More than 400 participants and guests worked together in Varna from the 13th to the 16th June in the framework of the European Conference and the accompanying events of EASPD and NASO.
European Conference Varna 2018
The European conference held on June 13–16 in Golden Sands Resort in Varna was of great interest to over 400 participants from Bulgaria and European countries that worked together on “Social Economy as an Effective Model for Social Inclusion – Social Entrepreneurship, Social Services, Employment”. The conference started with the awesome music of the Bulgarian bagpipes performed in the spacious Bellini Hall of the International Hotel and was opened by high-level leaders and coordinators from Bulgaria and Europe.
Mr Georgi Georgiev, president of the host organisation NASO and an EASPD member, underlined the conference responsibilities and its topic in his welcoming address to the guests and participants. He placed emphasis on the long-term perspective on social economy in the social development of Europe and Bulgaria. High expectations were expressed for the impact of the conference on the EU countries and Bulgaria in particular, taking into account some local specifics. It was highlighted that the event incorporated features of the traditional national forums in Bulgaria and the European conferences held by EASPD.
Ms Marianne Thyssen, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs, Mobility and Skills, who is well acquainted with the EASPD's work and had got an excellent impression as to the stands and the social services exhibition presented by NASO in April this year in Sofia, welcomed everyone in a special video address to the conference. Underlining the importance of the topic discussed, she wished the participants excellent work and successful partnerships in achieving better results for all in the social sector.
The first guest speaker was Mr James Crowe, president of EASPD that was the primary conference coordinator. He thanked the organizers and hosts and expressed a deep interest in the topic and the conference. He gave details of the EASPD work on social economy. Valuing the cooperation between EASPD and NASO highly, he expressed confidence that the conference would contribute to social economy development and the overall development of Bulgaria.
Mr Biser Petkov, minister of labour and social policy, expressed personal satisfaction from the opportunity to participate in the conference. Giving reasons for the importance of the topic discussed and the support provided by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy and the Government of the Republic of Bulgaria, he thanked all participants contributing to the drafting of the social and solidarity economy bill. Minister Biser Petkov commended the conference held in the framework of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of Europe as well as the work of NASO and EASPD both on preparing the conference and on establishing an effective partnership with the state and local authorities in influencing the social policies in Bulgaria. Welcoming all the participants, Mr Petkov declared full support and a future partnership.
Mr Hasan Ademov, chair of the Parliamentary Committee on Labour and Social Policy and a member of the 44th National Assembly, welcomed the participants on behalf of the National Assembly. Being well aware of the elements and processes of social policy, Mr Ademov expressed his support to the conference and its topic. Besides greeting all the participants and emphasizing some aspects of social policies, he expressed his support and readiness to promote a partnership aimed at the forthcoming adoption of the new Social Economy Law, the Social Services Act, the Law on Integration of People with Disabilities and others.
On behalf of the Bulgarian municipalities the Executive Director of the National Association of Municipalities in the Republic of Bulgaria gave a welcoming address to the participants. Ms Silvia Georgieva identified NASO as the main and leading partner of the municipalities and the National Association in the social sector and spoke about the expectations and the role of local authorities in the development of social economy, social services and social policies at local level. Stressing the significant participation of local government representatives in the conference, she shared her confidence in the success of the conference and the subsequent partnership in the social economy development in Bulgaria.
Mr Ivan Portnih, mayor of Varna, warmly welcomed everyone to Varna that becomes the centre of many national and international events during the summer season. He said that it was an honour for Varna to also host this European conference as part of the Bulgarian Presidency of the Council of the EU. Mr Portnih talked about the active social policies of Varna Municipality and its desire to open more social services funded mainly from its own budget. Varna Municipality is the country's leading provider of social services funded by the municipal budget. He thanked NASO and EASPD for their good partnership and for choosing the conference venue to be in Varna, invited all guests to see the city's sights and wished them a pleasant stay in Varna.
Next, in-depth presentations were given on social economy covering all its aspects, responsibilities, tasks. On the behalf of Rositsa Dimitrova, deputy minister of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy, Teodora Lyubenova, state expert in the Social Inclusion, Children and Family Policies Department, gave a presentation on social services as an important social economy tool for social inclusion. The presentation showed useful facts and a conclusion was drawn that there was a need for a normative framework regulating the link between social services and social economy.
Mr Meelis Joost, international director of the Estonian Chamber of Disabled People, expert on the social economy issues and also a member of the Social Economy Category (SEC) of the EESC, outlined how clusters could be used in social economy development.
The presentation on “Social economy enterprises, a tool for social inclusion of persons with disabilities” was given by Mr Cristian Rovira, vice president of the National Confederation of Special Employment Centres (CONACEE). He stated that the combining of an NGO and a business resulted in social economy. Quality allows the social economy products to be sold. A total of 79% of consumers are ready to use the social economy products.
Ms Patricia Scherer, deputy director of Public Affairs in charge of European Relations (NEXEM), took part as a moderator. The presentation on “The social business initiative – State of play, added value, future challenges in Europe” was given by Ms Dana Gabriela Verbal, policy officer, Social Entrepreneurship, DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, Unit Job Creation, European Commission. A panel discussion was held on “Why do we think social economy enterprises are employment and social inclusion opportunities for persons with disabilities?”. The following persons took part in it: Ms Kathrin Völker, executive director of the German Federal Association of Sheltered Workshops, Ms Donka Mihaylova, mayor of Troyan Municipality and vice-chair of the National Association of the Municipalities in the Republic of Bulgaria, Ms Maureen Piggot, vice-president of European Disability Forum, Ms Anna Lupi, Unit on Public Procurement Strategy, DG GROW – Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs to the European Commission. A moderator of “Legislative Frameworks and Funding of Social Economy in Europe International” was Ms Ingrid Pammer, a vocational and social pedagogue, BBRZ. The panel discussion on “Social inclusion in rural development – challenges and opportunities” involved Ms María Gafo Gómez-Zamalloa, DG Agriculture – Rural Development, deputy head of the Unit responsible for social inclusion to the European Commission, Mr Arend Pieterse, Board member of Equal Employment Europe, and Ms Silvia Manca, Manager Social Impact Programmes – Institutional Business Development of the European Investment Fund (EIF). A moderator of “National legislative Frameworks – Promising Models in the EU” was Mr Fabrizio Fea, director of Associazione Scuola Viva onlus (ASVO) and vice-president of EASPD. The discussion participants were Ms Nena Dokuzov, senior counsellor at the Ministry of Economic Development and Technology, Mr Alberto Alberani, vice-president of Legacoopsociali, and Mr Stef De Cock, senior advisor at Groep Maatwerk. A moderator of the expert group on “Next steps towards Socially Inclusive & Effective Social Economy Enterprises” was Mr Luk Zelderloo, Secretary General of EASPD. Speakers in the expert panel discussion were Ms Sultanka Petrova, deputy minister of labour and social policy in charge of social economy affairs, Ms Sabina Lobato, director of Grants, Training and Employment Programmes of ONCE, a member of the Plenary of the Spanish High Council on Statistics, and vice-president of the European Platform for Rehabilitation, Ms Nadya Shabani, director of the Bulgarian Centre for Not-for-Profit Law, Ms Sabrina Ferraina, policy manager of EASPD.
The forum featured an exhibition showcasing social enterprise products from Bulgaria and other European countries.
A meeting of NASO representations and a meeting of the NASO General Assembly took place on 13 June.
The EASPD Board meeting, the EASPD General Assembly, and meetings of the EASPD Interest Group and Standing Committees were also held.
The conference was very successful, giving the participants the opportunity of sharing experience, ideas and good practices. To facilitate this process there were workshops in English and Bulgarian. A project development workshop as well as panel discussions were held. The workshop topics were Social economy and the employment of persons with support needs, Social economy actors as innovative economic organisational structures, Social economy as a contributor to a sustainable society and well-being for all, Social economy as a contributor to inclusion and diversity in society, Supporting rural community development through the social economy, Employment in social enterprises to empower persons with disabilities and improve quality of life – the role of municipalities in Bulgaria, Social enterprises and the transformation of sheltered workshops towards the social economy, Public procurement to support the social economy, Legislative framework and promising practice in Slovenia, Italy, Belgium/Flanders, The need for a legislative framework and its challenges in Bulgaria.
The NASO's annual awards were given into the following categories: municipalities, NGOs, social services, arts and culture, and personal contribution; a gala dinner followed.
The successful conference was closed by EASPD President James Crowe, together with NASO President Georgi Georgiev.
Photos can be viewed here.
Video can be viewed here.