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The current COVID19 health crisis is affecting the world in unpredictable ways, with heavy repercussions on the economy, including the Social Entrepreneurship ecosystem in the Mediterranean region. For this reason, the MedUp! project has spent the past few weeks carrying out consultations across all its target countries in order to understand the main concerns of the social entrepreneurship ecosystems for the coming months and outline creative ways to answer to the challenges faced by social entrepreneurs and their supporting organizations.

Through a comprehensive questionnaire, we have reached out to the project’s target groups at the macro, meso and micro levels of intervention (namely, policymakers, social entrepreneurship support organizations, social enterprises), in order to get a better understanding of how policies, support services to social enterprises and social businesses have been impacted during the shutdown, what mitigating measures the different actors of the three levels are taking and how MedUp! can be of support during its third year of implementation.

What have we discovered and how is MedUp! going to tackle the newly arisen challenges?

At the Macro level, we have registered a fear that political actors and institutions might turn their attention to more pressing and immediate needs, thus perhaps delaying to a later time the discussing around creating a more conducive policy and legal environment for social entrepreneurs. However, these hard times could also prove as a sounding board to showcase the potential of SEs in cooperating with public institutions and providing key services for communities especially in emergency situations. In order to capitalize on this, for the next semester, MedUp! will focus on virtual capacity building opportunities for policymakers, ranging from learning programs and cross-country trainings to webinars on the use of social entrepreneurship tools for policymaking. In these activities, the exposure to international models of SEs regulations will be strongly promoted. Moreover, special attention will be given to the inclusion of the gender dimension in our advocacy work to stimulate a positive policy change based on the evidence of SEs’ role in addressing social and economic problems as well as in empowering women in business in the region.

At the Meso level, the organizations supporting social enterprises have voiced concerns about their ability to perform their intended role during these times when in-person activities are on hold or have several limitations. The struggle is in fact that of quickly digitalizing their services and adopting new techniques to address the changes in social businesses’ working models, yet with reduces revenues. In the coming months MedUp! will, therefore, provide training opportunities and webinars to address these new needs and help these organizations to turn towards digitalization of their services’ offer. Additionally, some specific support will be given to them in terms of strategic and operational advice on how to better cope with the crisis’ effects and quickly recover. Finally, online sharing platforms will be created to facilitate the connection of the supporting organizations at the regional level.

At the Micro level, the 64 social enterprises supported financially and technically by MedUp! have faced several challenges, ranging from a lack of revenues and difficulties in paying salaries of employees to struggles to carrying out activities and in accessing, as well as retaining, clients. At the same time, they became fully aware of the potentials for their sector. They registered an increased community perception of the role that SEs play in providing valuable services and goods to communities and by focusing on the innovation and creativity of the social entrepreneurship business model, the SEs started to think about digitalizing their services to reach even more customers, or about launching private-public partnership to tackle emerging social needs and test innovative business solutions.
With the help of the project, the entrepreneurs will access more flexible conditions for the use of the funds received and they will adapt their upcoming activities to minimize the impact of the crisis, prioritizing the protection of jobs and an attention to new market strategies. In addition, the project will provide SEs with strategic networking opportunities for them to engage with their homologs in the Mediterranean region through the creation of online communities. All this will facilitate mutual exchanges and inspire ideas on similar issues faced across the countries.

There is a long road ahead, and the success of the Social Entrepreneurship business model will depend also on how well it will resist to the blows of unpredictable events like the current ones. The MedUp! COVID-19 impact assessment and the proposed answers to tackle the newly emerged needs at the local level, however, reinforce the already rooted perception around the vital role that Social Entrepreneurship can play in addressing people’s concerns and necessities in their most essential form, and gave us a strong hope for the future.

The project

MedUp! Promoting social entrepreneurship in the Mediterranean region aims at promoting social entrepreneurship in Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Egypt, OPT, and Lebanon as a driver for inclusive growth and job creation. The project, co-funded by the European Union with a budget of 5.5-million-Euros, started in March 2018 and its implementation will last 4 years. Implementing countries are Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, and Tunisia.

Actions will focus on:

  • Promoting country and cross-country policy and advocacy initiatives and public-private dialogue to create an enabling regulatory and policy environment (macro-level);
  • Reinforcing 60 social entrepreneurship support organizations through capacity-building and networking activities (meso-level);
  • Providing financial and technical support to 64 social enterprises (micro-level).

The project, led by Oxfam Italy, is implemented by European and Southern Mediterranean co-applicants, in coordination with the Oxfam regional platform.