Social enterprises and their eco-systems: developments in Europe

26 October 2016

The number of social enterprises in Europe is increasing and they are engaging in new fields. Many countries are introducing new legislation as well as new support schemes to boost the development of social enterprises.

Both public and private markets offer new opportunities for social enterprises to start up and grow, reveals the new report “Social enterprises and their eco-systems: developments in Europe” published by the European Commission. The research was conducted by independent academics supported by the Euricse and EMES network .

Examples of underlying factors behind the development of social enterprises in Europe include:

  • increasing demand for general interest services,ask more questions
  • the tendency towards use of competitive tendering by local authorities,
  • the possibilities offered in new fields of engagement,
  • increasing demand for more ethical business.

However there are also constrains and challenges that can hamper the development of social enterprises.

  • lack of business and management skills,
  • need for better understanding of finance markets,
  • insufficient availability of patient capital,
  • too narrow legal frameworks and incoherence in policies and concepts.

Country reports

New country reports provide a comprehensive picture of social enterprises and their eco-systems in France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Ireland, Slovakia and Poland, based on a common definition.

The reports place social enterprises in their societal and economic context, notably explaining their relation to so called social economy, which have a strong tradition for example Italy, France, Spain and Belgium. An important finding is that both social economy and social enterprises have shown resilience and job retention during the economic crises and beyond. Because they respond to concrete societal needs and are often locally rooted, they are not exposed to speculative risks or job losses due to relocations.

Some examples:

  • In Italy mainstream enterprises lost almost 500.000 employees between 2008 and 2014, while the overall number of employees of social cooperatives increased from 340.000 to 407.000, thus registering a growth of 20.1%.
  • In Belgium, while employment in the public and private sectors decreased over the period 2008–2014, employment in social enterprises increased strongly (+11.5%); the growth rate in Brussels wa
    s even more dramatic (+25%).
  • In France the private economy registered a negative dynamic in terms of job creation over the period 2008–2010, while the trend in social enterprises was positive (+0.8%).

These new reports are part of the Commission’s exercise of gradually up-dating the map of social enterprises and their eco-systems in Europe, first time published in 2014.


Giulia Galera, Barbara Franchini and Carlo Borzaga were part of the Euricse team who workd on this project. Euricse was also inchared of updating the national report of Italy.