The European Latin-American Network in Support of Social Entrepreneurs (ELANET) is a 3- year Erasmus+ Joint Project for Capacity Building in Higher Education (2021-2023). Our aim is to develop an international IT platform in support of Social Entrepreneurs (SEs).
ELANET’s mission is to significantly increase the support capacity of HEIs toward SEs by creating a vibrant international network with complementary resources and skills (including students, university staff, incubators, NGOs, foundations, financial institutions, government agencies, and the media).
How It All Started
Since 2017, the Chair of Social Entrepreneurship at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel has been involved in a VLIR UOS capacity-building project with the Universidad Catolica Boliviana. This project has been aimed at supporting vulnerable entrepreneurs in Bolivia. In combination with similar research endeavours in Ecuador, Colombia, and Belgium, the activities of this project have naturally generated contact with many SEs and other relevant institutions in the local ecosystems, including universities and support organizations of the various countries involved.
Discussions with many local partners have revealed four patterns in the support of SEs, the first of which is related to the needs of SEs. These were fairly similar across the different countries where many SEs lack funding, resources, access to human capital, and management experience. The second pattern involves the local ecosystems of SEs. There are many organizations in each country with a strong commitment to helping SEs realize their dreams. Despite their efforts to support and foster SEs’ success, these organizations rarely work together as a consolidated and vibrant ecosystem. The interesting part is that these institutions, nonetheless, would like to develop more synergies and create such an ecosystem to increase local development and growth. The third pattern is connected with the local activities by partner universities in support of SEs. We have noticed that all HEIs visited have developed remarkable initiatives in support of SEs, all of which could reach more potential and widen their coverage if many of these local universities united their efforts to leverage their impact. Our partner universitities have been eager to develop local synergies and collaborations with other institutions, and thus strengthen their support of SEs. The fourth pattern is related to the awareness that each university has been counting on those of its students, faculty, and staff showing an interest in social entrepreneurship and expressing the desire to make our world a better place. Coupled with our passion to continuously support SEs, these patterns motivated us to join hands and start working on a project like ELANET in late 2018.
At that time, we did not have a clear plan on how we could bring all these stakeholders together. Yet all university partners were very committed to join forces. For a year we were having regular discussions in video-conferencing and sometimes personal exchanges during visits to each country. These intensive interactions eventually brought us together at the first Social Entrepreneurship Summit in Santa Marta, Colombia in September 2019. At this summit, we had the opportunity to formally meet and exchange ideas on the need to create university-led international ecosystems and IT platforms in support of SEs. We shared knowledge of the Ashoka ecosystem, the IT platform “Belgium Impact” that consolidates the national ecosystem, and the European platform ESER (European Social Economy Regions), the network of DG Growth from the European Commission. Armed with such inspiring and successful examples, ELANET was created as one platform that has the express aim to both expand upon these initiatives and consolidate the many exceptional projects that have developed useful tools and resources.
ELANET is your platform! Our ambition is to connect all SEs and support organizations, thereby creating a robust network that upholds and inspires. You too can be part of this project: feel free to contribute to ELANET. We welcome your ideas, suggestions and cases – so do not hesitate to reach out!
How we make a difference
Our consortium shares a common interest in supporting SEs as evidenced by our continued efforts of generating social impact. We adopt a transdisciplinary approach to supporting SEs by engaging all relevant stakeholders in this project. ELANET will consolidate available tools and knowledge, and bring together partners that wish to join forces with universities in supporting SEs. The international dimension of this project will maximize the support offered to local SEs and foster the exchange of best practices across different countries.
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