Member of the Month – NOVUM Institute

NOVUM is involved in the Association for Social Economy Slovenia, which was recently nominated for a prestigious role in promoting the Luxembourg declaration. Could you tell is more about the development of the association and the new role that NOVUM will take over in 2018?

After the 2011 ELF, Novum and CatDem international conference  “Social entrepreneurship: vector of change in EU” in Ljubljana, a national organisation Forum for social entrepreneurship was founded as a follow-up to the project. During the years it operated mainly in Slovenia as umbrella organisation for social entrepreneurs with several hundred individuals and legal entities as members, supporting them with networking towards business and economy, local and national administration, and developing supportive environment and educative business-oriented programs for members as marketing, business administration, etc.

Last year, in April 2017, the Forum renamed itself to Association for social economy Slovenia. Later the same year it was nominated as the secretariat for the chairmanship of the supervisory board of the Luxembourg declaration for 2018, with Tadej Slapnik -a state secretary in prime minister’s office – to become a chairman of a supervisory board for a year.  Maribor, the second biggest city in Slovenia, will be in 2018 the European capital of social economy. The secretariat was taken over from Spain. As a matter of fact, the committee of the Luxembourg Declaration was lead in 2017 by Madrid.

The secretariat will lead the association of 14 EU countries in the field of social economy development at national and European level. Slovenia will focus for 2018 on “Favourable ecosystems for social economy”, that is the framework for the establishment and strengthening of the social economy ecosystem in connection with green and circular economy, block-chain technology and sharing economy.

Novum’s role as a political foundation is to support the chairmanship with smart solutions and project proposals to be organised during the year, along with strengthening international cooperation between the members and towards South-East Europe.

In Slovenia, there is a lot of activity around the topic of social economy, as shown by the appointment of Maribor as the 2018 European capital of social economy. Why are these topics so prominent on the agenda?

There is a growing- mostly younger- population which understands economy needs to have a positive impact on society, environment, to solve problems and not only to cater to individual profit and collecting dividends. Social entrepreneurship believes in local production, trying to solve problems neither public or private sector are addressing and to employ disadvantaged groups of population. Most of the companies work to deliver services to population, elderly or supporting families with needs. With digital globalization on the rise, social enterprises got an excellent marketing tool, since products social enterprises produce are usually niche or boutique, mostly of high quality and design, but can’t only be sold locally, since the market is not big enough or lacks equity. Internet offers an opportunity to sell globally, like, for instance, buckwheat products to Japan, first class second hand designer products to Scandinavia or best block-chain ideas to USA or China. Local is becoming global and quality is produced in social enterprises which understand that environment they live in is important and society mutually dependent.

Who knows where this understanding of social in Slovenia comes from. Maybe from 50 years of playing with socialism, and ideas of worker self-management, or realization that contemporary neo-liberalism is in its core destroying social and environment in every way, but one is certain: global digital society, with convergent technologies, offers an opportunity to become more just and justice as fairness is one important step to be realized with social economy offering more than a reasonable path.

This year, NOVUM will lead an ELF project on green transformation and circular economy. What are your plans for this project and how can other ELF member organizations get involved?

We at Novum believe that sustainable development, together with socially just and fair development, needs to become a cornerstone basis for the European future. Therefore, the chosen topics support this determination. Green and circular, together with new economic models as crowdfunding, coworking and crowdsourcing, new social ideas as basic income, should become a lifestyle path and not just in Europe, at least until Earth as a whole or several nations colonises another planet. But that will take some time, so until then we are left only with this Earth to protect us.

Taking into consideration a definition by Ellen Macarthur foundation on circular economy, circular economy in its core is meant to be a “game changer” in economics, in its relationship towards nature and social change: “Today’s linear economic model relies on large quantities of cheap, easily accessible materials and energy, and is a model that is reaching its physical limits. The circular economy is restorative and regenerative by design, and aims to keep products, components, and materials at their highest utility and value at all times in a continuous positive development cycle that preserves and enhances natural capital, optimises resource yields, and minimises system risks by managing finite stocks and renewable flows. There’s a world of opportunity to re-think and re-design the way we make stuff. ‘Re-thinking Progress’ explores how through a change in perspective we can re-design the way our economy works – designing products that can be ‘made to be made again’ and answering the system with renewable energy. It questions whether with creativity and innovation we can build a restorative economy.”

Our project will follow several circular economy characteristics applied on 3 sectors of products each in its way important for circular economy development and everyday life. These sectors are: Food, Plastic, Textile.

Though with a moderate budget, we will do our best to prepare a meaningful and interesting international conference on this specific topic, going deeper into the real problem. We partnered up with Fores from Sweden, to which Novum shares a substantial part of the programme ideas and invited a newer colleague, the Institute for Politics and Society from Czech Republic, together with a dear partner organisation form the region, the International Educational Center from Croatia. Other ELF member organisations are always welcome to join as well.

Finally, I need to thank secretariat and the board for the constant and lasting support to our projects and to remind us all that, as a European political foundation, ELF stands in the forefront of social and political innovation. To use words of one other frontrunner, namely “Star-trek” series, it sometimes needs to dare “to boldly go, where no man has gone before”.

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