Academic journal article Journal of Community Positive Practices

European Perspectives on the Social Economy

Academic journal article Journal of Community Positive Practices

European Perspectives on the Social Economy

Article excerpt

Abstract: In Europe, social economy consists of a lot of actors and it manages to produce social usefulness and to cover needs that the public sector or the business environment fail to meet. The organisational forms, the social objectives and the areas of activity of the social enterprises can vary from one country to another because they may be involved in activities helping local development or promoting the environmental activities; they may provide services, manage finances, or they may apply commercial rules in order to encourage the international development. This paper approaches the social economy at European level considering the typology of the welfare systems and the peculiarities of each individual state. The portability and transferability of this organisational form may become a hindrance when the attention focuses only on the formal aspect regarding the mechanical transfer of some patterns from the European level to the regional level.

Keywords: social economy, welfare, development, social enterprise, non-profit

1. Introduction

The definition of social economy is not an easy thing because this expression is used to define a complex world and a system of relations that govern the third sector and the non-profit enterprises: creation of flexible jobs, active citizenship, services for the people, decentralised social assistance, human rights safety, consolidated policies for local development and social cooperation. It is thus considered to be an economy with the most different actors, spanning from cooperatives to mutual aid associations, foundations and voluntaries associations and to other organisations whose common feature is their not-for-profit character.

The concept of social enterprise appeared in Europe around the 1990 years together with the identification of the third sector - established in order to meet the social needs which the public services of the enterprises working for profit failed to solve, or solved improperly - as driving force of the social entrepreneurship. It is noteworthy that, in contrast with the USA tradition, the European tradition considers that the third sector joins the cooperatives, the associations, mutual societies and the foundations or, in other words, all non-profit organisations labelled with the term of "social economy" in some European countries (Evers & Laville, 2004).

The perspective of the social enterprise in dynamics suggests that the notions of social enterprise and social entrepreneurship should be used as conceptual and analytical framework for the new perspective on the evolution of the third sector: establishment of new organisations or reorientation of the already existing organisations towards then entrepreneurial activity. Such approach doesn't accept drawing clear limits and, consequently, one tries to identify some "subsectors of the social enterprises". Other approaches try to encompass a whole set of organisations that can be described as social enterprises which implement specific programs of the public policies. Anyhow, when making a detailed analysis of the context, it seems that most initiatives that are not covered by definitions can also be analysed in terms of social enterprises. It results that it is easier to take an approach on dynamic bases than a constructive and complementary perspective relying on statistics of social enterprises.

The organisational forms, the social objectives and the areas of activity of the social enterprises can vary from one country to another because they may work to facilitate the local development, to promote the environmental activities, to provide services, to do business administration, to apply commercial rules that encourage the international development.

2. Typology of the welfare systems

Behind this diversity of socio-economic objectives and areas, there are dynamic forces that play an important role within the European socio-economic context. More precisely, the persistence of the structural unemployment in many European countries, the need to cut down the state budget deficit, the need for more active policies of integration raise questions regarding how much the third sector can be of assistance in coping with these challenges. …

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