The Social Economy

What is the social economy?

The social economy is a major socio-economic player of the European social market economy. There are 2.8 million social economy enterprises and organisations, ranging from SMEs to large EU groups. 

The social economy is present across all sectors and employs 13.6 million people and accounts for 8% of the EU’s GDP.

The social economy is made up of a diversity of enterprises and organisations like cooperatives, mutuals, associations, foundations, social enterprises among other forms specific to each country.

What makes them part of the social economy are the shared values and features which unite them, for instance they put people over profits, they are governed democratically, and they reinvest most profits.

People before profit

Social economy enterprises and organisations prioritise people and communities over profit, driven by their mission to serve the common good and general interest

Democracy at work

Social economy enterprises and organisations have inclusive and democratic governance

Reinvesting profits

Social economy enterprises and organisations reinvest most of their profits or surpluses to pursue sustainable development objectives

Why the social economy?

The European Union and the rest of the world are experiencing disruptive technological, social and economic changes.

The emergence and progress of digitalisation, blockchain and big data, or the global rise of inequalities and job insecurity, are trends quickly changing our world, bringing new opportunities but also new challenges, and urging us to debate about the future that we want to build collectively.

Europe needs the social economy to reach out to its citizens, detect their real needs and make them part of creating solutions to a number of challenges, such as unemployment or precarious work, social exclusion, discrimination and racism, climate change or the lack of social cohesion.

Likewise, the social economy needs the European Union to improve its visibility, as an alliance of virtuous enterprise models, and to support its recognition and development, on equal footing with other forms of enterprise, throughout the European Single Market.

A driver of economic and social progress for all
providing innovative solutions to today’s economic, societal and environmental challenges

 Quality jobs for all 

The social economy creates quality jobs for all, through collective entrepreneurship and through work and social integration of disadvantaged people. As the social economy is locally anchored, its enterprises and organisations create jobs locally and so contributes to local economic development as well as territorial cohesion through its strong relationships with communities.



 Deepening democracies 

The social economy enterprises and organisations reinforce democratic values thanks to their governance practices, which favour participation and openness through independent management, democratic decision-making process and the primacy of people and labour over capital in the distribution of income. 


 Social innovation 

The social economy is constantly innovating for the common good. Many of its innovative ideas have been become mainstream, like ethical finance or the fair trade movement. These enterprises and organisations contribute to smart growth and the provision of socially innovative service, working closely with public authorities, stakeholders, and users to come up with collective solutions to common problems. 



 Championing equality 

Social economy enterprises and organisations strive to guarantee equal opportunities, with a special focus on marginalised communities and minorities. They champion their rights, the advocate for better policies, they provide services and training and create job opportunities for migrants, homeless people, roma, people with disabilities, among others.

In the field of gender equality,  women represent over 60% of the workforce of many of these enterprises and organisations. 


 Fighting climate change 

The social economy is a pioneer in the circular economy, engaging in recycling, reuse and repairing of goods and employing people distant from the labour market. Achieving a positive environmental and social objective. 

It been leading the transition towards renewable energies and advancing sustainable agriculture and rural development. 


 Quality services 

The enterprises and organisations active in the field of health and care work to improve healthcare systems and local social services, which can include access to housing,  assistance for elderly or people with disabilities, child care, and many more. 


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