"I see most often that social innovators are ordinary people brave enough to do extraordinary things." Fireside chat with Suzanne Wisse-Huiskes, CEO of Euclid Network
"During my years living in Nigeria, I have learned that even if entrepreneurs have great ideas, they need to have a supportive ecosystem to flourish. They cannot operate in a vacuum simply because they rely on other systems, like legislation, place of sales, and even research.
At Euclid Network, the European Network for social enterprises and impact-driven leaders, we work with the front runners in the social enterprise space in Europe. Yet, we still need to build up and strengthen an ecosystem that represents them and changes the environment where they operate.
In many ways, social enterprises are raising the bar for creating innovative solutions that have a positive impact.
They have the power to transform industries and inspire change in various ways. I see most often that social innovators are ordinary people brave enough to do extraordinary things. They are taking the energy to work hard for a long time, usually at least five years from the idea phase, before they can see the actual impact of their work.
To get through challenges, social entrepreneurs need to be persistent, resilient and creative, and I think what they teach us is that every business has the power to change the world if they want to.
In order to do that, they definitely need every support they can get along the way. That is where I see the relevance of our work through our community with members based in 21 European countries, including social enterprise support organisations like incubators, national networks, research centres, and universities.
Top 100 Women in social enterprise - initiative of the Euclid Network
A great project that highlights the power of collaboration is the ‘Top 100 Women in social enterprise’ initiative. We launched it in 2021 to celebrate female social entrepreneurs and put their journey and achievements in the spotlight while inspiring and connecting them.
We have two categories for application: Social Entrepreneur and Social Innovator.
We had little funding for this campaign but felt the need to emphasise the work of these fantastic women. We ended up with a project that all my team loved from start to finish and accomplished more through collaboration than we could have imagined.
For me, this was such an amazing experience discovering and sharing so many impact stories. It has also proved not to underestimate the power we all have to challenge and change the status quo we live in.
The call for nominations is open for 2022 as we aim to expand the reach of inspirational stories of female changemakers.
Social enterprises are setting an example for other mainstream enterprises that things can be done differently. They also provide new business models that were not there before, offering alternative products and services to consumers with a unique value proposition.
For instance, if we look at sustainable fashion, there is a lot of learning there that corporates could take on or further explore to set new standards for doing business. For a long time, we have believed that consumers can make their own choices, and once there is a more sustainable product or service, they will ultimately choose that.
But it is not that simple, given the overload of information and the fact that these goods are still more expensive than the non-sustainable products. Now we can see the role of corporations through their supply chains and also the importance of having supportive legislation.
However, the lack of awareness is precisely one of the main barriers to changing business as usual, and that is one of our key focus areas. There are still many misleading assumptions around social entrepreneurship, and our job includes eliminating these assumptions and making sure that we have clear communication towards different stakeholders.
When we talk about social enterprise, we actually speak about many different shapes and sizes and even legal forms depending on the countries we are looking at. So what we rather talk about is their work, activities, and impacts.
One example of why representation is so critical became visible when governments worked on action plans for COVID recovery. Social enterprises were left out of these plans for simple reasons. Underrepresentation and the absence of clear legal structures to identifying social enterprises are not helping when it comes to high-level decision-making.
This is where we need to work hard for better recognition and creating a powerful unified voice that cannot be ignored. A few important and imminent opportunities would include better support from governments; more visibility for the sector; a better understanding of the ‘impact first’ social enterprise business model versus the traditional business model where financial returns come before social and environmental impact; a more supportive legal and policy environment; more aligned funding instruments.
That is what we want to do at Euclid Network, and that is what we are fighting to create more opportunities and allocate more available funding for this sector.
I think we need to step over our own shadows as we operate in a tiny bubble and reach out to stakeholders who could help us. Putting aside differences is part of the process, and honestly, we simply do not have the time to bicker amongst ourselves.
We have a bigger fish to fry, which is unlocking the economic potential of social enterprises.
I trust that our work can activate stakeholders to work for common goals and not just talk about leading the change or creating change but actually doing it. When I see my team at work putting their hearts into our mission and collaborating with our partners, it makes me believe that we can turn things around as long as we stick together."