In 2011, the European Commission launched the Social Business Initiative (SBI), which established a set of concrete measures to create a favourable environment for the development of social enterprises. The study “Impact of the Social Business Initiative and its follow-up measures”, carried out by Spatial Foresight with Euricse and the European Center for Social Finance on behalf of the European Commission, analyses the impact of the SBI on the development of social enterprises and other social economy organizations and their operating environments at national and EU levels.
The study report, which is now available online, also includes an analysis of current needs and a set of options for future policy initiatives. The research was supported by numerous national experts who carried out additional research and interviewed around 300 stakeholders amongst national, regional and local authorities, academic and experts, social entrepreneurs and representatives of stakeholders’ organizations in 28 EU Member States and 9 neighbouring countries.
The study is a solid starting point in view of the preparation of the upcoming European Action Plan for the Social Economy, which will shape the future of the European social economy landscape.
According to the research findings, the SBI has managed to act on a wide range of fields, and contributed to the diffusion of the social enterprise concept across EU Member States. In the last decade, the SBI has spread the topic of the social enterprise as a specific institution. It has also contributed to raise awareness on the social economy as a broader dynamic in political debates. Social enterprises and other social economy organisations have gained in visibility and are increasingly considered as important actors, not only by policymakers in social policy, but also in other policies (e.g., regional development, cohesion, innovation, climate, and environment).
However, it also emerged how the lack of a clear overview on SBI-related objectives, initiatives, activities, and achievements has constrained the overall coherence of the SBI with other European programmes and priorities. “The need for more and better communication is a challenge not only for the SBI but for EU contribution to sectoral and regional development in general. All this has not prevented the SBI and its measures from being effective. However, any future initiative should build on the advantages of the SBI approach and try to overcome the drawbacks with a well-communicated and clear presentation of the overarching policy initiative and related policy measures”.
The study also highlights how the ecosystems of the social enterprise has increasingly become more complex over the last years. Any future EU policy framework needs to consider this increasing complexity and shall promote tailored solutions for different settings. Moreover, it shall not be forgotten that the support of social economy organisations is not an end in itself, but rather a means to strengthen its role in contributing to local and regional sustainable development, addressing social and societal needs, creating equal opportunities and access to the labour market, promoting social innovation and territorial cohesion, developing relational assets in industrial development etc.
Recognising the role of social economy organisations in transformative processes and addressing societal challenges is important. Future policy frameworks should create visible links between the social economy and other policy fields and strengthen the coherence between EU policy initiatives for the social economy and other EU instruments.