Did you know that the social economy sector in Slovenia, in general, is underdeveloped? Our HOPE project partners from the City of Maribor have shared some insights with the partnership.
The Podravje region is formed by 41 municipalities and it has 326,000 inhabitants (15% of the total of the Slovenian population). The main city is Maribor, with 94,000 inhabitants and 73 social enterprises (26,5% of the country). Project partner Klemen R Bizjak explains that some key areas identified in the region are the following ones: ageing and care for elderly, sustainable tourism, local supply chains and organic food production, culture and creative industries (CCI), housing cooperatives and circular economy (re-use, repair, share). Nevertheless, he adds that there are also challenges that need special attention. Klemen mentions the low awareness on potentials for social economy or the fragmented support environment. “The existing support measures are not adapted to the specific needs of social businesses”. Furthermore, he explains that there is a shortage of skills and competences to boost social innovation and support social businesses from the idea to realisation. Also, the access to specific financial mechanisms should be taken into consideration.
According to Klemen, the first projects and studies in the field of social entrepreneurship in Slovenia and Podravje commenced in 2003/2004. Since then, there have been a number of developments. Among others, the Prizma Foundation initiative for setting up social economy support ecosystem in Podravje (2013); the Social Entrepreneurship Act (last amendment in 2018), the process of preparing a regional development programme for Podravje for 2014-2020 and identifying ‘social entrepreneurship and social innovation’ as one of the regional development programme investment areas (Competitiveness of the economy for growth and jobs). Furthermore, in 2018, Maribor was selected as European Capital of Social Economy.
Our Slovenian partner also highlights stakeholders collaboration when influencing policies. Klemen explains that there are many networks, such as, ‘Association of Social Economy of Slovenia’. The stakeholders participating in these are actively influencing policy development, for example, through the SocioLab. There is an important collaboration trough local (municipality), national (ministry and employment service) and international (EU projects) levels. Although social economy is included in national, regional and local strategic documents, there is a lack of an independent strategy.
Well-being in Maribor
All HOPE partner cities and regions have residents who are low-skilled and face multiple challenges in various fields including employment, health, and social inclusivity. Project partner Nika Zelenko mentions that 23% of the population in the Podravje region has a high education. Regarding employment, 898.250 persons are employed in the country. “The percentage of those who are able to work is of 61,4% and the percentage of registered unemployment in the municipality is of 16%”. In December 2020, among the newly registered, there were 6.209 unemployed due to the expiry of fixed-term employment, 481 first-time job seekers, 164 unemployed due to bankruptcies and 5.616 permanently redundant workers.
In reference to cohesion and inclusiveness, our Slovenian partner highlights the migrant crisis that occurred in 2015, when 200 people with international protection moved to Maribor. “On the occasion of the ‘World Refugee Day 2019’, the Municipality of Maribor organized a meeting of individuals and organizations working in the field of integration of migrants into the local environment”, adds Nika.
HOPE partners from Maribor remind that, (un)employment, inclusivity, wellness, and health are closely connected and influence the well-being of individuals. Therefore, constructing social economy requires acknowledging these different dimensions.