Social Economy

Why is this topic a priority for the EU?

The social economy has been gaining more and more visibility in the past years as a model that generates positive outcomes, especially in terms of employment and social cohesion across Europe.

The social economy covers a variety of organisational models such as cooperatives, mutuals, associations, foundations, social enterprises and charities. What they have in common are shared values: putting the needs of people and communities first, participative governance, and reinvestment of profits in supports and services.

At EU level, the social economy is a vital part of the overall economy, representing 10% of all businesses in the EU and employing 11 million people. It is an integral part of the EU’s policy objective of delivering “an economy that works for people”.

The social economy makes a valuable contribution to the European social and economic progress through the creation of jobs and through the delivery of services in areas such as homecare, child care, employment, retail, hospitality, environmental services, and social housing.

To ensure that its goals are met, the Commission offers an extensive range of initiatives and funding instruments. These include the European Action Plan for the Social Economy and the exchange programme Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs.

Relevant EU Policies and Objectives 

European Action Plan for the Social Economy

Despite its growing recognition, there is still a lack of awareness about social economy and there can be a lack of opportunities for growth and funding.   

The European Action Plan for the Social Economy aims to boost visibility and understanding of social enterprises, ease access to EU funding and make social enterprises a part of the global political agenda. 

Key Points:

  • Boost the visibility of social economy enterprises 
  • Improve access to finance and EU funding 
  • Remove the legal obstacles impeding the ability to grow and operate in the Single Market
  • Inspire public authorities from the EU and its neighbouring countries to promote the growth of the social economy as a driver of economic and social progress for all

How will it impact Irish civil society organisations? 

Social enterprises as organisations are often struggling to find the right funding opportunities due to the lack of understanding of their functioning and their small size. By implementing the Action Plan recognition and understanding will be boosted and the access to EU funding programmes will be eased. 

Social enterprises can benefit from a variety of European funding and support programmes such as the European structural funds, Horizon Europe, the Digital Europe Programme, EU4Health or the LIFE programme.

Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs

Erasmus for Young Entrepreneurs is a cross-border exchange programme which gives new or aspiring entrepreneurs the chance to learn from experienced entrepreneurs running small businesses in other countries. The exchange of experience takes place during a stay with the experienced entrepreneur, which helps the new entrepreneur acquire the skills needed to run a small firm. The host benefits from fresh perspectives on his/her business and gets the opportunities to cooperate with foreign partners or learn about new markets.

Key Points:

  • Reinforce entrepreneurial attitudes by offering skills, knowledge and experience
  • Increase the number of start-ups and boost their resilience
  • Foster the cross-border transfer of ideas, knowledge and cooperation between small firms
  • Help small firms to network, innovate, and go international
  • Help to create jobs

How will it impact Irish civil society organisations? 

Social enterprises can apply as a new entrepreneur or a host entrepreneur and benefit from discovering new European markets, business partners and different ways of doing business.

Useful Links

The Future of EU Policies for the Social Economy

European Funding Toolkit for Social Enterprises & their Support Organisations

Social Economy Action Plan Video

Irish Social Enterprise Network

European Parliament Social Economy Intergroup

European Economic and Social Committee Infoflyer

What future for the Social Economy?

Social economy in the EU

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