Jordi Gusi On The Shifting Balance Of Power In Social Innovation


Jordi Gusi is a founding partner of Tandem Social, a cooperative that offers consulting for social projects and companies.

At the same time, he is a manager at Entitats Catalanes d'Acció Social, (ECAS - Entity of Catalan Social Action), an organisation that brings together more than 100 entities that work with people in risk of social exclusion. Jordi graduated in Economics, with a Masters in Function Management of NGOs, and has a Postgraduate in Social Economy.


Jordi shares key insights into the social innovation sector, particularly in Spain, explaining the difference between social entrepreneurship, co-operatives and the creation of social impact. Jordi discusses the importance of integrating communities and involving all the stakeholders throughout projects.


Highlights from the interview (listen to the podcast for full details)

[Nikoline Arns] - To start things off, could you please share a bit about your background and what led you down the path of social project consulting? [1:55]

[Jordi Gusi] - I studied economics and I was working in a private company, and I decided to change. I started to work in a social enterprise, where we were creating jobs for handicapped people, and I worked there for 6 years. I created a laundry, a restaurant and a small catering company. We were creating jobs for people with mental problems. Finally I finished working with this social enterprise and began to work in Liberia and Dafur with Doctors Without Borders. When I finished this job, I decided to freelance and offer my small experience to a lot of small social enterprises here in Catalonia, and I was helping small and big NGOs. 6 years ago I decided to create Tandem Social with two partners. We created a cooperative. And now we are very happy because there are 15 young people working with us, so this is very good for us, it makes me very happy because as you know there are a lot of unemployed people in our lower market. So it's very good to create 15 jobs for young people and we are working in a very good atmosphere with social enterprises and NGOs.

So you have grown a lot during these last 6 years?

Yes we grew a lot. Why? Because as you know the financial situation of the banks, we were working with a lot of funds from the banks which we stopped. And then we started to work with NGO's but the NGO's prefer not to contract a lot of consultants. They don't have the culture to contract consultants because they want to spend all the money on their social projects, and they don't want to invest money in consulting or communication or these types of things. So finally we changed, and now we are working for the local autonomy governments in Spain, Catalonia and European projects.  So this is the reason we have grown. Because here in Catalonia there are a lot of local governments that are spending money on social enterprise in the field.

So there is a lot of stimulus from the local government?

Yes, there is a lot of stimulus at this moment. Sometimes not very organised, sometimes maybe too much. But a lot of stimulus in Barcelona, so it's important to organise because we don't know what the future holds so it's best to grow in a organised way.

So that's why they need you, Tandem Social. 

We are helping a lot of projects and social enterprises here in Barcelona and in other places in Catalonia. We are working in the Canary Islands, the south of Spain and Madrid.

Barcelona is incredible, I have never been in this kind of situation, where there is a lot of stimulus; a lot of people trying to create social enterprises.

Sometimes we wonder if this is just a wave and maybe in 2-3 years it will go down again, we don't know if this situation will last like this for the next 10-15 years or if it's more like a trend.

[Jordi explains about the shift of social responsibility to social economy and solidarity in companies.]


You’re in daily contact with a big variety of interesting social startup initiatives. Could you please tell us more about those which are delivering positive social impact? [9:30]

Nowadays we do not understand the social impact only with an impact on the generation of employment for people with disabilities. We understand social impact is impact that takes into account not only people in vulnerable situations but also the cultural impact, environmental impact, etc... a more holistic impact.

[Jordi explains about the different projects that Tandem is working on for elderly, mental illness and the tourism sector.]

You often talk about innovation arising from the people that form the project teams, and the necessity to change the relations of power and thus to be able to transform realities, to empower us and empower the community. Can you explain to our listeners a bit more about this concept and how it could be implemented in practical ways? [12:28]

At this moment the citizens have more power in Barcelona. Second, the local government is looking to create opportunities for people to improve and make them feel empowered. And it's true that the projects that are helping the community, have the community participating in the projects. And now they are trying a lot of alliances with a lot of stakeholders. These are the kind of projects that receive public funds, in comparison with projects that don't share this view.

There is a stimulus for the projects that are listening to the needs, that participate, and have in multi-sectorial base, with different opinions and try to empower people.

[Jordi gives an example of how organisations join to include more people.]

Social innovation is not just how you can do a project, or how you can improve your process. Social innovation can change the relationship between power and the citizens.

For example when we share the money between us, instead of using the typical banks, we are changing our relationships, or for example if we share our home. Projects like this mean that the relationship with power is changing.

The future for me in the consultancy of the projects is when people are empowered; this is a good project. For example 20 years ago they were just about creating jobs, but nobody knows if you empower your employees or not. Now the workers are participating and you sit down with your neighbours to listen to what you can do to help the community. These projects will be successful in the future. 

It's a challenge for a consultancy; it's very easy to mentor a social entrepreneur, but the most important thing is who you integrate from the community and how you empower the people. This is a challenge.

Why is this a challenge?

Because you are working for example in a school, and helping the young people, but are you integrating the parents of the people? Are you integrating the young ones to decide about your program in the beginning of your project? Are you asking the people what they need? Are you involving all the teachers? 

It's very important to involve all the stakeholders.

So it's complex and you need time if you want to arrive to your objective. Running very fast doesn't mean you will arrive far.

What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve seen purpose-driven projects face and how did they tackle them? [17:26]

Sometimes they say the biggest challenge is money. But for me the problem is not the money. If your project is very good, you will find the finance for it.

The most important thing is to create a very good project with innovation and involvement of the stakeholders and think through your project very well. Second: the next challenge: spending all your time. [Jordi gives an example.]

And the third is to create a team, if you are alone you will not survive in my opinion. Create a team with very different skills. When you don't have good skills to create a team, this is something to resolve.

[Jordi explains a bit more.]


What advice would you give an aspiring social entrepreneur who has an idea but is unsure of what steps to take to move it forward? [20:01]

You can do 2 or 3 steps. 

The first step is to go to your local government; they [will] help you with a lot of information and education. Secondly, try to test your idea with friends and family, but not just with friends and family because they will say, "oh yeah it's a good idea." You need to test it outside. The third step is to find some references. Take a plane or car and visit a project and try to talk a lot with the entrepreneurs. 

If you can find a co-working space to work with more people this would be a very good fourth step. It's very difficult if you work from your house with your idea. 

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the social enterprise sector in the last 5 years and where do you see social enterprise heading into the future? [21:53]

What happened in the last 5 years? Well for me it was the crisis, second the unemployment crisis, and the new generation of young people that want to work in a different company; they travel a lot and are not searching to be rich but rather have just some money to live and be very happy. And, a lot of public projects.

Public opinion is changing, apart from being consumers, they want to be conscious citizens. 

And for the future? I think in the next 5 years in Spain a public social fund will be created. At the moment this doesn't exist.

[Jordi compares Spain with other EU countries.]

At the moment we are not evaluating the change of the lives of the people we are helping. We don't have the tools and investment to evaluate the impact. So I hope and expect that in 5 years this will change. You know we have the (SROI?) "Social Return On Investment" and only 1 or 2 projects are using this tool.

We need to evaluate our impact.

Also in the universities the signatures are changing to create an ecosystem with universities, private companies, NGO's and the third sector and the local government. 

Currently in Barcelona, there is a small revolution with all the funds being spent in social enterprise.

Which countries do you believe are really leading the charge when it comes to social enterprise? What are they doing that you think other nations could adopt? [25:52]

Canada, United Kingdom and USA, for me at the moment are the leaders of the social entrepreneurs. Second: the Mediterranean countries like Italy, France and Spain they are the leaders of the social economy. 

Can you explain the difference? 

Social economics is about creating cooperatives; it's not an individual project, its a collective project with a lot of people trying to help people in a democratic organization. The Anglo-Saxon view in the UK, is more about you and your idea.

[Jordi explains what includes the social economy.]

For me it's better to be a collective team with non profit benefits. At Tandem, we are also helping individual projects and they say: I also want benefits (profit) But I say it's very important to invest all the money in the project. So as a Mediterranean guy I prefer this kind of way. [Jordi explains about he rich history of cooperatives in Catalonia]

What actions have you seen governments take to help create a community of innovative social entrepreneurs? What is the role of the government? [28:30]

The role of the government is not to lead. It's to create conditions.

For us, it changes the dialogue, because the government doesn't give you money, no, they want to be involved in your project. I want to help you, but I want to be sure that your project is social and provides solidarity for the community. The previous relationship changed. Some of the people from social movements are now working for the government. So the dialogue is one to one, on the same level.

[Jordi gives some examples.]

Are there any particular tools you use which have proven to be invaluable in the development and daily running of your different projects? [30:20]

In this moment there are no good tools in Catalonia to follow the projects, to control the projects. A lot of people are adapting tools from different sectors but we have a problem with the tools. I hope in the future we will find good tools.

If you know of any good tools contact Jordi! 

To finish off, what are the top 3 books you’d recommend to our listeners? [31:18]

[Jordi says that he hopes to write a book in the future and also talks about the three books listed below.]


Initiatives, resources and people mentioned on the podcast

Recommended books


You can contact Jordi on LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook. Please feel free to leave comments below.

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