Fredrik Björk: Social Enterprises Are Small But They Solve Big Problems

Swedish expert Fredrik Björk, lecturer at Malmö University, on the challenges facing the global economy and traditional business and why social entrepreneurship and social innovation are promising areas. The expert made his presentation at a panel discussion "Business Built On the Principles of Sustainable Development and Social Entrepreneurship" that was part of scientific and practical conference "Management and Participation in Sustainable Development Processes" held during the Sustainable Development Week 2015. The discussion was organized with support of "EU-Belarus" and Clearing House programmes of the ODB.

Fredrik Björk, professor at Malmö University (Sweden)


Global economy today is absolutely unsustainable


In the opinion of Malmö University professor Fredrik Björk, the current system of global economy is "absolutely unsustainable and disconnected from social, economic and environmental solutions". "Social entrepreneurship, - says the expert, - can provide an alternative approach to addressing these problems".

Sweden, says the expert, began developing social entrepreneurship 10 years ago, and in the EU social innovation that defines social changes is now one of the most important concepts. Fredrik Björk explained that the Malmö University is now actively promoting social entrepreneurship and innovation: more than half of the city population are immigrants, while youth unemployment amounts to 50%. – Local social entrepreneurship focuses on the issues of discrimination, unemployment, climate change and others. According to the expert, depending on the local issues, different countries have social enterprises in different spheres: in health, education, environment, and economic development – public organizations are also involved in those areas.

Fredrik Björk

"Some social enterprises are very small but they set the example of doing things in a different way, helping to change the nor. Even they can make a very big impact.

Social enterprises are small, but they solve big problems," explains Fredrik Björk, professor at the Malmö University (Sweden).

Social enterprises are small but they solve big problems


According to the expert, "integrated social enterprises" are now very popular in Sweden and Finland. Such social enterprises are tackling different problems, for example, some of them help people with autism integrate in society, and  "instead of considering them to be social victims, they look for certain skills that can be developed", - says Fredrik Björk. Integration of people with disabilities is one of the areas of social entrepreneurship. The expert cited the example of one of leading Polish companies that operates in 16 cities and has created more than 900 jobs for people with disabilities. These people provide environmental services: they work in environmental protection, organize waste management and environmental training.

Malmö University currently has two international Master's programmes on social entrepreneurship: a specialized course on social innovation and a course on values of social entrepreneurship. There are a number of Belarusian students who study social entrepreneurship in Malmö.

As the Swedish expert explained, social enterprises receive support not only when the state places orders for goods or services but also from private business contracts. For example, IKEA orders services from 4 enterprises, one of which is located in Sweden. According to Mr. Björk, Sweden provides no state support to social enterprises but the government, business and social sector build important partnerships in this area.

At the same time, the psychology of business changes. Mr. Björk cited the example of one of international social enterprises that was created as a key product bank: the enterprise offers supermarkets and restaurants of different countries a service to collect their food leftovers. They sign contracts with charity organizations and send the leftover food to the homeless and the needy. France is now in the process of introducing similar legal practices.

Belarusian experiences of social entrepreneurship were also presented during the discussion "Business Built On the Principles of Sustainable Development and Social Entrepreneurship".

Nadezhda Golovacheva, head of the Gubernsky hotel (Belarus)


One of such examples is the Gubernsky hotel: this social enterprise of the Belarusian Association of Sight Impaired People is an 11-room hotel in the Rakovsky suburb in Minsk. According to its director Nadezhda Golovacheva, it is unusual as more than 50% of its workers are sight impaired. However, says the head of the social enterprise, it is largely due to the team of staff that the hotel ranks high in international 4-star hotel ratings on TripAdvisor and The reasons behind its commercial success are very simple: the building of the hotel, which is located in city center, was pre-owned by the Association, and the reconstructions were funded from profits of enterprises for sight-impaired people that had been created in Belarus back during the USSR times. The Belarusian Association of Sight Impaired People  has future plans to create a network of similar hotels in other Belarusian cities.

Ilya Aksenov, Head of LSTR  company (Minsk)


Popularization of Belarusian culture as a social goal became a key goal of LSTR, a sewing company in Minsk. The company's production team includes a cutter, a technologist and two seamstresses, explains young entrepreneur Ilya Aksionau. "No one sponsors us. For us Belarusian culture is not a money-making tool: we have a larger goal of promoting Belarusian culture", stresses Aksionau. The clothing line was established in 2012 and operates using Internet retail only.

During the scientific and practical conference "Management and Participation in Sustainable Development Processes" Ludmila Borovik, representative of the Economy Research Institute of the Ministry of Economy, noted that the concept of "social entrepreneurship" is quite new but it has already been included in the National Strategy of Sustainable Socio-Economic Development of Belarus up to 2030:

Ludmila Borovik

"When we were first developing the project (of the National Strategy of Sustainable Socio-Economic Development of Belarus up to 2030 – Editor's note.), it did not include this concept. Only thanks to public discussions and involvement of international organizations we received some comments and introduced this concept: we had to explain what it was and why it was needed. The government supported us and the concept is now being explored. We are introducing a lot of measures to develop inclusive education, a number of steps to promote social integration, etc."

Igor Severin

According to Igor Severin, Project Coordinator for the UNDP in Belarus, in order to ensure sustainable development processes it is also important to encourage local initiatives in the regions and local cities, "when people understand their responsibility and accept it".

Social enterprises, according to participants of the panel discussion, can play a significant role in the sustainable development  processes in Belarus by creating new jobs for vulnerable groups of population and resolving social and environmental problems.

See Photos.

Read more:

Social Entrepreneurship: How Can a Social Enterprise Be Created in Belarus?

Social Enterprises: Business Approach to Social Changes and Sustainability of Non-Profit Organisations