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Viewpoint: Last call for the Netherlands to board train towards a more sustainable Europe 

Published: 24 January 2023

The Dutch are not at the forefront of EU efforts to move the region towards a social economy. It’s a pity as the Netherlands has a proven track record to share, writes Cheyenne Kooijman from Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation

Cheyenne Kooijman, DRK Foundation: “By working together with the European Commission and enabling a shared strategy and infrastructure, the Dutch government and the philanthropic sector will be more successful in supporting and scaling social enterprises.”

On December 9, 2021, the European Commission adopted a ‘European Social Action Plan’ (the Plan) to galvanise action towards a fairer, more sustainable and resilient social economy. The Commission is laying the foundations for the systemic change Europe needs, even more so now that all economies are deeply affected by widespread recession, the ongoing global health crisis and conflicts around the world. One of the key recommendations is for governments to focus on improving the visibility, recognition and access to finance and markets for social economy actors. 

Big problems require big solutions 

As philanthropic entities we welcome the transcending Plan. It embodies the importance of a social economy as an answer to the many (social) problems at the European – or even global – level. In order to reduce the gap between the rich and the poor, to enable the road to net-zero and to solve broader sustainability issues, efforts need to be cross-border and take place at a much greater scale. The transition requires a substantial change in infrastructure, legislation and financial mechanisms and the European Union is steering this quest. 

The Dutch didn’t make the cut 

Every EU member state has a role to play in this endeavor towards a more sustainable society. Some countries are stepping up during the planning phase, while others are clearly falling behind in shaping three key components of a new European standard: developing social economy framework conditions, introducing a EU Social Economy Gateway, and establishing a European Competence Centre for Social Innovation. The Netherlands – in spite of its typical frontrunner position in enabling a supportive and successful social ecosystem – is missing in the analysis. In particular, the European Competence Centre for Social Innovation doesn’t seem to include the decades’ worth of Dutch knowledge and experience, leaving questions as to why the government is not engaging?  

Leveraging existing resources 

Dutch civic organisations are eager to play our part. Two philanthropic associations, Vereniging van Fondsen in Nederland (FIN) and EVPA, the European impact finance network, have established with their members a common set of criteria for social investments by Public Benefit Organisations (in Dutch: ANBI). As these criteria are drafted by seasoned foundations and current practitioners who have taken into account the rules and customs across Europe, they should work well in cross-border practice and stimulate more Dutch investments in the social ecosystem. Unfortunately, the Dutch government has yet to formally acknowledge these criteria, showcasing another shortcoming of the Netherlands in its engagement in the European transition towards a more sustainable society.  

More can be achieved together than the sum of the parts 

With the vast amount of societal challenges the world is currently facing, we are all trying to move the needle to ease inequalities, enable a net-zero economy, and crowd in more capital for true social transformation. Our societal challenges are not bound by our borders. To make a true difference, there is an urgency to deploy capital nationally and across borders more intelligently. For systematic change to happen, all of us need to do what we can to catalyse that change.  

The Plan of the Commission offers a roadmap for unlocking Europe’s potential to become the world’s leading social ecosystem, but to reach its full potential everyone must play their part.  

By working together with the European Commission and enabling a shared strategy and infrastructure as set out in the Plan, the Dutch government and the philanthropic sector will be more successful in supporting and scaling social enterprises in the Netherlands. This is the last call for the Dutch to get on board. 

This article has been written by  Cheyenne Kooijman, partnership associate at global venture philanthropy firm Draper Richards Kaplan (DRK) Foundation, with the endorsement of Martijn Blom on behalf of EVPA and Siep Wijsenbeek (FIN – Association of Dutch Charitable Foundations) on behalf of the members of the FIN Impact Investing Working Group.  

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