According to the European Commission (EC), the social economy “includes a variety of businesses, organisations and legal entities, such as social enterprises, cooperatives, mutual benefit societies (a specific type of collective insurance), non-profit associations and foundations. They put people and the environment at the centre of their mission and reinvest most of their profit back into the organisation or a specific social cause. They are governed in a participatory and inclusive way.
At the end of 2021, the EC adopted a new Social Economy Action Plan to support the sector to thrive. Entitled “Building an economy that works for people: an action plan for the social economy”, the document, in a nutshell, states European Union’s policy and approach for unleashing the sector’s economic and job-creation potential, enhancing its contribution to a fair and inclusive recovery, and boosting the green and digital transitions.
Built on the results of the 2011 Social Business Initiative and the 2016 Start-up and Scale-up Initiative, and preceded by extensive dialogue with stakeholders and civil society, the Action Plan proposes 38 concrete measures to be implemented in a nine-years horizon, between 2021-2030. Three main priority areas stand out – business environment and favourable conditions; start-up/scaling-up opportunities and building capacities; awareness and recognition of the sector’s potential – and specific actions range from stimulation and reinforcement of appropriate legal frameworks dedicated to the sector, to enhancing access to funding instruments for social entrepreneurs and collection of specialised data.
Despite the fact it does not sufficiently address certain subjects that are key to a thriving social economy sector, such as external action and public procurement, the Action Plan and the efforts surrounding its conception are a very important and positive milestone for social economy organisations and social entrepreneurs based in Europe.