inclusive, caring about communities and disadvantaged populations, the professor goes on to affirm that when the voice of social enterprises and entrepreneurs is heard, “policymakers can give legitimacy to their diverse voices and approaches”.

Both social entrepreneurs and policy makers are essential stakeholders to establish a policy framework that supports the development of the social economy.” – Antonella Noya

In this sense, making the case for SEs and supporting their liaison with policymaking also means to understand, as a society, that businesses can do more than just generate profits; that they can be an actual tool to create inclusive economies and tackle other issues, like gender inequality and climate change.

The ‘Hows’

The next step after understanding the ‘whys’ of such an important relationship is to explore the ‘hows’. Gabriela Gandel shares that the best way to ignite an engaging collaboration between social entrepreneurs and policymakers is through a place of learning that eases the stress on both parties. “In networks, events, programs for multi-stakeholder dialogue – and then get into an official consultation process.”

In complement, Antonella suggests that SEs can – and should – engage in both formal and more informal policy consultation processes. “For example, the multi-stakeholder platforms within the Global Action for the Social Economy Peer Learning Groups, led by OECD in partnership with various intermediaries”, Impact Hub amongst them, “create a space for learning to discuss informally between policymakers and entrepreneurs and bring interesting and relevant results.”

When analysing successful engagements between social entrepreneurs and policymakers, Ute Stephan mentions that a bottom-up staged process, that starts with the support of local representatives, is most likely to work out. Building coalitions with various experts around specific and common concerns is also a way to go. These coalitions, however, should be diverse, bringing in different perspectives and backgrounds, in order to have enough power to mainstream the shared efforts. 

When the voice of social enterprises and entrepreneurs is heard, policy makers can give legitimacy to their diverse voices and approaches.” – Ute Stephan

In addition, working with a diverse group of experts directly influences and improves the quality of engagement. Giving a real-life example from the Impact Hub Global Network, Gabriela Gandel states: “That is what we did in our work with the Jordanian government, where we built a dialogue not just between entrepreneurs and policymakers but also various experts. Including not only professionals from the OECD or academia but also practitioners and entrepreneurs who were already engaged in policy. That opened the understanding of all-around what is possible and built a common language.”

According to Ute, another factor that could simplify the process through which policymakers engage and, most importantly, support social enterprises is creating some sort of institutionalisation of indicators that would allow for easy tracking across various SEs, establishing more homogeneous standards when assessing their needs and challenges. On the other hand, Antonella suggests that it’s key to understand and accept the existing diversity within the social enterprise’s universe, and acknowledging its different definitions is part of the policymaker’s (rewarding) challenge when engaging with the sector.

If you’re interested in learning more about what are the challenges, how impact-oriented, social entrepreneurs should engage with policymakers and policy initiatives to build a better future, watch the LIVE with Impact Hub event recording below.