A donor conference dedicated to the affirmation of social entrepreneurship in Serbia took place on Monday, September 19h in the Palace of Serbia. A large number of representatives of embassies, development agencies, banks, associations and prominent social entrepreneurs attended the event, which was organised by the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Combatant and Social Affairs and the Council for Social Entrepreneurship. One of the speakers at the conference was Neven Marinovic, director of Smart kolektiv and member of the Council for Social Entrepreneurship. 

The conference was opened by Prof. Dr. Darija Kisic, Minister of Labour, Employment, Combatant and Social Affairs and president of the Council for Social Entrepreneurship. She emphasized that on a daily basis we are witnessing the importance of solidarity and that the social economy and social way of earning are categories of general social interest. The recently adopted Law on Social Entrepreneurship recognises the importance of the social entrepreneurship sector and its potential for the further progress of society as a whole. A legal framework has been created and further strengthening of social entrepreneurship and all stakeholders in this area is needed. 

“Social entrepreneurship is a contagious story”, noted Miodrag Nedeljkovic, founder of Agro Iris, expressing hope that everyone present will become infected since it feels really good to help someone. As an example he spoke of Agro Iris, which gathered 22 small agricultural producers in Macva District and managed to enter over 150 health food stores and two retail chains with the help of a mobile fruit dryer.” Today, their income is 70% – 100% higher than before. They couldn’t do it on their own,” Nedeljkovic noted. Nevertheless, despite its success Agro Iris is facing challenges due to the circumstances they can’t influence, which confirms the need for additional measures in order to create an incentive environment for the development of social entrepreneurship.  

The Social Entrepreneurship Development Programof , as a strategic document, should contribute to the creation of a favourable environment. Djordje Vukotic, a member of the Council for Social Entrepreneurship, stressed that the future program should have three important sets of measures: measures to create a normative-institutional framework, then, incentive measures that would encourage social entrepreneurship through public and donor funds. Finally, the last group includes measures for sector affirmation, in the form of campaigns aimed at informing all entrepreneurs, state and local government, as well as citizens themselves. 

In addition to the strategic, legislative and institutional framework, other important aspects for the development of social entrepreneurship were also discussed. Council member Violeta Jovanovic pointed to the social public procurement as an important instrument for encouraging social entrepreneurship, citing Poland as a good example. Referring to financial instruments, Smart kolektiv director and Council member Neven Marinovic emphasised their specificity when it comes to social entrepreneurship. “Since social enterprises aim not only to maximise profits, but also to have a social impact, it becomes a challenge when it comes to financing. The problem is not in the lack of funding instruments, but in the lack of adapted funds that would not jeopardise social enterprises’ missions. It is necessary to adapt the instruments, but also to bring in new investors,” Marinovic said.  

He talked about impact funds in Europe, also mentioning that Smart Impact Fund is based on that idea, and that it was founded  with the aim to provide social enterprises in Serbia with the financial and expert support. He underlined that EU investors are of little interest in this region and that it should be changed through further activities. When it comes to the corporate sector, the picture here has been slightly better lately, since many corporations include social enterprises in their supply chains while at the same time they are achieving their ethical standards and sustainable development goals. Vladan Jovanovic from ERSTE Bank stated that education and mentoring are an important link for the development of social enterprises. Within this bank there is a social banking department to support beginners in entrepreneurship, social enterprises and associations. Through education, funding and mentoring support, about 500 clients have been supported since 2017. During the conference, Nikola Bertolini, head of Co-operation at the European Comission Delegation in Serbia, asked to address the participants and noted that he is extremely happy that Serbia has made a progress in terms of social entrepreneurship and that an important value of the EU is solidarity, which Serbia hereby demonstrates. 

The conference ended with a mini-fair of social entrepreneurship where My Spoon, Center Zvezda, Naša kuća, Caritas Sabac and Sodara Filipus presented their products and services.