Social enterprises combine societal goals with an entrepreneurial spirit. These organisations focus on achieving wider social, environmental or community objectives. The European Commission aims to create a favourable financial, administrative and legal environment for these enterprises so that they can operate on an equal footing with other types of enterprises in the same sector. The Social Business Initiative, launched in 2011 identified actions to make a real difference and improve the situation on the ground for social enterprises.
A social enterprise is an operator in the social economy whose main objective is to have a social impact rather than make a profit for their owners or shareholders. It operates by providing goods and services for the market in an entrepreneurial and innovative fashion and uses its profits primarily to achieve social objectives. It is managed in an open and responsible manner and, in particular, involves employees, consumers and stakeholders affected by its commercial activities.
The Commission uses the term 'social enterprise' to cover the following types of business:
There is no single legal form for social enterprises. Many social enterprises operate in the form of social cooperatives, some are registered as private companies limited by guarantee, some are mutual, and a lot of them are non-profit-distributing organisations like provident societies, associations, voluntary organisations, charities or foundations.
Despite their diversity, social enterprises mainly operate in the following 4 fields:
The Start-up and Scale-up Initiative
The Commission is determined to supporting social economy ecosystems. The start-up and scale-up initiative was launched in 2016. It aims to give Europe's many innovative entrepreneurs every opportunity to become world leading companies. The main proposals of the start-up and scale-up initiative are:
The social business initiative (SBI), launched in 2011, aims to introduce a short-term action plan to support the development of social enterprises, key stakeholders in the social economy and social innovation. It also aims to prompt a debate on the avenues to be explored in the medium/long term. There are 11 priority measures, organised around 3 themes:
Action 1 : Put forward a European regulatory framework for social investment funds.
Action 2: Encourage the development of microcredit in Europe, specifically by improving the related legal and institutional framework.
Action 3: Set up an EU financial instrument to provide easier access to funding.
: Make social enterprises an investment priority of the European Regional Development Fund and European Social Fund.
Action 5 : Identify best practices by establishing an exhaustive register of social enterprises in Europe.
Action 6: Create a public database of labels and certifications applicable to social enterprises in Europe.
Action 7: Help national and regional governments introduce measures to support, promote and finance social enterprises.
Action 8: Create a multilingual information and exchange platform for social entrepreneurs, business incubators and clusters, as well as social investors. Increase the visibility of EU programmes to support social entrepreneurs and make it easier to obtain funding.
Action 9 : Simplify the rules regarding legal recognition as a European Cooperative Society ; put forward a regulation creating a legal status for European foundations. Conduct a study on the situation of mutual societies.
Action 10: Make quality and working conditions more important criteria for the awarding of public procurement contracts, particularly for social and health services.
Action 11: Simplify the rules for awarding public aid to social and local services (which would benefit many social enterprises).
Initiated by the SBI, the Commission and the expert group on social entrepreneurship, established a 5 pillar strategy aimed at increased access to funding, access to markets, improved framework conditions, foster social innovation and continue to work on internationalisation. See more on the implementation of the 5 pillar strategy.
The Expert group on social entrepreneurship (Groupe d'experts de la Commission sur l'entrepreneuriat social – GECES) was set up in 2011 for a 6 year period. GECES was consulted by the Commission on the development, set up and implementation of all the actions mentioned in the SBI and the further development of social entrepreneurship and social economy.
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