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EQUAL Policy Forum „Entrepreneurship” - 4th to the 6th 2007 of June in Hannover

The experience of EQUAL can be of interest also for rural areas!
The „EQUAL Policy Forum „Entrepreneurship” was organised from the 4th to the 6th of June in Hannover (as one of the events linked to the German presidency). Over 200 stakeholders from 25 countries (including Turkey) came to the historical Hannover Congress Centre to discuss how the experience of EQUAL in promoting entrepreneurship can be mainstreamed in the new programming period. Until 2006 EQUAL was a Community Initiative (but – unlike LEADER – an Initiative accessible also to the new Member States), but it has not been programmed in a clear manner into the new period, although many measures in the European Social Fund could be implemented using EQUAL partnerships and methodologies. However, it will be up to the individual member states to make use of the EQUAL experience.
During the working groups, conference participants discussed how to use the best practices developed within EQUAL in national and regional strategies and programmes. One of the working groups was devoted to „bridging the rural divide” and focused on creating entrepreneurial alternatives for farming jobs and preventing migration from rural areas. Examples from Ireland and Poland were presented. In Ireland, Local Action Group from Duhallow implements both LEADER and EQUAL projects (the latter in partnership with other LAGs), as well as a government-funded programme to create additional income for small farmers. In Poland, entrepreneurship within EQUAL is focused mainly on social economy, and part of these projects (e.g. those carried out with support of the European Partnership Foundation from Krakow) is implemented in rural areas.
In other sessions there were presentations, for instance, of innovative solutions concerning financial instruments. For instance the French organisation ADIE makes micro-loans – financed from funds obtained from the banking sector – to people who not be eligible for standard bank loans (e.g. long-term unemployed, handicapped, withouth permanent address etc.). In the South of Italy an interesting partnership has been formed to provide funding for immigrant women to start their own businesses. This was made possible because of good cooperation between the bank, local authorities (which provided funding for loan guarantees) and a support organisation which – through training and coaching – ensures that the funds are used to a good purpose.
There was also an interesting presentation of the „Community of Practice on Inclusive Entrepreneurship”. It aims to verify, to what extent the cultural, legal and financial environment in a given country/region are supportive for business activities carried out by various groups threatened by social exclusion (people over 50, with disabilities, migrants, women etc.). The Community of Practice on Inclusive Entrepreneurship (COPIE) has developed a simple tool – a series of surveys to be carried out among decision-makers and politicians, businesses and experts. Until now such analysis has been carried out for a few regions: Asturias in Spain, Wales in UK, Flanders in Belgium, one district in Berlin and one around Lisbon. Representatives of COPIE encouraged other countries and regions to join the study.
The final debate of the Policy Forum was focused on the methods to ensure that the wealth of experience gathered under EQUAL is not lost. One of the panelists formulated the following question: how can we ensure that the „people with money” (i.e. decision-makers, those who prepare strategies and operating programmes for 2007-2013 at European, national and regional level) meet the „people with ideas” (i.e. practitioners: NGOs, businesses and experts working in the territories)? This is a question very similar to those asked by those actively involved in promoting the LEADER approach.
Urszula Budzich-Szukala