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Social innovation and social entrepreneurship in Latvia

By Margarita Lukjanska and Renāte Lukjanska

Social Innovation Centre – what we do?
Social Innovation Centre (SIC) was established in 2010 with the aims to strengthen and disseminate knowledge on social innovation and social entrepreneurship, promote international and national experience exchange and establish networking for social innovation thus enhancing the sustainable development of society.
SIC is also a member organization of students’ business incubators.

In these four years SIC started and successfully implemented several projects related to social entrepreneurship and social innovation. Bitten Schei and Renate Lukjanska
One can name the Norden supported project “Social Innovation – way of living” in terms of which two informative materials in Latvian were published “First steps in Social Business” and “Social Entrepreneurship guidelines, best practices and a summary of recommendations for Latvian Local and Regional Governments”, also the videos from the seminars about social innovation and entrepreneurship were published in the library of the SIC website. With the help of volunteers SIC is also collecting different materials around the Web related to social innovation and entrepreneurship topics and publishing them in the SIC Website’s library.

Currently (as of 2014), SIC with the Latvian Association of Local and Regional Governments in collaboration with student from BA school of Business and Finance, are conducting a research via an extensive questionnaire. The aim is to assess the current situation of social entrepreneurship and to identify support infrastructure available in the local and regional governments. We are really looking forward for these insights – that will indicate the further important work directions on what is required to make social enterprise ideas not only even more popular, but also – to facilitate their realizations on both – national and regional levels.

Social Enterprise – still a novelty
In Latvia though the social entrepreneurship is still a comparatively new and developing concept; it is not recognized as an economic entity and there is also no legal framework yet in place defining a social enterprise, specifying its responsibilities and support mechanisms from the state or municipalities.

One of the first extensive researches available in Latvian – “Latvia towards Social Entrepreneurship” – was done by foundation “Providus” and the Latvian Civilian Alliance. It was published quite recently – in 2012.
Since then more researches were conducted including the doctoral thesis research by Lasma Dobele “Social Entrepreneurship Development Possibilities in Latvia”.
She argues that the “urgency of social entrepreneurship in Latvia is determined by the large number of poor individuals and the low employment rate for socially sensitive groups of people, furthermore, according to the poverty indicators (the Gini index, the income quintile share ratio (S80/S20), and the poverty risk index), the poverty and income inequality indicators in Latvia are among highest in the EU – in 2010 and 2011 a fifth of Latvia’s population was subject to the risk of poverty”.

These might be also the reasons, why many individuals are already trying to find alternative ways of running business, even not suspecting that they may qualify as social entrepreneurs.

Social Enterprises – the Latvian way
In the last 5-6 years, trying to find their own ways of operation and most appropriate legal statuses, several social entrepreneurship companies emerged. Most commonly, they operate as NGOs, associations, foundations or limited liability companies (Ltd’s).

Some of the organizations employ individuals from the sensitive groups of society, those producing different types of products and crafts. For instance, MAMMU is a fashion company that closely cooperates with young Latvian mothers in need, but Ltd LUDE employs senior citizens and utilizes potential textile waste, creating design rugs. An Ltd Wooly Organic (, on the other hand, creates toys only from natural materials and employs people with disabilites; an Ltd SinaVita from the remote, little town Ludza – produces knitted garments and also employs people with disabilities and from socially sensitive groups.

Other initiatives operate as charity shops, selling donated products or crafts produced by individuals from the sensitive groups of society. Gained profits, in contrast with „classical’’ businesses, are invested in different social and welfare improvements of society, organisation or support of charity projects. For instance, a charity shop „” sells crafts made by socially sensitive members of society, profit is fully donated to charity and also provides support to the craftsmen. A charity shop „Otrā elpa” sells products donated by private persons, organizations and/or local artists and craftsmen, the profit is invested in different social and welfare projects. A small shop „Pogotava” operated by a society “Wings of Hope” in Cēsis sells crafts created by youngsters and people from disadvantaged groups.

The Ltd HOPP makes better lives of disabled people by producing for them customized tricycles. So does the Samaritan Association of Latvia ( that provides training, provision of medical and social care services, as well as alternative to state care housing options for disadvantaged groups and people in need. One of their noteworthy project is „Samaritans support at home” („Samariešu atbalsts mājās”) and the service „Safety button” („Drošības poga”) that helps people in need to live independently as long as possible in their own homes. In case of possible threats, a person can click the button (located as mobile unit within a person) and inform the operator about a problem. The innovative element of the project is also specifically designed vehicle that operates as fully equiped „care center on the wheels„.

The foundation „Mercy house” („Žēlsirdības māja”) – provides an alternative housing for the youngsters with disabilities. The approach of foundation is to foster children find their own ways to become financially independant.
Foundation also provides employment possibilities for youngsters within cafeteria “Dižrausis”, specifically established for employment and support of mentioned target group. Even though the cafeteria currently does not produce high profits, there are no losses either – a noteworthy achievement.

The Latvian Government Initiatives about Social Enterprises
Since the idea of social entrepreneurship is becoming more and more topical, both on the European Union and national level, in 2013 the Ministry of Welfare organized a working group that would assess the current social entrepreneurship situation in Latvia.
The goals of the working group are also to develop proposals how to enhance social entrepreneurship development and to ensure its sustainability and growth.
The conclusion of the working group was that the preferred policy option is a new legal act for social entrepreneurship regulation.

As a result by the 1st of December 2014 the Ministry of Welfare in collaboration with the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Economy and the Ministry of Justice is developing a draft law of social entrepreneurship regulation.
We hope that this regulation will be in place as of 2015 and will further facilitate development of more and more social enterprises in Latvia, but even without a legal form in place, should it stop us looking for the ways to bring positive changes into society?

What You Can Do about Social Entrepreneurship?
If your own idea is not born just yet, you can always generate a spirit of new social startups!
Next time, when you hear an insane or an incredible idea on how to save the world or make it a better place through unusual activities of your peer, family member or friend, wish the person a good luck (in a good way) and support him or her in any possible way.
You never know – sometimes the craziest ideas are the ones that by the end of the day really do work.

The art therapy workshop. September 2014.

Foto 1: “Social Innovation – Way Of Living Seminar”, Bitten Schei and Renate Lukjanska are wrapping up the seminar. October 2013.
Foto 2: “Social Innovation – Way Of Living Seminar”, workshop “Biggest society challenges and their possible solutions”. October 2013.
Foto 3: 
The mobility visit in Rybnik, Poland, in terms of the EC Lifelong Learning Programme Leonardo da Vinci Partnership action project “FIT – Fascinating ICT Tools for People with Disabilities”. April 2013.
Foto 4: 
The mobility visit in Riga, Latvia, in terms of the EC Lifelong Learning Programme Leonardo da Vinci Partnership action project “FIT – Fascinating ICT Tools for People with Disabilities”. The art therapy workshop. September 2014.



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