The SENTINEL final conference virtually held amidst the effects of the pandemic on 19 May, strongly influenced the main topics which focused on challenges and opportunities for Social Enterprises (SEs) in this changed world, and on how the SENTINEL results could help to revitalise them. SEs operating in Europe’s disadvantaged regions – such as remote rural areas and/or urban areas that undergo a persisting structural socio-economic change – have been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis. 6% of working population in Europe is employed by SEs, which have suffered a total loss of 70% of their income in the first half of 2020.

Immediate action is thus needed and this changing moment in time is also to be seen as an opportunity, since Social enterprises can play a major role in this phase of consolidation and social recovery, and numbers are already showing positive trends: investors have already increased their efforts in these first months of 2020, with Environmental Social (ES) investments amounting to 12.2 billion, doubling the amount of ES investments performed in the same period of 2019.

The conference represented a moment of exchange between actors: the Central European Initiative-Executive Secretariat (CEI-ES) presented its experience, gained when developing the SENTINEL pilot action in the mountain area (Carnia and Cadore) on how networking is crucial for making marginal areas places that can grow and where you can live. Within the SENTINEL project, the CEI-ES realised that marginal areas (especially mountainous and rural areas all over Europe) are facing similar problems, and connectivity and mobility are key elements; it realised that in addition to investments, the creation of networks of SEs is crucial. It allows building trust among actors involved, communicating better and connecting to politics It can also support a social enterprise in periods such as this one, when challenges are harder to be faced by single initiatives. One of the instruments SENTINEL put on disposal to all SEs is dedicated exactly to this aim, the Handbook for SEs, a step-by-step on how to create a network (i.e. analysis of eco-system, assessment of needs of local communities; knowledge of human capital and values shared within the network; panning tangible activities to be developed by the network at the very beginning of its operations).

Although the SENTINEL Project is formally ending in May 2020, its results and partners’ commitment will last beyond its official closure. Indeed, the CEI-ES, as coordinator, has launched the Transnational Social Enterprise Advocacy Network (SETAN) to promote and strengthen the role of SEs and influence policies, programmes and initiatives at different territorial levels. SETAN will promote a collaborative approach fostering cross-sectorial and cross-border cooperation, a model which in other sectors have proven to be a successful as supporting mechanism in knowledge and resource exchange, generator of new ideas and opportunities, and creator of an innovative application of existing resources to develop and support SEs. The added value of the Network will be its focus on the Central and Eastern European area and the aim to address the role of SEs in marginal areas, bringing together experience, deeper knowledge and expertise of lead organisations in the area of social innovation and social entrepreneurship. The Network with a common vision will ten seek to create a collective capacity with greater results and bigger outcomes at local, regional, national as well as EU level.

The next SETAN Annual meeting is taking place in Budapest in Autumn 2020.

All SEs and support organisations are invited to become members and support the group in fostering the local dimension in our Member Countries, by contributing to the development of Social Enterprises in marginal and less developed areas.

CEI-ES contact person: Anna Marconato (marconato@cei.int)

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