Helping regions develop in a more sustainable way

Shine program helps use the potential of social enterprise and innovation in Slovakia

“I’m used to working manually. I grew up in a village; I can build wooden houses and make wooden furniture. I’ve been thinking about having a house in the countryside for some time, but I haven’t found the right one yet. That’s why I would like to try your programme,” says one of the participants, who showed interest in moving to the countryside through the Posledné Domy offering/business model.

Developed by the Swiss Re Foundation, the Shine Program supports social innovations that provide solution for local problems, helping social entrepreneurs achieve their impact objectives.

Through this programme, our company offers a grant of up to €25,000 plus an immersive learning journey facilitated by our learning partner BOOKBRIDGE. During this journey they go through well-structured action learning modules based on design thinking methodology for the practical understanding and implementation of the innovative idea.

At the same time, our employees get actively involved, working as consultants during the programme and cocreators of a social enterprise.

Sustainable development of regions

Even though the social enterprise sector has great potential and strengthens the economic and social resilience of communities, its potential has not been fully used in Slovakia. Yet, since we at the Swiss Re company saw this potential, we decided to introduce Shine as a pilot European programme.

The winning social entrepreneur of its very first edition was picked from altogether 35 applications.

Submitted by the Posledné Domy (Last Houses) civic association, it deals with the sustainable development of regions and builds rental housing for skilful people in unused houses situated in villages that are gradually dying out. It also focuses on ecology and communities. It aims to draw investments and talent to the region and can be adjusted to the needs of a local community.

At the same time, the association offers an ecological alternative to developer projects and reflects the needs of local communities. In cooperation with investors and tenants, it prefers long-term family-type housing or businesses such as a small grocery store, workshop or café.

Working with experts

In cooperation with Posledné Domy, we managed to create a very cohesive team that prepared a sustainable business strategy supported by a detailed market analysis.

As part of the programme, the winner underwent a six-month intensive programme during which its representatives cooperated with business and
leadership coaches from the social enterprise BOOKBRIDGE, and a team of experts from our Bratislava-based Swiss Re office, who helped them develop a financially feasible and scalable business plan. In this case, we focused on the identification of business opportunities as an alternative approach to using the buildings for long-term accommodation.

Dialogue, cooperation, entrepreneurial spirit, creativity and innovative thinking are also encouraged through the programme. These contribute to building the greater professional capacity of the participants.

Apart from the €20,000 grant, the Swiss Re Foundation covered the costs related to professional coaches and programme support from BOOKBRIDGE
and the cooperation with an outreach partner (PONTIS) who supported
the selection and evaluation of the social entrepreneur.

Our Bratislava office also supplemented the entire Shine program with an organisational and logistic base and a team of experts, and paid all costs related to accommodation, travelling, food and equipment for the modules. Our Country President, Nima Motazed, was a member of the jury that evaluated the final business plan. At the same time, 12 employees of our local branch were part of the programme. Many of them are still active in the Philanthropy Committee and use their skills in support of the Swiss Re Foundation’s community volunteering days.

After completing the programme, we can already see the first fruits of our efforts, as 45 people have shown interest in moving to the countryside. “Relaxation, fresh air, forest, nature. Me and my husband are not urban types; we are rather drawn to nature, meadows, rivers. My dream is to open a small café and a flower shop, but I’m afraid of the big competition from cities. This is why I want to fulfil my dream in the countryside,” said one.

“I like sustainability, minimalism, nature, and work. I make cheese, my wife makes ointments. We would like to work in the field of local nourishment,” said another person interested in the project.

Expansion planned

We at Swiss Re also want to continue in the Shine program in 2022.
“Companies have an irreplaceable task in local ecosystems, because they can link their expert experience with the non-governmental sector to create an idea with a strong vision. I’m glad that in 2021, we and our partners could launch activities with an impact on building up the resilience of society in less developed regions through the Shine project. We’ll continue in our effort also in 2022, seeking ways to support and encourage those who work and contribute to a more resilient and sustainable society with their passion, innovative ways and entrepreneurial spirit,” said Nima Motazed, Country President of Swiss Re in Bratislava.

The ambition is to open new calls for social innovators and social entrepreneurs until 2024, supporting a total of three innovative business ideas. We are positive that this experience will not only help the winner realise his/her vision, but also help the person grow professionally and personally.

The Swiss Re Foundation has already expanded the Shine program to other countries, and thus created a network of Shine hubs in the EMEA, APAC, and Americas. The plan is to help develop 150+ Swiss Re employees across the globe, and support 20 social entrepreneurs in the next 3 years. For those interested we are opening a new Shine call for social innovators. Applications are due between April 21 and May 16, 2022.

Early-stage social entrepreneurs in the following impact areas of the Swiss Re Foundation are encouraged to apply:
• Transformation to Net-Zero (e.g renewable energy, afforestation, recycling etc.)
• Climate-smart agriculture
• Disaster risk management
• Healthy nutrition
• Access to health

More information can be found on the website of the Pontis Foundation.

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