In the last years, we have seen an increase in in-work poverty, an insufficient reduction in unemployment in many countries and decreased and worsened access to services: social and health services, education, housing and culture. It is now clear that interventions to counteract poverty cannot be realised in a similar manner as before the economic crisis. We need a new approach, a new paradigm, a new way to rethink social protection and social cohesion.
Social economy challenges us to think in different ways about our economy – the processes and institutions through which we meet our needs. Social economy organisations and social enterprises put people before profits. They invest in people, in their capacities and creativity, and empower them by creating quality jobs and by providing training. They prioritise social objectives and social values.
Like all actors that operate in the market providing goods and services and looking for customers’ satisfaction, social enterprises also make profit. But, this profit is meant to meet social goals and not to create individual wealth.
The social goals are met in several ways:
- Reinvesting the profit in the social objectives and values (i.e. in free professional training for unemployed people, in including disable people in the enterprise, in awareness-raising campaigns, etc.);
- Creating spaces for participating in the decision-making processes and the management of the social enterprise;
- Creating valuable social links/relationships with other people and stakeholders in the community;
- Protecting the environment.
In social economy the people come before the profits, and the benefits are for all:
- For individuals: more and better quality jobs, empowerment, feeling part of a community, space for making contributions.
- For the local community: the social value remains within the community, in the local territories, and this allows the development of new local strategies and policies involving other actors (institutions, private, etc.).
- For the whole society: new ideas, innovations and solutions to answer the society’s needs, accelerating the process of change (policies, mind-sets, ways of doing, etc.).
Caritas is already strongly engaged in promoting social economy throughout Europe by:
- Influencing policies at local, national, European and global levels for better environments where social enterprises can emerge, grow and thrive;
- Supporting or managing hundreds of social economy project and initiatives across Europe.
Compared to more traditional interventions on social emergencies, social economy enhances the relationships among the members of society and promotes collective responsibility. It also requires joint efforts to build long-term strategies, specifying strategic objectives and renewing practices, rethinking the relationship with the territory. It is common knowledge that, to produce effective responses, the process should involve not only individuals in difficulty, but entire territorial systems. Alongside specific actions addressed to vulnerable individuals and families, it is necessary to activate multilevel synergies that seek solutions to issues of collective interest. This makes it possible to go beyond the care perspective, reactivating reciprocity practices and at the same time producing social and economic value.
Combining social, labour and economic development policies is the most important innovation for Europe.
Written by Antonio Fantasia, Caritas Europa Policy and Advocacy Officer responsible for social innovation and inclusion policies