“There are more and more young people interested in alternative ways of doing business”

We interviewed Elisenda Vegué, Director of Socio-economic Innovation at Barcelona Activa.

14/02/2023 - 08:08 h - Enterprise Ajuntament de Barcelona

We interviewed Elisenda Vegué, Director of Socio-economic Innovation at Barcelona Activa.

How does Barcelona Activa work to promote socio-economic innovation?

Barcelona Activa offers programmes and services specialising in socio-economic innovation, i.e. innovating in terms of ways of doing business. Above all, ways of doing things based on satisfying needs, on putting people and their lives at the centre. By focusing on the needs of society, not on profit. This opens up different ways of doing business and of interacting with each other, and also applies between economic agents in pursuit of the satisfaction of these needs.

We are also talking about the triple impact: environmental, social, and good governance – what we call ESG. For us, socio-economic innovation also includes companies that want to improve their positive ESG impacts. These three impacts are inextricably linked.

How does the Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) fit into this vision?

The Social and Solidarity Economy is a way of conducting economic activity that has already incorporated all of these aspects. So we understand that the SSE field is already innovative in this sense, and that’s why it is important to have services that specialise in promoting this type of economy.

So how do you approach SSE and socio-economic innovation?

The aim is to try to stimulate and consolidate this type of economy.  Let’s say that it has different sides. On the one hand, first of all we want to raise awareness. In other words, to spread the word, help people to understand the concept and work on its positioning within the city and in the economic sphere. Then we promote it based on knowledge. This means we provide training, not only in general terms but also in more specific areas, in practical business tools.

After that, we would have all the services aimed at promoting entrepreneurship itself. So focusing on people who want to start a business project within this framework and need to answer questions such as: what do we have to do? how can we do it? can we do it individually or collectively?

And, finally, there is everything that would be when you already have a company and you need to strengthen it, consolidate it, expand it, here we speak of strengthening social entrepreneurship.

In addition to these four lines of work, how do you organise these services?

Within this framework, the four lines can be crossed by sectors, at the moment we are mainly working with the textile sector and the health care sector, and they can also be crossed by the profile of the participants, who can be young people, women, or people with situations that are a little more fragile or more difficult, in order to undertake economic projects. So all of these things are threads that run through the projects and programmes that we work on.

When you talk about sectors, can you explain how you actually identified these sectors?

When we started in 2016, we did a couple of years of city-wide research to identify which neighbourhoods and districts already had SSE or community economy practices. We looked at the economic needs these neighbourhoods and districts had. We saw that there were these two sectors, care and textiles, where there was a great deal of activity, but a lack of organisation and strength.

From that point on, we used an ‘impact-generating methodology’ initially based on an exploration of how the textile or home care system functioned in those districts, and then in the second phase we provided useful tools.

In the case of care, we set up a tailor-made programme to train people in entrepreneurship, in how to start a business, because these were people who were either underemployed, or were working in unfavourable conditions who wanted to start their own business.

And in the case of textiles, we took a careful look at the different stages of the whole sustainable textiles process. To what degree SSE was present in production, in marketing, and in fabrics and raw materials etc., and we developed a whole series of specific advisory and training services.

How have things progressed with these advisory services?

We ended up providing an additional support and socio-entrepreneurial counselling service. In terms of care, Activem les curESS has enabled the creation of the Ca l’Abril cooperative, which operates throughout the city of Barcelona, and we have an inter-cooperative group of companies, most of which are fairly community based, to help them become more professional. They are now involved in a joint campaign, Prescrivim Cura Digna, in which they are presenting themselves and trying to market together.

In the case of textiles, we have an annual conference, RevESStim el Tèxtil [Let’s RedrESS the Textile Sector], where we share trends in sustainable textiles, regulation, ways to internationalise, what forms of digitalisation can help to make businesses stronger, etc. We are now dealing with a considerable number of entrepreneurs who have their own brand and are trying to place their products on the market, and companies that already have their product, but need greater market presence. The programme has supported a total of 545 people over the last four years, and 89% of them are women.

In addition to this work to strengthen sectors, how do you work with certain populations, such as young people?

In terms of young people, the TransformESS programme itself includes different proposals. One proposal is to offer short workshops in secondary schools on what the social and solidarity economy is, what collective learning means, and what skills are needed. Things related to socio-economic innovation or the SSE so that young people can incorporate these economic practices into their work or their professional future.

We also have micro-cooperatives, a training programme to simulate the setting up of a cooperative in the school environment with a view to organising something in the school itself.

And then, we have specific materials that we have created for the dissemination of the SSE among young people, such as the educational resources pack, and a travelling exhibition Mou-te cap a l’ESS [Moving Towards SSE] that we are making available to secondary schools. It’s a programme that’s growing every year, because there are more and more young people interested in alternative ways of making money.

What other services would you highlight from Barcelona Activa for companies that are already up and running?

With regard to strengthening socio-entrepreneurship, the Socio-entrepreneurial Advisory Service (SAESS) specialises in SSE, and has both an entrepreneurship and a business section. The entrepreneurship department supports those who want to embark on an economic activity either individually or collectively, and our business department helps them to consolidate their company. We support them with matters regarding digitalisation, commercialisation, marketing, internal management, ways to make the company more efficient, funding issues – whatever they need. They can make an appointment directly through the website, and the counselling service has someone who will be able to offer them resources and follow up with them.

The SAESS also includes a service provided by experts, which means that we can offer greater expertise and more in-depth services on specific topics. Such as how to incorporate care services into an organisation, or digitalisation or marketing, etc.

And then we have la InnoBAdora, the innovation community at Barcelona Activa for SSE or socio-economic innovation projects. In this sense, the InnoBAdora can also have economic projects aimed at improving the triple impact that I mentioned before, or these may be projects already legally constituted as SSE projects, or projects that although not legally incorporated do indeed follow SSE practices. Because we understand SSE not only as a legal formula, but also as the practices carried out in accordance with those values.

How can you access the InnoBadora platform?

We’ll shortly be publishing a new call. It’s a community that’s always open, and resident companies can stay in the community for a maximum of three years. We stipulate a maximum of four people per company, and we offer both permanent and flexible options. This also means that the number of initiatives can vary greatly. Right now we have some thirty-seven or thirty-eight places to offer.

The idea of the incubation community is to offer resources for business acceleration and growth with a more technical and professional approach, but we also offer a peer-to-peer experience. The community itself is a space for empowerment. There are open physical spaces that favour contact and the building of relationships. We then organise meetings and networking.

Lastly, what other services or programmes do you offer?

Over the course of our history, we’ve designed and implemented four programmes, but we can’t deal with more than three at a time. We currently have three openings that function as an itinerary.

The two programmes that have been running since the beginning are Construïm en Femení [Supporting Women Entrepreneurs] and Camí a la Solidesa [Road to Solidarity]. These two programmes are aimed only at women. The first one facilitates female entrepreneurship within the framework of the SSE, and in the seven editions that we’ve run, there have been more and more collective projects, something that has to do with the overall presence of the SSE in Barcelona Activa, and with the history of the programme.

The second was created to empower companies where 80% of the leaders are women, and is geared towards strengthening socio-entrepreneurial projects. From the third edition onwards, we extended it to those companies that aim to facilitate women’s access to representational and leadership positions. This came about because we began to realise that while women were very well-represented within the Social and Solidarity Economy, this was not the case when it came to representational and leadership positions.

Lastly, we have Reimaginem [Let’s Re-imagine]. This is a programme that came about as a result of the impact of lockdown. We realised that there was a need for us to reinvent ourselves, to have a rethink in the context of the new scenarios. The focus was very much on coming up with a blueprint for change. It’s a transformation programme – either because you want to transform your company by introducing a new product or service, or because you want to make some kind of internal organisational change, a change in your governance system, or you want to develop a new management tool.

What would you say to someone who is interested in entrepreneurship to encourage them to use Barcelona Activa’s services?

I would encourage all those individuals, collectives and companies that want to contribute to a more people-based economy and who have a more needs driven, not profit centred goal to explore how to make their idea a reality with the help of all the suggestions we have to offer, both in terms of how to get started, and how to strengthen their business project.