The World Economic Forum wants to unlock the social economy for inclusive and resilient societies

The Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) 2022 took place from the 22 to the 26 May, in the Swiss town of Davos, as per usual. Considered one of the most important meetings of the most powerful actors in the world’s economy. The WEF, also known as the International Organisation for Public-Private Cooperation, brings together every year in Davos CEOs, investors, lobbies, economists, political leaders, journalists and celebrities. 

This year a special place was given to the social economy, with the presentation of the report “Unlocking the Social Economy- Towards an inclusive and resilient society, elaborated by WEF in collaboration with Deloitte, and in partnership with Catalyst 2030, Euclid Network,Motsepe Foundation and the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. 

The report, including a foreword by European Commissioner for Jobs and Social Rights Nicolas Schmit, explains and defines the social economy following the EU Social Economy Action Plan definition: 

The social economy covers entities sharing the following main common principles and features: the primacy of people as well as social and/or environmental purpose over profit, the reinvestment of most of the profits and surpluses to carry out activities in the interest of members/users (“collective interest”) or society at large (“general interest”) and democratic and/ or participatory governance

The term social economy refers to organisations as cooperatives, mutuals, associations and charities, foundation, social enterprises, and other organisational forms following the above-mentioned principles and features. 

Different types of Social Economy organisations mentioned in the paper.

The report also integrates a global view of the social economy in different regions of the world such as Asia-Pacific, Sub-Saharan Africa, Europe, MENA, Latin America and the Caribbean and North America, and identifies some of the areas in which the social economy has the potential to drive real change. More importantly, the publication identifies five policy priorities for governments and public authorities to advance the social economy: 

  • –  Recognise the social economy and build new supportive frameworks. In this sense, the SEAP, for which SEE has been advocating since 2014, is used as a good example of public policy launched to support the development of the social economy.
  • – Create incentives for funding, taxation and investment: an area in which the Singapore Centre for Social Enterprise is pointed out as a good practice. 
  • – Expand education and research: an area in which Learning for Young People in Scotland is mentioned. Other interesting initiatives in the area are the cooperative schools in Spain, the multiplicity of masters on social economy management, or the upcoming Youth Entrepreneurship Policy Academy, an initiative of the European Union that will be implemented in cooperation with the OECD and (hopefully) with social economy stakeholders. 
  • – Make public and private procurement channels more inclusive.
  • Collect, measure and visualise social impact data. An area in which the EUCLID-led Social Enterprise Monitor is mentioned. Other interesting initiatives being the Portuguese Social Economy Satellite Accounts, or ESS-France and CocertES social economy observatories. 


The report also often refers to the key importance of networks to create trust and understanding, an area in which we believe that Social Economy Europe (as the voice of the 2.8 million social economy enterprises and organisations in Europe, and one of the main driving forces behind policy achievements as SEAP), can be a good example. Indeed, in the current context more alliances, and inter-cooperation at global level is needed, following the example of the International Coalition on SSE, or SEE’s partnership with the American Sustainable Bussines Network (ASBN). 

Also on May 23rd, the World Economic Forum organised a session on social economy with three main contributors Margaritis Schinas, Executive Vice-President of the European Commission for Promoting the European Way of Life; Sharon Thorne, Global Chair, Deloitte; and Jeroo Billimoria, Founder of One Family Foundation and Co-Founder of Catalyst 2030, al in all moderated by by Karen Tso, Co-Anchor and Journalist, CNBC International (Europe), whose questions managed to render the interventions dynamic and rich in content and inputs.

From left to right: Karen Tso, Jeroo Billimoria, Margaritis Schinas and Sharon Thorne

Executive Vice-President Schinas added that the social economy has always been a terra incognita, until the Social Economy Action Plan was published, and the sector became mainstream. The Commission has therefore fuelled a new chapter, where the potential of social economy will foster cohesive local communities, boost upskilling and reskilling and enable the twin transition, both green and digital. Throughout the seven years horizon, Commissioner Schinas underlined two main actions that the Commission will undertake. First, the establishment of the Youth Entrepreneurship Policy Academy with the aim to encourage young people to take risks, fostering their entrepreneurial spirit and ideas. Second, the EU Single Gateway, a one-stop-shop that will provide information to Member States on funding, regulations, initiatives, and best practices. In order to allow the social economy to scale up, according to Commissioner Schinas it is necessary first to follow the example of pioneer Member States, such as Spain, that drafted law and regulatory frameworks to empower the social economy perspective. Second, statistics is important, especially the establishment of impact indicators that could quantify and measure even small projects. He claimed: “When Ursula gave me this responsibility she told me that she wanted me to be ‘The Commissioner of People’. In this anthropocentric meaning, I think that Social Economy is the jewel, the crown.”

Billimoria started her intervention by defining the social economy as a large umbrella that pays joint attention to people, purpose, and planet. She then focused on social economy actors, who do not merely make an impact, but they also contribute to change the economy in a very efficient way. What is key for the future of the social economy is to create an ecosystem able to mainstream the social economy with the aim to ensure an equitable society where everyone has a life of dignity. She stressed: “We have to make sure everyone has a good quality of life”.

Thorne focused on social enterprises, by highlighting the interdependency between these entities and companies like Deloitte. The latter, in fact, can learn from what social enterprises are doing and at the same time it can teach something by providing resources and expertise. Social enterprises possess the inner potential to respond to social issues locally and make an impact, by putting purpose before profits. In Thorne’s perspective, investing in millennials is key, as they are concerned about the state of the world as well as about current challenges. It is thus necessary that businesses are aligned with their values and their purposes so as to retain talents and make them grow. She finally said: “All businesses have to step up and take action, make a real social impact, very successfully”. 

Giving the social economy such a prominent role during the World Economic Forum for the first time is undoubtedly a turning point. The panel discussion was particularly interesting as it provided three different points of view. Through the eyes of a social economy entity, it was possible to perceive the willingness of these stakeholders to create a full-fledged ecosystem in order to use the potential of social economy to build a better, fairer, more equal and more democratic future at a global level. 

The Commission perspective underlined the engagement of the EU institution to make the Social Economy Action Plan concrete, whose actions are not merely focused on fostering the social economy, but some of the measures are centred on youth, encouraging and facilitating the implementation of their entrepreneurial purpose-driven projects. The ultimate goal of the Commission is to mainstream the social economy in all Member States in order to fight the heterogeneity that currently characterises the sector. By getting inspirations from those Member States who are pioneers in the fostering of social economy, those EU countries where the sector is still underdeveloped could collect great achievements by 2030. 

Eventually, seeing big companies, such as Deloitte as well as IKEA, investing in the social economy and social entrepreneurship is key to support those actors to scale up. Building partnerships could play a pivotal role in mainstreaming the social economy business model as well as its value-based approach with the aim to co-create an economy that works for the people and the planet. 



Sara Bombardieri, Policies and Project Assistant SEE, Victor Meseguer, Director of SEE, Raffaele Scarpa and Arthur Windsor, Interns at SEE.

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