Version française bientôt disponible
The social economy has the potential for becoming the third major economic sector
The social economy[i] can be a bigger player in emerging economies and developing countries, provided it gets the right support, including from the EU. Support is crucial, but it has to be provided in a sensitive way.
This was the message from the EESC Section for External Relations’ (REX) meeting, held on 29 January at its headquarters in Brussels, which brought together experts from major international organisations, such as the OECD, ILO, FAO, representatives of the main European social economy organisations and EU officials. The goal was to identify areas where the EU can enhance its support to help this important economic sector to grow and become more efficient, even beyond Europe.
Social economy – an equal third sector
In many countries, social economy organisations work on the basis of principles which are not well-defined within a legal framework. This prevents them from reaching their full potential and achieving the status of an acknowledged third sector, and leads to practical problems e.g. in relation to taxation. In order to strengthen this sector, participants agreed on the importance of establishing legal and regulatory frameworks for social economy organisations and providing them with market access and structural support. Furthermore, access to capital and the necessary training for running a business are indispensable.
The potential for interaction with emerging countries is enormous
There are some deep-rooted traditional systems of mutual support, especially in Africa and Latin America, as well as in Southeast Asia. Collective and community enterprises are quite common, but underdeveloped because of the lack of institutional support. “In Africa, where 80% of people are employed in the informal sector, the social economy can play a decisive role in the gradual development and upgrading of living and working standards“, said Luca Jahier.
The section president, José María Zufiaur Narvaiza, stressed that since 2015 had been designated the European Year for Development, it should provide a wake-up call for Europe’s responsibility. “Supporting the social economy is helping people to help themselves. International actors have already recognised this; the EU must increase and widen its support, too.”
[i] The social economy, also called the solidarity or partnership economy, is spread throughout the world and also has a long tradition in Europe. It is a business sector which already accounts for 10% of the GDP in some states and includes cooperatives, non-profit organisations and charities, as well as private individuals providing goods and services. Social economy organisations have collective characteristics; they look at reciprocal benefits and not maximising benefits. Nevertheless, they not only work in niche products, but are also responsible for major innovations.