By Beppe Mauro
At a time of economic and employment crisis like the one we are experiencing now, the protection of the quality of life, both at personal and social level, we have reached cannot be disjointed from the development of all business and employment opportunities, looking for new areas of intervention and borrowing virtuous models that already exist in other countries.
The hard realization that the crisis we are experiencing is not one of the “usual” cyclical crises we had been used to when facing a mismatch between market demand and offer or between real and speculative economy has now definitely dropped from specialist desks onto the table of lay families. This is a systemic crisis that will not resolve for those – either common people or companies – who will unable to live in new markets, finding the right place and manner to use most of their talents.
One area still too neglected in entrepreneurial and employment terms is the so called “third sector” or non-profit sector, comprising all those activities marked by social scopes that go beyond but do not exclude the simple dynamics of profit as a business principle.
Social enterprise, unlike the traditional business for profit, motivates its existence with the pursuit of socially useful objectives, e.g. to protect health, environment, architectural and artistic heritage, the promotion of cultural activities, sports, welfare. This however does not prevent social enterprise from operating through principles of economic logics that ensure its sustainability through the achievement of incomes and a fair remuneration of its employees.
In this context, Anglo-Saxon Countries and those influenced by Calvinist culture are much more ahead than Mediterranean countries. This may be due to a preconception, strictly Catholic, that being money the “Devil’s dung”, it is incompatible with the objective of “doing good”, which in Catholic countries often becomes synonymous with “volunteering” in accordance with the principle that a good action is either unselfish or it is not good.
In the Christian Protestant West, instead, and more than elsewhere, the idea that you can do actions which are noble and useful for others or the community has also been combined with the allowance that you can do it as a profession, which is earning your honest living as well. These different approaches have generated different legislative contexts, of course: more open and rich of opportunities in Northern Europe and in the USA, more restrictive and less favorable to social entrepreneurship in Mediterranean countries. Yet even in the latter, in most recent times and under the pressure of the crisis of the State’s social welfare, they have introduced new rules that allow to combine business and enterprise for purposes of public interest and social utility. The different historical direction above described has left a gap between countries advanced in social entrepreneurship and those who have a smaller number of business activities in this field, and often less capitalized and with less employees. But having to face similar levels of demand for social-utility services, e.g. health and socio-cultural services, sport and recreational activities, caring assistance etc. such a gap (made worse by the crisis of traditional providers such as the State or the Church) represents an important opportunity for business and employment. This is valid both for those wishing to practice within their country both for those who would rather join international or transnational projects to benefit from regulations and funding resources of other countries.
Before concluding, I’d also like to point out that social entrepreneurship fills a role of substitute for providers of social welfare and so it is often rewarded with favorable treatments like tax reduction and often the lifting of costs of labor through tax benefits and contributions. Other reasons to decide to go happily for “good actions production”.
Dr Giuseppe Mauro
Chartered Accountant & Surveyor Consultant for non-profit business and social enterprise at national and international level
VA Charge’ d’Affairs for UK and Argentina