Over decades, social enterprises, cooperatives, and innovative, entrepreneurial non-profits have prioritized social and environmental values, and made a difference where it matters: on the ground, among the millions of communities and natural ecosystems facing damage and loss.
These actors embrace explicit social objectives and governance models, andwork with groups who face barriers because of gender, race, ability, and economic class. Collectively referred to as the social economy, they deliver inclusive and sustainable economic development.
The social economy places social and environmental impact at the centre of economic activity and is composed of a diverse set of private actors, including associations, co-operatives, foundations, not-for-profit organizations, voluntary groups, and social enterprises. They are working in many sectors and industries such as education, health care, welfare, financial and insurance services, housing and real-estate, agriculture and forestry, technology and waste management, as well as in the arts, culture and media.
Despite their potential, social economic actors face barriers which prevent them from unlocking their full potential. While these vary substantially across regions of the world common barriers include limited visibility, lack of a supportive legal and regulatory framework as well as restricted access to markets.
This report introduces concrete actions to deliver on two shifts which unlock the potential of the social economy:
1. Advance the existing social economy by developing a supportive ecosystem
2. Leverage the potential of the social economy to recalibrate the wider, mainstream economy to be more values-driven
The report was compiled based on a systematic review of independent studies. A mixed-method approach was followed, entailing the review of over 100 academic papers and reports on the social economy as well as social economy actors in country-specific contexts.
These insights were supplemented with 15 semi-structured interviews conducted with experts, policymakers, and practitioners such as representatives from governments, social enterprises, and private businesses as well as three consultations rounds with the Working Group on Unlocking the Social Economy, hosted by the World Economic Forum's Global Alliance for Social Entrepreneurship
The size of the social economy cannot be measured easily, but the following impact metrics can showcase this exemplary:
• 6% of EU workforce today are employed by 2.8 million social economic actors
• In South Korea, the social economy is estimated to be worth 3% of the country’s GDP
• 28 –41 million jobs created in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2020 by social enterprises
• In the USA, 38 states have passed benefit corporation (B Corp) legislation
• $ 1.845 trillion forecasted assets under management in the impact investment market by 2023
The report serves as a starting point to address regional, national and actor specific challenges in local dialogues around the world. The objectives are to drive action by raising awareness and actively discussing policy options globally, regionally and locally in order to reduce common barriers that keep the social economy from reaching its potential.