21 February 2022

Gabriela Gandel: How can we influence policymakers as we bring our impact solutions to the mainstream?

Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future? These days I strongly oscillate between the two options and often find this question difficult to answer. Shall I focus on the seemingly unending stream of bad news covering topics from the pandemic, to war, to increasing inequality and climate change disasters, and lack of coherent global action? Or shall I focus on the thousands of great solutions that are being worked on by entrepreneurs in our community or by the positive stories of communities standing against the counter current of hatred and fragmentation? 

To be honest, the choice of remaining focused on solutions and hopeful is getting harder, but it is more needed than EVER. I see hope and solutions orientation not as a naive answer to today’s issues, but as a real form of protest. One that can be tremendously powerful in pushing against fear and doubt, emotions that make people easier to manipulate. This, in my view, is the only way to positively rally others around us and make the case towards policymakers to redesign the socio-economic models to a more sustainable & just trajectory.

Historically, entrepreneurs and innovators find it hard to work in collaboration with each other and often find it difficult to build a coherent dialogue with policymakers. By design, policymakers usually follow a slow process of change with lots of validation and stakeholders engagement along the way and a thoroughly bureaucratic decision-making process, whilst entrepreneurs are the exact opposite. Moreover, policymakers are often wary about taking risks on taxpayers’ money whilst one of the key rules of entrepreneurship is to fail fast and fail forward. This dynamic worsens in the case of social entrepreneurs, as often the issues they address carry additional political tensions and bias from historical for-profit and not for profit views of the world.   

So, how do we stop the pattern, keep the hope and make an influence on policymakers as we strive to bring our impact solutions to the mainstream?

Impact Hub Global Retreat 2021

First and foremost, by uniting forces and aligning agendas both between social entrepreneurs and, very importantly, between intermediaries. In the past two years, at Impact Hub, we’ve joined forces with hundreds of others in our sector through initiatives such as:

  1. the World Economic Forum’s COVID19 Response Social Enterprise Alliance (now renamed to WEF Social Enterprise Alliance), where we are part of advancing data-sharing efforts in our sector, expanding the Alliance’s engagement in Africa and exploring community-based approaches to climate solutions alongside WWF;
  2. in countless consortia focused on advancing the EU efforts on the social economy (for example, the Better Incubation efforts mentioned in the Dec 2021 EU Social Economy Act);
  3. in one of the first cross-sector programs to support social intrapreneurs around the world – Unusual Pioneers – led by Yunus Social Business in collaboration with the Schwabb Foundation and delivered by over 20 sector intermediaries, or 
  4. in initiatives such as the Peer to Peer Learning Partnership under the OECD led Global Action on the Social Economy where we lead a consortium of 27 partners from across Canada, Mexico, Brazil, EU and India that focuses on recommendations for easier internationalisation of social enterprises with a gender lens. 

And whilst these are large international efforts, we are also embedded in each of our over 60 countries in local collaborations focused on policy change – from our Impact Hub in Ankara co-founders being a key part of the cooperatives policy development in Turkey, to our Impact Hubs in the Czech Republic being behind the initiation of the first impact investment efforts in the country, to our Impact Hub in Khartoum being part of the economic and social redevelopment efforts in the country or our Impact Hub in Taiwan working closely with their Government and corporate partners in smallholder farmer redevelopment projects and our Impact Hub in Monterrey working alongside their city partners on the integration of the disabled in entrepreneurship efforts. 

But this is not enough if we cannot find a way to channel the joint efforts towards policymakers. For this reason, we now understand that, as opposed to classic businesses, successful social enterprises and their support intermediaries must strengthen direct engagement with policy efforts and approaches.

At Impact Hub, we have done so most notably through being an ambassador for the Better Entrepreneurship Policy Tool, a key policy development support tool developed by the OECD and the EU. The tool includes a free survey tool that can help an individual or group understand the level of development within their social entrepreneurship or inclusive entrepreneurship efforts. It also includes a large database of recommendations from other policy efforts around the world. 

We successfully used the tool in Central Bohemia (a region of the Czech Republic) alongside our partners at the Social Innovation Center. With the help of the tool and Impact Hub’s facilitation, they brought together 14 key stakeholders from the region, mapped the current status and together co-designed a way to address the gaps through a new social enterprise accelerator due to happen in 2022-2023. 

We also used the tool in Jordan as we supported UNDP Jordan in its efforts to consult the Jordanian Ministry of Digital Economy and Entrepreneurship in defining a social enterprise policy framework and supportive development roadmap. For this, we used the tool with two groups – one formed of only social entrepreneurs from across the country and one of policymakers and intermediaries – after which we compared the results and built a better understanding and alignment behind the proposed policy framework’s focus. The ensuing policy framework and roadmap was signed off by the Minister and launched at the first Social Enterprise Summit in Jordan in November 2021. 

Finally, we used the tool in an effort to map the status of the social economy sectors in Romania, Hungary, Turkey, Ukraine and the Czech Republic post-Covid-19. We used the seven lenses of the tool, from access to capital, access to markets, awareness & culture building, impact measurement, legal & regulatory frameworks, institutional framework and skills & business development support. And were then able to make comparisons between the countries, draw meaningful learning from each other and other countries and communicate the needs of the sector in a language that is more aligned to policymakers and the opportunities they seek to unlock in the EU and beyond. 

Engaging with policymakers, getting their attention and aligning to their language and interests is not easy, but when done well, can truly change the game for how the social economy becomes a mainstream agenda point, therefore unlocking significantly more support for the hard-working entrepreneurs that are leading the world’s key solutions.  

So, whilst I can’t answer for sure whether I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, I strongly believe this is a time to be Activistic! To stand up for our beliefs, rally together and connect with policymakers to shift to a more just & sustainable economic & societal model. 

On March 10, 2022, let’s learn more about how to do this together alongside two foremost policy influencers Antonella Noya, Head of the Unit on Social economy and innovation at the OECD Center for Entrepreneurship SMES Local Development and Tourism, and Ute Stephan, Professor at King’s College London. Register here to join us!

Gabriela Gandel, who signs this post, is Impact Hub Network’s Board Director.