Europe no longer has a monopoly on social innovation and would be wrong to be condescending towards experience in this area gained in other parts of the world, be that in developed, emerging or developing countries. When social entrepreneurship experts from 24 countries in Asia and Europe met in Berlin, in July 2013, the traditional North-South divide was less clear. A US-Europe seminar on the same issue could also have created a surprise in terms of the number of good practices that people could learn about from each other (the Anglo-Saxon world has always worked based on a model of philanthropy, charity and foundations, which has shown its limits and mindsets evolve). It was in Berlin, on the initiative of the Asia-Europe Foundation (ASEF) and the British Council, which both work to bring different cultures closer together, that experts worked on a common issue: the need to support social entrepreneurship via a favourable regulatory environment.

Of course, Europe is one step ahead. Social enterprises are the result of a long thinking and maturing process. Asia needs and wants to get interested in it. South Korea, which has moved up from being a poor country to the 13th global economic power in a few decades, still invests very little in the social sector, around 7.5% of its gross domestic product (GDP), while state expenditure in some European countries is at almost 50%. The gap is huge and can be easily explained, firstly by cultural reasons. Europe is overall more sensitive to the need to protect its most vulnerable citizens. In Asia, even if it is not possible to generalise, the family cell as an instrument of social cohesion is absolutely key. Then there are economic reasons. In Asia, people are looking for growth at all costs. And yet countries that have succeeded, such as Japan and Korea, are faced with social difficulties.

So, when Asian countries or the US become interested in Europe as the homeland of the social dimension, it is not to be inspired by the welfare state. However much pride this generates in Europe, Asian experts do not want it because the social model has been rejected because of its impact on public debt. By contrast, the social and solidarity-based economy which, in some EU countries, rests on very old foundations, seems to them to be a totally innovating solution.

While visiting an incubator of social enterprises in Berlin...

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