My conviction is that companies with a positive impact will be the best positioned for the recovery

Jean Moreau

Co-chairman, Mouves

Co-founder and president of Phenix, co-chairman of Tech For Good France and the Mouvement des entrepreneurs sociaux (Mouves), Jean Moreau is the guest of the Barometer. The role of social entrepreneurs in the face of the crisis, tomorrow’s world… interview with a committed entrepreneur.

The health crisis gave rise to many immediate issues (need for equipment and masks, increased difficulties for people in precarious situations, etc.). How have social enterprises taken their part in the response to the health and social emergency linked to the epidemic?

Companies with a social and environmental impact have been at the forefront of the response: social enterprises such as 1083, Le Slip Français and the Savoir Fair Ensemble collective, Vitamin T have for instance produced masks. They are also the ones who have continued to provide us with quality food via local circuits such as Comptoirs de campagne, Rutabago, or La Ruche Qui Dit Oui. Social enterprises such as Alenvi and Logivitae also run senior citizens’ homes, with loyal employees on the front line.

They have also mobilised to support the nursing staff. This is the case for AssoConnect via the #ProtègeTonSoignant initiative, the collective between MicroDon, Ulule and La Croix or the Solidarity Baskets initiative, or to engage in solidarity with the employees of large groups (Wenabi, Vendredi, …).

Finally, I would like to take the example of the Banlieues Santé association, which has tirelessly raised awareness about the challenges in suburban neighbourhoods.

Social enterprises show that it is possible to do things differently, and that those who have been doing it for years are doing it very well: the proof is now in the pudding!

The health crisis has and will also have serious economic consequences. What impact will it have on social enterprises and the sector’s development prospects? How to cope?

I am pleased to observe that several social enterprises have managed to complete fundraising rounds during this complicated period, enabling them to hold and project themselves (Gifts for Change, AssoConnect, Chance, Spareka, Castalie, etc.). This is not an end in itself but, in times of crisis: “Cash is king!”. Like all companies, those with cash issues will go through difficult times.

This is where the State must intervene, and it does so with various support mechanisms such as partial activity or guaranteed loans. But it could do even more, especially if the public investment bank (BPI) devoted as much effort and resources to the social and environmental transition sector as to the traditional tech sector. On top of that, a Public Bank for the Transition should be created, and at the same time direct part of the State aid and the recovery plan should be directed towards virtuous enterprises.

My conviction is that companies with a positive impact will be the best positioned for the recovery, because their services and missions match the expectations not only of consumers, but also of workers, the talents of the younger generation, and investors. I believe that all the conditions are in place for an industry-wide transition.

By creating a moment of rupture, this crisis strongly questions the economic functioning of our societies. How can social enterprises show the way for a different, more sustainable, more united “wtomorrow’s world”?

The moment we are going through is, in my view, an opportunity for transition. The crisis has made it possible to ask questions that were never asked and to give a voice to those who were hardly listened to, even though they were “on the front line”. New common narratives will emerge, in which companies aspire to increase their usefulness. While some may see this as a cyclical attitude, I believe that it is a fundamental trend, present before the crisis, and which will accelerate with it.

When companies like Lita.co show that it is possible to democratise responsible finance, the big banks come knocking at the door to get inspiration from it. When Hopaal proves that it is possible to produce more locally and responsibly, the textile giants are considering resizing their production apparatus. Danone, which supports Phenix, for its part, has just announced its desire to become the first listed “company with a purpose”. We can only hope that this will inspire the other 39 CAC40 companies.

Catastrophes like the Rana Plaza can’t happen again. French consumers are willing to pay a few extra euros to make sure of that. All companies, and especially large groups, will have to adopt these logics and these models if they are not to lose their market share. This is what will ultimately lead to a real transformation of the entire economy.

What role do social entrepreneurs intend to play in the recovery? How can their voice be heard in defining what tomorrow’s economy should be like?

There is an urgent need for recovery through social and environmental transformation and the evolution towards a new business model. Let’s take the opportunity to make impact entrepreneurship the new standard, the standard for tomorrow!

If the State seizes this unique opportunity to rethink the economic model of our entire society to make it more resilient, more sustainable, then this transition will benefit our sector, but above all society as a whole. The aim is to foster the creation of companies that truly serve the common good, “green unicorns” that will replace companies with negative externalities.

The State must really act as a compass for the general interest, and not simply pose as a financer of the social economy. It must also assume a logic of exemplarity, for example by increasing the weighting of social and environmental criteria in its calls for tenders. In the long term, it could even modulate the tax rate of companies according to their impact.

To make our voice heard, we need to join forces, to work together to weigh in. With Eva Sadoun, who co-chairs the Tech For Good France network with me, we have just been elected co-presidents of Mouves, the French Social Entrepreneurs Movement. In the coming months, we intend to bring these two movements closer together. Our objective is to build a social and ecological alternative to MEDEF, to make the transition together. To do this, we want to create bridges between the different entities of the economy with a positive impact in order to influence politicians and the media. This is how we will change things, by speaking with one voice.

Interview by
Carine Valette
Communication and publications manager
Convergences