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Social Economy

Network description

The social economy network aims to enable social economy organisations, including voluntary organisations, charities, co-operatives and other social enterprises to apply a social innovation mindset to the development of their activities, to build capacity among social economy enterprises to implement social innovations faster and to create partnerships with public authorities to facilitate such social innovations. It will also spread good practices among potential adopters and develop new forms of public-private co-operation. The first such capacity and partnership building will take place in the sectors of (a) social, health and child care; and (b) the reduction, reuse and recycling of waste items, where social economy enterprises are already leading innovators.

Social innovation relevance

A large number of social innovations take the form of social enterprises – that is organisations which apply business methods to achieve social objectives – for several reasons. First, social economy legal forms (particularly co-operatives) allow social innovations to establish themselves independently from the public sector and to become sustainable through trading in the market. Second, since they prohibit asset-stripping or the distribution of profits to financial investors, they are the natural choice for social innovators that wish to ensure the long-term survival of their innovations and to ensure that the social mission does not become subordinate to financial interests. They also give public authorities the assurance that any funds or assets that they devolve to the enterprise will remain devoted to their social purpose rather than being disposed of for personal gain. Finally, the social economy is the expression of democracy in the economic world, and is based on the participation of stakeholders on a 'one person – one vote' basis. In many social economy enterprises these stakeholders are (or include) users of social services. They therefore have short feedback loops between service designers and users, and the sector is efficient in identifying emerging needs and pushing down the benefits of social innovations to those who eeed them. Many of today's public services started as voluntary social economy initiatives and were later 'mainstreamed' into the public sector.