Impresa sociale

Best practices from Europe

28 Maggio Mag 2012 1449 28 maggio 2012

Lessons in social enterprise.

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Lessons in social enterprise.

Lessons in social enterprise: three very different enterprises tell the story of their success.

Romania: Youth, skills and idealism: a recipe for success

“Social enterprise is the best tool we have to manage immigration” says Andrea Filip, a 27 year old Romanian social entrepreneur who in 2002 founded the Career Development Centre, a social enterprise run by young people to empower young people.

“Young people tend to look abroad for ‘good’ jobs, not realising the opportunities that are open to them in Romania, where the unemployment rate is 1%”, says Andrea, who has chosen not to leave her hometown. The CDC, based in Timisoara’s West University, has also published a book called The Career Book, now in its fourth edition and has helped more than 20 thousand young people turn their work placements and volunteer experiences into employment opportunities.

In 2007 the CDC opened its second office at the University of Cluj-Napoca. At any one time there are 6 fulltime staff and 26 volunteers working for the CDC. The key to her success? Believing in young people: “We are idealistic enough to make change happen even if no one else is prepared to invest in us”.


Scotland: Cafèdirect: lessons in ethical business

When International Coffee Agreement of 1989 restricted the coffee trade placing the livelihoods of millions of small producers at risk, a social enterprise was born that bought coffee directly from growers in Mexico, Peru and Costa Rica and imported it to the UK. The aim? To ensure that coffee growers would have control over their futures. Today, Cafèdirect, that is based in Edinburgh, partners with 300 thousand growers in 13 developing countries and through its support of small scale farming impacts the lives of more than 1.4 million people. By actively promoting fair-trade and investing in the In 2004 Cafèdirect became the UKs’ biggest ethical public share company enabling consumers, employees, founders and especially growers to own a share in the business. Over the past 5 years more than 3 million euros – equal to 60% of the enterprises profits – has been invested back into the community. The proof of their success? UK consumer’s voted it most trusted brand in 2007. Download their social reports from:

England: Riding towards sustainability
Tackling environmental, social and economic challenges by riding a bike may sound like a hippy dream, but a social enterprise based in East London and founded in March 2007 has turned this simple idea into a story of socially useful entrepreneurial success. At Bikeworks, a registered Community Interest Company, they believe that there are local solutions to global environmental problems. And that recycling and refurbishing second hand bikes in London and teaching more people to cycle on the road is one of them. Moreover, Bikeworks impacts disadvantaged communities by offering employment and training opportunities to marginalised individuals and teaching people with disabilities to cycle independently in London.

Portugal: Living the miracle

“We have been living a miracle” says Henrique Pinto, one of the directors of Cais, a Portuguese social enterprise based on the model of the UK’s street paper, the Big Issue. Founded in 1994 as a magazine to be sold by street vendors - homeless or marginalised people - and whose proceeds would go almost entirely (70%) to them, today Cais has grown into a successful social enterprise that runs training programmes and develops projects on commission for NGOs and businesses looking to invest in social inclusion strategies.

With government support amounting to only 8.5 thousand euros a year, Cais was determined to achieve financial viability, a goal it achieved in 2003 when it was finally able to increase its paid staff members from 3 to 15. “Businesses look to us as pioneers in the field”, explains Pinto, who has worked with Cais from the very start, “as an organisation that is capable of turning a good idea into a good result”.

A measure of Cais’ success can be gleamed by the wealth of services their day centres offer homeless people, from free internet access to yoga and music classes as well as access to a library, T.V and video and skill building courses in languages, computers and job seeking. Plans for the future? To open a social bakery and create Portugal’s first monitoring and certifying body for social projects.


Poland: Doing things different, an enterprise for people with autism

Twenty four adults who, because of their autism, would have never found a job in Poland’s open labour market earn a living thanks to a social enterprise founded and run by the Synapsis Foundation, that provides one on one assistance with instructors and psychologists.

The Different Things workshop is made up of several sections, including professional printing and bookbinding services, ceramic designs, and stained glass and woodcraft artifacts. The products are available online ( Although the enterprise is struggling to reach financial sustainability, the enterprise is one of its kind in Poland and hopes to be a model of best practice for other organizations that work with the disabled.