The trust built through the relationships within the SI project laid the foundation for an EU application”

SI-funding lay the groundwork for a new, big EU-project. The project "Stronger together," will help individuals with Neurodevelopmental Disorders with support to gain employment.

Jonas Lagander is a project developer and strategist at Coompanion in Östergötland, a cooperative development centre that manages projects and provides advice to social enterprises and cooperatives, particularly within the cultural and creative industries (CCI). What is a social enterprise?

– Social enterprises are expected to contribute to societal benefit and the global development goals. Like any other enterprise, they aim to make a profit, but the profit is not distributed to investors; instead, it is reinvested in the same venture or in other social enterprises.

Together with Valmiera Development Agency, Latvia, and Europe Foundation in Georgia, Coompanion led the SI-funded project CSE-Baltic; Creative Social Entrepreneurship in the Baltic Sea Region. What was the aim of the project?

– The project aimed to support creative social entrepreneurship and develop cross-border social trade between the cooperating countries. The project also assessed legal frameworks and digital support tools and models for social inclusion.

– Within the CSE project, we learned a lot from the social enterprises we cooperated with. In Sweden, we cooperated with Skäggbyrån, which employs and integrates long-term unemployed individuals in  graphic design work.  In Georgia, we worked with a cultural heritage organisation, Ethnodesign, which has a shop for ethnic jewellery made by small artisans from across Georgia, and SEMPRE, a company that employs people with disabilities to produce toxin-free toys exported widely. In Latvia, we learned a lot from an incubator for disabled individuals in the arts.

What motivated you to start the CSE project?

-It was a pure matchmaking process. We found a person from the Valmiera region  in Latvia through the EU programme Interreg Central Baltic. Skäggbyrån was part of a regional network where Region Östergötland and Coompanion participated. Their focus on CCI and labour integration suited well as a good example in the project. We found the Georgian organisation through a popular adult education organisation in Sweden.

What did the cooperation with an Eastern Partnership country, in this case, Georgia, add to the project?

– We gained an understanding of working with social entrepreneurship in an environment where the state  provides nearly no support at all. All support to that sector is essentially private in Georgia. For instance, Impact Hub in Tbilisi was entirely dependent on private philanthropists for its finances.

Would you like to share some results from the project?

– The final outcome was a report with valuable analyses that we have been able to use moving forward. Without the CSE project, we wouldn’t have had a close partnership with Latvia, and it definitely wouldn’t have led to an EU project. We have gotten to know each other well, trust each other, and have a good relationship.

– Thanks to the contacts with organisations in Georgia and with SI, we initiated a new SI project in Georgia on democracy and human rights in the creative sector in Georgia. In Sweden, a workshop was held over several days with 12 cultural workers from Georgia. This, in turn, led to new cooperations between Sweden and Georgia that are currently taking shape. The project also included training in digital security and leadership.

Could you briefly tell us about the EU project “Stronger together”?

– The EU project has recently been approved by Interreg Central Baltic and is a Sweden-Latvian cooperation. It is mainly focusing on integrating people with disabilities into the workforce and on supporting individuals with NPD diagnoses in employment. We will work on getting companies to update their anti-discrimination policies to eventually include more people with disabilities in their operations.

– The idea is then to establish a support organisation consisting of employers and other organisations that together create conditions for employment. The organisation supports both individuals with disabilities and employers.

– The new aspect of the project is that we will engage in policy work and establish a functioning operation. CSE was more of an analytical effort and a feasibility study.

In what way did the SI project help you progress to an EU-funded project?

– The relationships; we learned how to work with each other. Thanks to the SI project, we have an established network and know who to contact when there’s a suitable call for proposals.

What motivated you to engage in the issue within a larger international EU project?

– In our SI project, we identified needs in our countries. What emerged was the need to get more employers on board with hiring individuals with special needs. To make this effort, development funds are required. We have some basic funding from the state, but external funding is needed to accomplish development, so we seek project funding to develop the social economy in Östergötland and labour integration, something we’ve been heavily involved in at Coompanion over the years.


The project CSE-Baltic; Creative Social Entrepreneurship in the Baltic Sea Region is highlighted as part of the campaign “Europe in my region”. The campaign runs in Sweden from 2nd to 9th May and aims to showcase how EU funds benefit local communities. The project was financed under SI*s former funding scheme Seed funding in the Baltic Sea region, which has now been replaced by the SI Baltic Sea Neighbourhood Programme.

Many partnerships that began their cooperation in the Baltic Sea region with support from the Swedish Institute have since sought and been granted funding from one of EU’s funding programmes. Swedish Institute’s follow-ups show that projects that collectively received 119 million SEK from SI have received over 1 billion SEK in additional funding, primarily from EU funding programmes. Partnerships that started their cooperation with SI funding last for a long time and provide tangible benefits for the region. Within the SI Baltic Sea Neighbourhood Programme, SI finances projects aimed at creating conditions for mutual and long-term cooperation between actors in Sweden and other EU countries in the Baltic Sea region, as well as five of the countries in the EU’s Eastern Partnership. In June 2024, a new round of applications for the grant type seed funding will open, allowing actors to initiate cooperations in the Baltic Sea region. More information is available on the programme’s homepage.