I had the great pleasure to participate in and contribute to the 3rd Social Enterprise Day in Bucharest (Romania) on November 8th 2016.

The event was part of the project ’Enhancing Social Entrepreneurship, Building Bridges’, coordinated by the NESsT Romania Foundation and implemented in partnership with seif (Switzerland) and Alaturi de Voi Foundation (Romania) with the overall objective to strengthen the role of social enterprises as well as transferring knowledge and best practices between Romania and Switzerland.

The general theme of this year’s Social Enterprise Day was ‘The role of social enterprises in Romania, challenges, solutions and opportunities’, engaging social entrepreneurs, financial institutions, donors, representatives of public authorities, support organizations for entrepreneurs and other interested stakeholders.

Accordingly, the opening plenary gathered perspectives on why social enterprises might be in the best position to create long-term impact. Irina Anghel-Enescu (Managing Director, South Eastern European Private Equity and Venture Capital Association) presented the case of embrace warmers – a powerful example that shows the huge impact a well-implemented social business has. Lorena-Andreea Urse (Founder, Eco Herbal) gave then an overview of the day to day challenges of a Social Entrepreneur in Romania. Nicole Etchart (Co-Founder & Co-CEO, NESsT) outlined the global perspective. I had the chance to share examples of how seif supports Social Entrepreneurs in developing a sound business model in order to create both long-term impact and sustainable financial return.

After a short coffee break, two parallel panels took place: in the panel ‘Access to Finance for Social Enterprises’ presented different actors of the social enterprise field their viewpoints on impact investing, shared insights on their due diligence practices as well as discussed challenges and recommendations on how to overcome them. I had the chance to be panellist at the second panel ‘Beyond Money: The Non-Financial Needs of Social Enterprises’. The objective of this panel was to gain an overview over the non-financial services already available and/or needed by Social entrepreneurs. The discussion showed that the non-financial needs of Swiss and Romania Social Entrepreneurs were surprisingly similar: Mentoring, legal advice as well as support in developing a sound business model were seen as key success factors. The moderated discussion was engaging and, according to various feedbacks, useful for the participants. For me, it was a great opportunity to exchange lessons learned and best practices with like-minded people as well as to get feedback from them.

In the afternoon the Central- and Eastern European (CEE) Task Force was launched. It has the aim to engage relevant stakeholders in fostering investment in high impact social enterprises in order to help them grow and increase their impact. The immediate goal of the CEE Task Force is to catalyse the early stage impact-investing sector in the region, starting with Romania, Hungary and Poland. It was discussed with the audience what the next relevant steps are and which key players should participate in the task force. It became clear, that especially young people and universities should play a great role in achieving this.

During the day a Social Enterprise marketplace was held, where Romanian Social Entrepreneurs presented their products and services. Attendants had the unique opportunity to visit their stands, purchase products, to hear the story behind the business and to talk to the entrepreneurs I got to know in detail the company Bunicel. It produces traditional and innovative jams, employing people from vulnerable groups. The founder offered me a tasting while explaining me in deep the business model and the story of the Business.

I would like to say a huge thank you to the NESsT Romania team for organising this inspiring, interesting and important event. It was a pleasure to be there with you and the vibrant audience, engaging a various discussions with attendees exchanging experiences, best practices and views of different issues. I went back to Switzerland with plenty of insights and newly made contacts.

If you are also interested to know more about the Social Investment Industry in Central and Eastern Europe, download NESsT’s position paper Building the Social Investment Industry in Central and Eastern Europe: The Case of Romania.