Covid-19: Cities/regions & social economy enterprises take action

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The COVID sanitary crisis showed the importance of solidarity and mutual support among citizens, organisations and public authorities. In many regions and cities we have witnessed both spontaneous and organised initiatives in this sense.

Alongside citizen initiatives, local and regional governments all over Europe have taken measures to alleviate the consequences of the current Covid-19 crisis on the well-being of citizens and local communities.

Many of them are acting in close cooperation with the social and solidarity economy.

Please find below examples of initiatives taken in different fields for, with or by the social and solidarity economy (we also include measures taken to support enterprises, which are accessible also for the social economy).

For an ever increasing number of cities and regions they have also become another stepping stone towards new policies for social and ecological transition.

Measures taken to alleviate the sanitary crisis

Regional government, platform coops and other social economy enterprises mobilising for participatory production of security masks

The Brussels-Capital Region, together with a number of civil society organisations and (social economy) enterprises, launched a participatory initiative aiming to produce at least 100 000 protection masks for nursing personnel/caregivers. The work integration enterprise Travie ensures the pre-cutting of tissue which will then be delivered by bike through the platform cooperative Urbike to volunteers who will then sew the masks. Next to many citizens, a number of other organisations and enterprises support the initiatives.

Platform coops restructuring services to serve staff of health and social services

Different French (platform) cooperatives and associations from sectors such as accomodation and IT, in cooperation with foundations, lawyers, cleaning services and others, set up the initiative Etikbnb, a platform which aims to bring together private and professional hosts with staff of health and social services wishing to be closer to their work place and with vulnerable persons which have to reduce their social contacts to the strict minimum.

Food provision/Support to persons at risk

Lazio Region (IT) signed a Memorandum of Understanding which brings together regional authorities, the regional association of municipalities, business federations representing amongst others supermarkets and the food distribution sector, associations representing (consumer) cooperatives (incl. supermarkets) and major third Sector platforms (incl. volunteer associations) in order to better coordinate food supply to vulnerable persons (elderly, persons with a health condition, pregnant women, persons in quarantine…).
The agreement is supposed to facilitate the process of reaching out to the persons most in need, presenting the available offer in a more user-friendly way, collecting orders and organizing food delivery by volunteers. Important: Volunteers will wear a badge with the logo of the initiative which will give them preferential access to all participating points of sale.

Support to victims of domestic and intra-family violence

In the beginning of April, on the initiative of the Collège of Cocof (the French Community Commission in Belgium), a Brussels hotel welcomed its first new occupants: women victims of intra-family violence. This scheme complements those already in place in Brussels in shelters and refuges for women victims of violence. It should enable women to find a safe and comforting place, far from the violence they are subjected to in their homes, and to be accompanied psycho-socially by professionals.

An agreement has been drawn up under the aegis of COCOF between the Centre for the Prevention of Conjugal and Family Violence (CPVCF) and the CPAS of the municipality where the hotel is located to provide psycho-social support for these women, as well as catering and elements relating to their safety.

The hotel has a capacity of 25 rooms, including double, triple and quadruple rooms, as well as a kitchen and meeting room. In total, a maximum of 50 people (women with or without children) can be accommodated.

In response to these problems of violence, a task force on “Domestic and intra-family violence” has been set up by the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, Wallonia, the Brussels-Capital Region and Cocof, as well as an inter-ministerial conference on women’s rights.

Social economy and civil society encouraging mutual aid in local communities

Brussels: L’Ilot, an association assisting homeless persons in finding housing which recently also set up an initiative reintegrating homeless and other persons into the labour market, but also other social economy initiatives are among the local catering firms and restaurants listed on the website Solidair. Solidair, set up by a group of citizens, has the objective to provide – in a participatory and easy accessible way – visibility to existing solidarity initiatives in different fields, create links and mobilise mutual help among the local population. Initiatives reach from the organisation of help for elderly, families, refugees, medical personal, artists and other groups to support for local enterprises (including (small) catering firms, neighbourhood restaurants and cafés, etc.)

Moreover, in Brussels and many other Belgian cities – as also in other cities and regions all over Europe – neighbourhood committees are active in organising mutual help between neighbours (grocery shopping for elderly, babysitting, preparation of food, exchange of books and games …, …). Platforms such as HOPLR, but also websites of municipalities, may help to put persons in touch.

Specific support to the social and solidarity economy

Specific arrangements for contracts signed between cities/regions and the social economy sector prior to the Covid-19 crisis

Based on national legislation adopted in Italy at an early stage of the crisis, several cities and regions in Italy have adopted Memoranda of Understanding with representatives of social economy/third sector organisations.

These agreements foresee for third sector organisations that have a contract with a public authority for service delivery in the social and health care sector, and who had to interrupt the service due to the lockdown, to:

- enter in a co-programming process with public authorities in order to a) re-shape the service at distance, where possible; b) propose new services, also of a different nature, aimed at coping with the impact of the COVID-19 crisis

- invoice the public authority in two instalments: a first instalment relating to the service that was actually provided; a second instalment relating to the gap between the total amount of the contract previously signed with the public authority and the value of the service actually provided.

This way, social economy players will receive the total of the amounts of the contracts signed prior to the COVID-19 crisis.

Support measures for work integration social enterprises

The Brussels-Capital Region (BE) set up a series of measures targeting specifically work integration social enterprises.

- Administrative measures will be relaxed in order to enable WISES to to obtain the 5-year mandate and therewith receive public financing.

- Public financial support (linked to the number of employees) will be calculated based on the declaration of activity in the last 2 quarters of the year 2019 and not on the total number of hours worked.

- Support grants paid to ‘traditional’ companies (4000€) as well as other support measures for enterprises are now also open to work integration social enterprises (hitherto not eligible for support to ‘traditional’ enterprises).

- Through a delegated mission, BRUSOC, a subsidiary of the Brussels Regional Investment Agency, a public financial body, facilitates cash loans with a zero interest rate.

- Brussels-Capital Region subsidises employment aid to avoid temporary unemployment, the objective being to keep people who were in the integration circuit even if they might not be able to work for a certain period of time due to Covid-19 related measures.

Further provisions next to these first emergency measures as part of a comprehensive recovery plan are currently being discussed.

Culture and sports

In the framework of a comprehensive Covid-19 emergency programme targeting in particular families, social economy and SMEs, the city of Torres Vedras (PT) also developed specific measures supporting organisations in the field of culture and sports. Among these measures are the following:

  • Maintenance of annual support for creative and cultural organisations increased by 25% taking into account the value of the 2019 grants;
  • Extraordinary financial support to ensure the proper and regular functioning of services of social economy organisations, in situations of proven reduction in revenue or marked increase in activity, until September 30, 2020;
  • Increase of 10% in support given to sports associations within the scope of support programs for physical activity and enhancement of healthy life styles;
  • Exemption from payment of use of municipal sports facilities by sports associations, until 30 June 2020;
  • Implementation of the support program “Cultural Emergency” for the enhancement of artistic creation in the field of Contemporary Arts, which provides creators and creative organisations the required conditions and financing resources for the production and dissemination of digital contents.

The City of Nantes (FR) has taken emergency measures to support cultural professionals, who have been hard hit by the cancellation of all shows, concerts, theatre performances and festivals. A specific unit has been set up within the city administration to monitor, inform and assist cultural actors. Contracts with the City have been confirmed: performances and shows that had been purchased by the public authorities for the programming of the different cultural venues will not be cancelled, and will therefore be paid to the artists and companies. Financing of the functioning of cultural organisations , of all projects in the associative sector, of actions in the field of artistic and cultural education will continue. Neighbourhood projects, in particular those related to  the shared creations scheme and the “Culture à deux pas de chez vous” initiative, will also be supported further. Voted grants will be maintained regardless of the level of activity and progress of the project – they will be paid in advance. Cultural associations housed by the City will benefit from a suspension of rents or even rent cancellation in the case of most fragile structures.

Support for nurseries

Lazio Region (IT) has adopted a specific support programme for nurseries . The Region is intervening with about €6 million in support of nurseries to cope with the suspension of activities following the Covid-19 emergency. This financial support targets public nurseries, private nurseries with a public service contract as well as private accredited nurseries without a public service contract. You will find more information here.

The Social economy mobilizing for cooperative and mutual support

Cooperative Fund for the cooperative, associative and community initiatives

Various Catalan organisations from the Social and Solidarity Economy are about to set up and promote a cooperative fund for cooperative, associative and community initiatives developing and delivering direct solutions to the current social and health emergencies. A first call will provide financial support to 26 solidarity initiatives. A crowdfunding campaign was launched recently aiming to at least double the amount of 30 000 EUR invested already by the Federation of Worker Cooperatives of Catalonia.

The contigency fund will be developed further in a second phase in order to support and consolidate social and solidarity economy initiatives responding to the objectives of the initiative.

More information is available here.

Cooperative support for independent workers

Smart, a cooperative providing services and social protection for independent workers through the mutualisation of resources and the provision of an entrepreneur-employee status, announced that it will assume the payment of the fixed-term contracts of its entrepreneur-employees endangered by the Covid-19 crisis and, from its solidarity fund, the payment of the expenses (justified) already incurred in the cancelled orders.

Promoting cooperation and mutual help between (social economy) enterprises

France Barter, a French platform cooperative providing enterprises with the possibility to purchase through an exchange of goods and services (i.e. without engaging cash flow) offers free membership until the end of April 2020. The city of Paris encouraged local enterprises to use this opportunity and purchased a number of memberships for local social economy enterprises.

(Community) foundations creating synergies

Assifero, the national membership association of Italian grant-making foundations and private institutional philanthropy, has launched, together with others, the platform: “Coronavirus: System philanthropy“.

The objective of this web portal is to collect the initiatives of foundations, philanthropic organizations, companies and individuals (with donations exceeding the economic value of 100,000 euros) which aim to combat the Coronavirus emergency in order to make them part of a system and accessible to all. The portal is not a fundraising tool but rather a platform providing an opportunity for the various initiatives to be further enhanced and networked.

Moreover, the platform aims to map the short and medium term needs of nonprofit organizations arising out of the emergency situation, through a survey that you can find here.

Saving local bookstores/Voucher system

In the region of Catalonia, the cooperative SOM* (@som_cultura), a leading cooperative in the cultural and communication sector, set up #LlibreriesObertes, an initiative enabling citizens to purchase books and other media from (smaller) local bookstores that had to close due to the lockdown and risk their existence. Purchased goods can then be picked up once the shops open again.

REVES co-founder CECOP, the European Confederation of Industrial and Service Cooperatives, published a collection of stories on how cooperatives in the industrial and service sector are responding to the challenges of the current crisis. You will have more here.


SME policies (targeting also the social economy)

Platforms to match different type of demand and offer of enterprises

Region Östergötland (SE) has initiated a new web service  to mediate contact between companies with different needs, so that they can support each other through the crisis.

At , companies that are looking for assignments, or have available labor, can post what they can offer. Similarly, companies that are looking for workforce, or want to buy other services, can post their needs. It may include companies with capacity to take on assignments that have not been part of their business in the past, or companies that have concrete recruitment needs due to increased workload. The web service is open to all types of organisations, including public sector. The information published on the website is publicly available – anyone can see what is posted, including private individuals, maybe unemployed, not connected to any type of organisation.

The companies fill out a form on the website with their details and the information is thereafter briefly reviewed by the region before being published. Region Östergötland has allocated personal resources to review and manage the information submitted. The site is hosted by the unit for growth at the regional administration in Östergötland, Region Östergötland.

Ile-de-France Region (FR) has set up a comprehensive plan with a set of measures aiming to support different type of enterprises from the region in the Covid-19 context. These measures are implemented partially in cooperation with the French government and Bpifrance (the French Public Investment Bank).
They include, for example, specific advice with regard to the available financial support, tax or social protection issues, support with regard to credit and related guarantees, the mobilization of so-called ‘credit mediators’ or mediators intervening in case of problems with clients or providers or other kind of provisions providing relief from cash flow problems.
With regard to public procurement, Covid-19 is recognized as a case of force majeure. Therefore, no penalty for delays will be applied. Payment of suppliers and service providers in the Ile-de-France Region will be made within 30 days. The Ile-de-France Region also processes subsidies within 30 days.
Several digital platform have been established: The platform “Solutions Covid-19” has the objective to bring together suppliers of and applicants for solutions to different kind of needs emerging in the current crisis. It gives access to a catalogue of services and products by enterprises, useful in particular for senior citizens, other companies, retailers and healthcare professionals. The platform “Ensemble pour l’Emploi” (“Together for Employment”), in turn, aims to bring together demand for and offer of employment, but also related training opportunities.
Moreover, a solidarity fund to provide very small enterprises, the self-employed, micro-entrepreneurs, independent professionals, associations and other economic players with additional financial support has been put in place in cooperation with the French government and Bpifrance.

You will find more information here.


Youth Policies

Integrating different existing youth policies at regional level and creating new initiatives is the objective of the programme Giovanisì, launched by the Region of Tuscany (IT) in June 2011. In cooperation with local NGOs, the social economy, local authorities, SMEs and other players, the Region aims to a) improve opportunities in the field of education and training; b) facilitate the transition from school to work; c) facilitate the start-up of new enterprises. More than € 1 billion, financed by regional, national and European funds (including ESF and ERDF), have been allocated to the project since its implementation, serving more than 335.000 young beneficiaries.

In the current Covid-19 context, the Region continues a number of the actions in various (online) forms and formats. An important instrument of communication and mobilisation is Accenti, the Giovanisì storytelling tool. The interviews collected in recent weeks contain, for example, testimonies of youngsters who decided to continue their civil service (despite the possibility to suspend it) in order to serve the community or those of young entrepreneurs trying to reinvent their activities also through cooperation with others.