Is it possible to merge entrepreneurship and business with having an impact on society? This is the challenge social economy is trying to meet. Social economy concentrates on people, not on making profits for the company. Based on principles of collective involvement and equality, its structure strongly differs from other enterprises. Most of the decisions are taken through democratic processes, where every member holds one vote. Therefore, the member’s share in the enterprise does not play a significant role in the vote’s outcome. Solidarity and mutuality stay as the core values of social economy enterprises.
Its contribution to the European Union’s (EU) main priorities is well-documented: for example, it has created millions of jobs all over Europe aligning with the Sustainable Development Goals. The social economy has shown its ability to foster pioneering solutions for the present economic and societal challenges
Foundations, cooperatives, mutual societies and social enterprises: social economy is characterised by a lively ecosystem of varied entities, all sharing the same values and objectives. In particular, social enterprises have recently gained a lot of attention due to their connection with entrepreneurship.
As it is defined by the Centre for Social Enterprises, “Social enterprises are revenue-generating businesses that aim at pursuing a social, communal or environmental goal”. By producing innovative and sustainable solutions, these enterprises are providing important services to vulnerable groups and fighting extreme poverty. The willingness to contribute to the development of society is the backbone of social enterprises. All in all, the profits gained by their economic activity are reinvested in social goals. Following the social economy’s model, various actors are involved in the managing process (from employees to members of the civil society).
Migrant entrepreneurship is strongly connected to social enterprises. Due to the personal experiences of migrants and their hands-on mentality, migrants are capable of creating innovative companies; at the same time, while doing that they involve their communities, and even their societies at large. Thanks to their out of the box approach, migrant entrepreneurs engage with the society and create inclusive growth, addressing the daily challenges of citizens and providing them with real solutions.
The European Commission is aware of the potential of social economy. In order to encourage a positive business environment, several initiatives (the Social Business Initiative, Social Innovation Europe Platform – electronic data exchange platform for social investors and entrepreneurs and Regulation on European Social Entrepreneurship Funds (EuSEF) 22 July 2013) have been launched to make sure that social economy enterprises receive an equal treatment and also to guarantee their access to funding.
In an effort to stimulate and develop the social economy and social entrepreneurship in Europe, the European Commission established an Expert Group on the Social Entrepreneurship (GECES) where the United Nations is an observer. Last October, the GECES published the report “Social enterprises and the social economy going forward”, which includes some recommendations on this topic.
Due to the current relevance of social economy, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) recently organised a public hearing to gather information for a report on the potential of the social economy as an instrument for the European external and development policies. CEPES and Social Economy Europe took part in the event and exchanged their views on this topic. During this event, Ulla Engelmann from DG GROW, presented a summary of the External Dimension Actions for Social Economy and Social Enterprises. The ground seems set for a more developed implementation of the social economy in the European economic system. Will it contribute to solve the EU’s social woes? Only time will tell.