Social innovation in the Baltic states
Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania have been members of both the EU and NATO since 2004. Today, the three countries are liberal democracies and their market economies in recent years have undergone rapid expansion in the early 2000s.
However, the Baltic States face serious socio-economic problems, high unemployment rates, the risk of poverty and the threat of depopulation. One of the solutions to those problems is the development of social innovation. The Baltic States have different experience in social entrepreneurship and social economy, which is affected by the public policy and activities of public organisations.
1. Estonia, a small country with a vibrant society
2. Lithuania, the digital champion
3. Latvia, a newborn in social innovation
Estonia has heralded significant developments in all aspects of nonprofit and civil society sustainability in recent years. Estonian nonprofits are regularly gaining in public popularity and successfully nurturing support from both the public and business sectors.
The current legislative environment for nonprofit organizations in Estonia is favourable, organizational capacity and financial viability are on the rise, advocacy and lobbying skills are noteworthy. We have already seen a number of occasions in which nonprofit organizations have had a profound impact on the politics and general development of Estonia.
At this stage, however, many organizations are still struggling to plant their feet firmly on the ground. Organizations currently offer a wide range of services in such popular fields as health care, education, accommodation, schooling, counselling and environmental protection, as well as in less common fields such as economic development, administrative and supporting services, etc.
When compared to other countries in Central and Eastern Europe, studies have shown Estonia’s nonprofit sector to possess a rather well-developed infrastructure. In 2003, NENO began working with the state owned foundation Enterprise Estonia to train and coordinate the NGO module in regional development centres. Part of this process involved combining and reconstituting the former business advisory and NGO resource centre. The development centres together with umbrella organizations and networks form a functioning and supportive infrastructure for Estonian non-profits and civic activists.
Let’s do it is the largest campaign to activate civic society in Estonia since the Singing Revolution in 1988. Over 50,000 people (approximately 4% of the population!) participated in the first cleanup of the forests and countryside. More than 10,000 tons of garbage were removed from the country’s forest in about 5 hours for less than 500,000 euros. Under normal circumstances it would have taken the government 3 years and 22.5 million euros to accomplish a similar feat.
In 2012, several records were broken using the Let’s Do It! model. 210,000 people joined the action in Lithuania and Latvians also brought together 210,000 people in 2012. Surprisingly, Let’s Do It! has been working in many of the countries that have had very low volunteering rate, breaking stereotypes and boosting the whole civic society.
National Foundation of Civil Society (NFCS) is a state financed civil society fund. They support non-governmental organizations in developing different capacities, so that they can pursue their objectives consciously and purposefully. As an efficient assistance, development and support center, they strive for a strong and viable civil society.
e-Estonia is a term commonly used to describe Estonia’s emergence as one of the most advanced e-societies in the world – an incredible success story that grew out of a partnership between a forward-thinking government, a pro-active ICT sector and a switched-on, tech-savvy population.
With its strategic Central Europe location, and a wealth of multilingual tech talent, Lithuania has one of the most attractive and affordable startup ecosystems in the world.
This is enhanced by enviable internet connections speeds, for which the country was ranked 7th globally by the Ookla Net Index 2014, and for ease of doing business, while its capital Vilnius made it into CNN’s list of Top 10 smart cities.
Annual hackathons, workshops and startup events abound in Lithuania, with the most popular including LOGIN, StartupWeekend Lithuania and SV2B. The country also boasts top quality co-working spaces, including Impact Hub Vilnius.
Law on Social Firms launched in 2004 was reformed in 2011. The 1st Lithuanian Social firm was established and launched in 2005. Now, there are 44 000 disabled employees of which still only 6,8% are working in Social firms. In total, 137 Social firms are employing 5 400 employees.
The Social innovation Fund is seeking to implement social innovations “in the field of international cooperation, protection of the human rights, social welfare and security, work and education, non-formal and civic education, health care, minorities integration, culture, preservation of ethnic and religious heritage, educational and vocational training, sports, art, environmental protection, and other fields of the public interests and societal gain”.
Social Innovation Centre aims at strengthening and disseminating the knowledge, promoting the international and national experience exchange and establishing the networking for social innovation thus enhancing the sustainable development of society.
Because social innovation is a fairly new concept in Latvia, the country is at an opportunistic point where they may figure out what they want to build and what they might want to put into law.
“We are at the beginning of building the concept of social entrepreneurship. We don’t have any legislation or funds regarding social entrepreneurship,” said Agnese Lesinska, a researcher on social entrepreneurship at Providus, a non-governmental, non-partisan think tank.
Lesinska estimates that there are roughly 10 to 20 social entreprises visibly noticeable in the country.
Many of these organizations are work integration social enterprises. For example, MAMMU is a fashion company which trains and employs young mothers who are unable to enter to the job market. Using their newly acquired skills, the women can set up their own businesses making fashion products.