More than 400 non-governmental organisations signed a declaration urging regional governments to support social enterprises that employ marginalised groups.
By Biljana Lajmanovska for Southeast European Times in Skopje -- 02/04/14
Balkan civil society representatives signed a joint declaration in Belgrade on developing social entrepreneurship in Southeast Europe and Turkey. [Biljana Lajmanovska/SETimes]
NGOs throughout the region are collaborating to promote social enterprises that employ people from marginalised groups such as the disabled, women, youth, orphans and ex-convicts.
Fourteen NGOs from Turkey, Serbia, Macedonia, Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH), Montenegro and Kosovo gathered in Belgrade to sign a declaration on developing social entrepreneurship.
More than 400 NGOs signed the declaration after it was posted on the internet in March.
While there is no accepted definition of social entrepreneurship, a central element includes implementing measures and commercial activities to create employment for the socially marginalised.
The Belgrade declaration urges regional governments to adopt clear and feasible action guidelines to develop the social economy.
The declaration is the first regional effort in support of social entrepreneurship, said Juliana Hoxha, director of Partners-Albania, an NGO based in Tirana.
"[It] is important because it brings civil society actors together across borders," Hoxha told SETimes.
Hoxha said external actors such as the EU usually promote regional co-operation, but this time local actors took the initiative.
"That gives this effort legitimacy," she said.
Social entrepreneurship is increasingly becoming popular in Turkey and establishing networks with different countries will produce positive results in the long term, said Basak Ersen, secretary general of the Third Sector Foundation of Turkey (TUSEV) in Istanbul.
Ersen said TUSEV has worked in the past four years to create a social entrepreneurship model for Turkey.
"It is of utmost importance that Turkey shares its experiences and knowledge with the Western Balkan countries in order to design a region-wide advocacy model known to a large audience," Ersen told SETimes.
Ersen also said TUSEV has created an interactive web portal to guide aspiring entrepreneurs to the relevant information, tools and event updates to support or establish social enterprises.
Bedriye Hulya, founder Turkey's first chain of women-only gyms, was recently declared social entrepreneur of the year by the World Economic Forum's Schwab Foundation.
The Centre for Institutional Development (CIR) -- an NGO based in Skopje that signed the Belgrade declaration -- said it has promoted social entrepreneurship for nearly a decade.
"There are more than 100 different forms of social enterprises [in Macedonia]. It is important that aside from their business activities they have and maintain a wider social interest," Zoran Stojkovski, executive director of CIR, told SETimes.
Stojkovski said civil society, in partnership with Macedonia's labour and social policy ministry, is now creating a legal framework to guide the development of social entrepreneurship.
Officials said Macedonia is drafting a law on social entrepreneurship that will enter parliamentary procedure later this year.
"The law will regulate this field and ... will create the legal basis to form social enterprises that will employ vulnerable categories of citizens," Dime Spasov, Macedonia labour and social policy minister, told SETimes.
Albania is also preparing a regulatory system that will support social entrepreneurship, said Erion Veliaj, Albania social welfare and youth minister.
"The market proves which ideas work and which do not. I am sceptical of regulatory schemes that attempt to restrict the activity of social businesses," Veliaj said.
Correspondents Menekse Tokyay in Istanbul and Erl Murati in Tirana contributed to this report.
What can the Balkan countries do to further the development of social enterprises? Share your opinion in the comments space.