Social entrepreneurship in Latvia is a rather new concept – even though the first initiatives that could be identified as social enterprises started to emerge as far back as the beginning of 1990ties, the first social enterprises that would identify themselves as such appeared only 8-9 years ago. That was also the time when the social entrepreneurship as a concept started to gain the attention of the biggest NGOs and think-tanks in Latvia, and when the first Social Entrepreneurship Forum was launched. Since then, the development of social entrepreneurship industry in Latvia has happened, mostly thanks to the civic society organizations which has provided the expertise, research and funds needed to take this industry further.
There is no official or commonly accepted definition of social enterprise yet - the concept of social enterprise is still relatively new in Latvia and as such, it is not well understood. Nevertheless, there are some good signs and developments which show that both public and private sector is becoming more and more familiar with this existing form of entrepreneurship, and that decision makers, stakeholders and policy makers are willing to do their part in order to develop this sector further. The Parliamentary working group is working on the social entrepreneurship law draft, the Ministry of Welfare is preparing to implement the first 19 million EUR support program, and municipalities are developing their own instruments and methods that could help local social enterprises.
At the moment, while a number of organisations that refer to themselves as ‘social enterprises’ have been set up in Latvia, they operate under the radar and typically choose the legal form of either a limited liability company or a non-profit organisation (association or foundation). Most social enterprises in Latvia work with vulnerable groups such as single mothers, disabled and the elderly, but there are a few that also focus on culture and environmental issues without directly targeting any particular vulnerable groups. The most popular and well known social enterprises include charity shop chain Second Breath, Samaritan Association of Latvia, science curiosity centres for children Z(in)oo and Wonders, as well as fashion company MAMMU and textile design enterprise LUDE.
In autumn 2015 also a national level association with the main aim – to promote the social entrepreneurship development in Latvia - was founded. At the moment Social Entrepreneurship Association of Latvia unites more than 30 members – NGOs, foundations, social enterprises, activists and experts. The Association serves both as advocacy organization, working with national and local level stakeholders and policy makers, and a platform for social enterprises for discussions, exchange of ideas and concerns, networking and joint projects.
What are the biggest challenges for social enterprises in Latvia? They most certainly have to do with the “business” side of the enterprise – business plan, business model, distribution and marketing channels etc. Since markets in Latvia are rather small, it is not easy to get ones product or service “out there”, make it visible and affordable for bigger audiences. Yet there are a few success stories worth telling already, and they are the ones leading the way and encouraging others. That makes us very hopeful that social entrepreneurship has a huge potential to bring positive, tangible impact and change in the society of Latvia.