The Social Enterprise Bill, which is currently in its final stages in Parliament, was recently discussed by key stakeholders at an event organised by the FPEI, Malta’s Foundation for the Promotion of Entrepreneurial Initiatives. The panel of speakers discussed the support and opportunities that social enterprises would enjoy once the sector is regulated, as well as ways to help these entities thrive.
During a brief introduction, FPEI manager Matthew Caruana explained that social enterprises are critical to the wider business landscape because they offer solutions to environmental, societal and community problems. Somewhat expectedly, though, access to finance remains a challenge for enterprises of this kind, as highlighted by a number of the panelists. Dr Roberta Lepre, from the Social Entrepreneurs Association Malta (SEAM), pointed out that social entrepreneurs would also benefit from being mentored by established entrepreneurs and learning the ropes of how to run a business by shadowing others.
One of the clauses in the proposed Bill, which requires a company to submit its business plan to the regulator when applying to be registered as a social enterprise, was debated at length. Dr Lepre expressed her concern and that of SEAM at the fact that this requirement would force these budding entities to reveal information they might not want to divulge at such an early stage. Steve Ellul, from the Ministry for Energy, Enterprise and Sustainable Development, agreed and recommended that, instead of a business plan, it might be less invasive for social enterprises to set clear social objectives with specific KPIs attached to them, and for these enterprises to then be rewarded if they consistently hit those KPIs.
While everyone agreed that social enterprises should be encouraged, all the speakers also felt that social responsibility should not be limited to this kind of enterprise. “There needs to be a shift in mindset, where corporate entities start incorporating social and environmental aspects in their business model just like social enterprises do,” Mr Ellul suggested. Mr Caruana agreed, expressing his hope that all businesses will eventually be green, ethical, and socially responsible.
Focusing on the importance of social enterprise, the Hon Dr Miriam Dalli, Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Sustainable Development, through a recorded video message, said that the Act would provide a robust framework that would enable its growth. “Social organisations often focus on important social needs that are often specific to our communities,” Dr Dalli said. “Without social enterprises, these needs would take much longer to be detected and addressed by the public sector. This is why we need to support these enterprises and make sure that their effectiveness is leveraged as much as possible. Our objective is to create a holistic ecosystem which attracts, supports and enables the growth of innovative corporate ideas with social, environmental and sustainable objectives embedded in their business model.”
FPEI is actively involved in the promotion and support of such enterprises. “We are currently participating in three Erasmus Plus programmes that deal with entrepreneurship and its various branches, such as crowdfunding, adult learning, social entrepreneurship and upskilling,” explained Giselle Borg Olivier, Projects Manager at FPEI. “The common thread that runs through these projects is the aim to get people involved in the workplace – whether it’s by developing their own project and finding ways of financing it or improving their skills to develop themselves in a more holistic manner.”
The event was also addressed by David Pace Ross on behalf of the Opposition, and Dr Marthese Portelli, CEO of the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry. Both speakers said they looked forward to seeing the Bill enacted into law. “We need to make it work, and we can only achieve this if we identify all the teething problems that will be encountered along the way and address them together,” added Dr Portelli.