Until 2005, despite an ambitious garbage selection program, the city of Montpellier in the south of France was failing to reach its paper recycling goals. With a population and business sector growing exponentially, the city was well below its 45 percent waste selection objective. In the meantime, in Rennes, a similar-sized city in Brittany, the social enterprise Feuille d’Erable was collecting 2,000 tons of paper from local businesses every year and recycling them through an integrated chain of social businesses, while employing 25 people who had long been out of work. However, there was no social entrepreneur in Montpellier to replicate this particular model and all attempts to create a new social enterprise around waste sorting and recycling had failed. Puzzled by such paradoxical situations, Emmanuel created REPLIC for any social or environmental challenge on a given territory, he has created a system to organize all local stakeholders to identify existing solutions from other contexts, adjust them, and then implement them.
Emmanuel knew that he had to recruit strong, qualified changemakers to create and lead the social enterprises his region needed. But since these changemakers often lacked the qualities of leading social entrepreneurs, they would only succeed if given the right tools and support to lift administrative and financial obstacles. As a result, Emmanuel designed a unique coalition model that brings together all the stakeholders needed to identify pressing social issues, decide on the most relevant social enterprise model and create a supportive environment for success. His coalition groups consist of 1) local government representatives from the regional and municipal levels, to bring legitimacy, financial means, and lift administrative barriers 2) social sector organizations, to help identify the gaps in the existing landscape and avoid any unnecessary competition 3) private companies to bring their expertise and networks 4) selected changemakers, with the qualifications to head and staff the social enterprise when it is launched.
To build these coalitions, Emmanuel has chosen the legal form of Collective Interest Cooperatives, a unique French model that allows for collective ownership of socially relevant enterprises. He engineered a mutual ownership system guaranteeing that all stakeholders stay engaged and that social enterprises created on a given territory develop synergies and cooperate, yet can still strive independently from each other. This mutual ownership system also allows for the viral spread of any successful social enterprise in the cooperative to other communities and regions.
For example, through REPLIC, Emmanuel and his coalition have lifted all obstacles to create Feuille d’Erable in Montpellier, the first recycling social enterprise. Shareholders pooled the 200K EUR (US$282,500) initial infrastructure investment and recruited and salaried a qualified project leader. With the advice of private entrepreneurs they have grown the business to employ 30 people who had long been excluded from the job market. As a result, the municipality changed their garbage collection tax and over 20,000 citizens have been informed about how to select their garbage and collect over 50 tons of paper every month. Like all other changemakers heading a social enterprise in REPLIC, the head of Feuille d’Erable would never have founded such a company had he been alone. But now, with the support of his peer changemakers, he is successfully managing a booming social business.
With the creation of five social businesses in Montpellier within five years, which in turn are replicated in adjacent territories, REPLIC has initiated a virtuous cycle of positive social and environmental change in the previously depressed region. Local governments, COs, and citizens now have the REPLIC reflex and ask for REPLIC’s intervention when they see an unfilled social need. Emmanuel is looking to replicate REPLIC in other territories with the support of local stakeholders promoting the model. Many regions have already expressed a strong interest: Champagne-Ardennes has already raised the money to launch REPLIC, and Nord-Pas-de-Calais and Rhône-Alpes are building coalitions that will lay the groundwork to create REPLIC. By scaling up his mutual ownership model to a national scale, Emmanuel wants to create a platform of changemakers and social enterprises that will accelerate social innovation and share best practices.