Intensive research in the historical CEFEC materials was carried out as part of the archives project, which made it possible to write down some of the history of the award for this newsletter.
How it started
The Award has been in existence since 1998. Two years before it’s inception, a European award for social firms was being discussed among CEFEC members. In the minutes of the Executive Committee Meeting of October 1996, the idea is described as follows: “The Idea of establishing an award on good practice on social firms was presented by Gerold Schwarz. CEFEC should identify good examples of good practice and give an award once a year during the CEFEC Conference to social firms who best meet the criterias laid down in the CEFEC principles.“
On behalf of the General Assembly, a working group was asked to come up with a proposal on how to implement this idea, on the selection process, on how to establish a jury to select and decide on the award and on how to involve users in the whole process.
The working group did a great job and one year later, in the General Assembly 1997 in Zaragosa, the proposal for the “CEFEC Award on Good Practice on Social Firms” was ready for decision. The purpose was to recognize excellence in the sector of social firms and encourage entrepreneurship. It was hoped that this would stimulate the development of best practice firms projects and generate a lot of publicity for the idea of social firms in Europe. The majority of CEFEC members felt that they had to go ahead with the idea and voted for the establishment of an annual award. So much for the early history.
The first award ceremonies
The first award was presented at the CEFEC Conference in Athens in 1998. Six applications from four countries were received. These were evaluated according to the definition of social firms, social enterprises and cooperatives (Linz 1997). It was felt that all six applicants were worthy of an award and therefore all projects received the award.
The second award competition in 1999 at the Helsinki Conference is documented in great detail. A jury consisting of seven members, including four users and three representatives of CEFEC member organisations. They decision was based on the following four criteria: Innovative concept, client oriented, easy to transfer to the other CEFEC members/clients and fit within the definition of CEFEC for Social Firms and Cooperatives. The jury gave the award to “Tervatulli Oy”, the first social firm in Finland, which worked in the field of engineering, construction, carpentry, recycling and domestic services, in the city of Oulu.
The next 10 years
For the years 2000 to 2002, no information has been found yet in the archived records about an award ceremony at the three CEFEC Conferences. At the 2003 conference in Athens, the award competition was resumed under the title “Best Practice Award” and two social firms from Greece received awards.
For the period up to 2010, the award ceremonies for the “European Social Firm of The Year Award” were always an integral part of the CEFEC Conference programme, with the exception of 2008. The five application criterias were laid down in guidelines in 2005 and expanded to 16 in the following years. The award was given in three categories – overall winner, small and large social firms. The winners were awarded a certificate and a trophy made by the Irish Contry Pottery – a unique item specially commissioned for this award.
In the 2009 and 2010 competitions, the individual winners received prize money of between 400 and 1000 euros in addition to the certificate but without a trophy. Incidentally, the amounts were sponsored by the social firms Specialisterne from Denmark and di.Hako from Germany; both were winners from previous years.
The evaluation of the applications and the selection of the winners in these years was done by two members of the Executive Committee, who reported to the committee on their selection and had it confirmed. It seems that user participation had stopped.
The years from 2010
The next decade began again with a three-year award break. In 2011, it was decided that the award would no longer be presented annually, but in future every two years. The reason given in the minutes was the “lack of applicants”. For various reasons, there was no AWARD competition in 2012 and 2013, and it was 2014 that a call for entries for the CEFEC “European Social Firm of The Year Award” was published again, which was then also presented at the cross-border CEFEC Conference in Nova Goriza/Gorizia (Slovenia/Italy).
This impulse continued, so that from 2014 onwards the competition was no longer held every two years but every year until now without interruption. The application criteria and the application form were simplified. The three fixed prize categories have been abandoned and in addition to CEFEC members, befriended social firms are now also eligible to apply. Furthermore, a poster is expected to be presented during the conference with other relevant details about the activity of the social firm. The winner(s) will receive a prize money of 500,– €. As in previous years, the winner will be announced and honoured in a special ceremony at the CEFEC Conference Gala or Farewell Dinner.
The jury currently consists of the respective CEFEC President, the General Secretary, Executive Committee members, representative of the respective Conference organiser and the Secretariat staff member responsible for the Award.
It has been around for 23 years and has been awarded at 17 CEFEC conferences during this time and it is estimated that of 41 social firms have received the award and used it to promote their excellence in their communities. The AWARD competition has, despite some interruptions, developed into a quite stable element within the international CEFEC orbit.
At this year’s conference in Siauliai/Lithuania, an AWARD competition is being prepared again, to honour excellent European social firms and it is hoped that the call for entries will again be well received.
Article written by Mr. Meto Salijevic