The fi-compass European Social Fund (ESF) work stream offers a range of advisory services and support to managing authorities, financial intermediaries and other stakeholders wishing to know how financial instruments can be used to deliver ESF objectives. One aspect of this advisory support is the organisation of regional ESF seminars in Member States such as those conducted since September in Paris, Rome and Warsaw.
ESF seminar participants particularly welcome the opportunity to meet practitioners from existing loan funds supporting the types of activities that are relevant for ESF purposes, as you can see in this video.
Lithuania’s Entrepreneurship Promotion Fund has been showcased at the ESF seminars in this context. It assists self-employment and entrepreneurship through ESF financial instruments which help increase both the confidence and competence of entrepreneurs to progress their business ideas. These long-term benefits have been achieved in Lithuania by combining microcredits with personal skills support and needs assessments, training, and consultations on preparing business plans. Impressive results include the fact that, compared to the original targets, almost three times the number of jobs were created.
The Entrepreneurship Promotion Fund has not only improved the attitudes of stakeholders towards business investments. It has also demonstrated the value of integrating business development services and advice with financing together in dedicated support ‘packages’ to foster the growth of fledgling SMEs. Other experiences explained by Latvian and Polishexperts at our Warsaw ESF event also reinforced the role of integrated ESF support and highlighted the value of counselling as well as reduced bureaucratic barriers.
Many delegates at the ESF regional events remain keen to learn more about how their national and regional operational programmes can work together with the EU-level Employment and Social Innovation (EaSI) Programme to encourage microfinance schemes. The European Commission’s advice about providing effective microcredit through EaSI was summarised in this presentation from our Paris seminar. It notes that new elements have been added to the EaSI programme for the 2014-2020 programming period, including specific funding for capacity building, modified terms for guarantees, and an extended geographical coverage.
Another topic that also regularly comes up in discussion about ESF financial instruments at our events is social entrepreneurship. This is considered a priority for Member States due to its potential for tackling current economic and environmental challenges – by bringing disadvantaged groups (such as unemployed, inactive, low-educated, or young people) into employment.
Demand for information about social entrepreneurship is therefore strong and underlined by Kyriaki Somponi from the Greek ESF managing authority. Ms Somponi commented during a fi-compass ESF event: “The reason I came to this very interesting seminar is to get an insight on how to use financial instruments to help socially vulnerable groups and social entrepreneurs”. She added: “it was a very fruitful experience especially thanks to the success stories provided by other countries”.