the Social Economy

(Re)Shaping our world with the social economy

Join the OECD high-level conference The Social and Solidarity Economy: From the Margins to the Mainstream on 13-16 September 2021

Governments around the world should back the social economy as they look to lay the foundations for a strong, sustainable recovery. Global challenges such as the pandemic, climate change, and digitalisation are reshaping our world and demand novel solutions. The social economy is ready to step up and deliver.

Many social entrepreneurs have changed our world. In the 19th century, Florence Nightingale founded the world’s first nursing school, while in the early 20th century, Maria Montessori’s “Casa dei Bambini” in Rome transformed teaching. More recently, the social economy has brought us fair trade, organic food, ethical and micro-finance.

Today, the social economy already supplies many of the goods and services that we depend on for our daily life, including banking, insurance, consumer goods, as well as health, employment and social services. In the EU27 countries, the social economy accounts for 11.9 million jobs and 6 to 8% of GDP.

It also provides a source of resilience, responding in times of crisis to meet new and desperate needs. During the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, employment in social enterprises grew by 11.5% in Belgium and by 20% in Italian social co-operatives as they reached out to address social and economic hardship.

Social economy organisations reacted swiftly to the COVID-19 crisis, using social innovation to meet new needs. In Quebec, Canada, for example, La Cantine pour tous, which previously provided healthy food for kids in schools, has worked with partners to serve 1 500 dishes per day to relieve hunger of vulnerable groups such as the elderly during the lockdown period in Canada. In Germany, the #WirVsVirus hackathon, organised in partnership with social economy organisations, brought together over 28 000 participants to tackle 48 different challenges around the COVID-19 crisis relating to health, education, social justice, public administration, economy and social cohesion. The 147 projects taken forward included the remote learning platform Corona School and a project to combat false information about the COVID-19 pandemic, Facts for Friends.

The social economy can break the mould to inspire global change. Their work demonstrates that enterprises can do well by doing good, that trade can be fair, that production can be green, that supply chains can be ethical, and that empowered and supported employees can drive innovation and growth.

Many are doing just that. The 841 distribution and 68 energy co-operatives in the US are helping with the climate challenge, generating nearly 5 per cent of the country’s electricity production and serving 42 million people from predominantly renewal sources. They are inspiring change not just in their domestic market, but also in Latin America, Africa and Asia where these US cooperatives provide over 100 million people in over 40 developing countries with access to safe, reliable and affordable electricity.

In South Africa, Africa Teen Geeks is preparing young people for the future of work. It reaches 600,000 children and 10,000 teachers with 2,000 volunteers to support learning in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. It created the first African block-based coding platform, MsZora-Block to ensure that every African school can teach coding from the foundation phase in their mother tongue, and inspires young girls to participate through their innovative Knit2Code programme.

The social economy is finding common cause with ambitious young activists to sustain its growth and impact. A survey of young people revealed that the sense of purpose, and its impact on society, is what young people value the most in their work. In addition, 66.2% mentioned that they expect companies to get involved and address social environmental challenges.

Governments around the world should back this momentum as they look to reshape their economies in the wake of the pandemic. OECD work has shown they can do so in many ways, including through the integration of social and environmental considerations in public procurement processes. They can use bespoke budgets to support social innovation as in the United Kingdom, Ireland, the United States, Sweden, the Netherlands, Finland and many other countries. They can also support the social economy through loan funding and business advice, such as that provided by Social Investment Scotland, or by providing incubators, collaborative spaces and experimentation laboratories such as FabLabs. Broader based tax and subsidy measures also offer promise, but require better measures of the social impacts they bring, work being led right here at the OECD.

The social economy can inspire us with solutions to the global challenges we face. And if we back it, its enterprises, people and ideas offer the potential to reshape our world in the years to come.

Join us for our high-level conference The Social and Solidarity Economy: From the Margins to the Mainstream from 13 – 16 September 2021 when we will be discussing these measures – and many more – that will help make the social economy central to the recovery, and the future.

Author profile

As a key member of the OECD Senior Management team, Ms. Kamal-Chaoui supports the Secretary-General in achieving the OECD’s mission to advance economic growth and social progress as well as contributing to other global agendas such as the G20, the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the implementation of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Ms. Kamal-Chaoui has held several senior positions at the OECD since 1998. From 2012 to 2016, she served as Senior Advisor to the OECD Secretary-General. In this role, she supported the Secretary-General’s strategic agenda and led the OECD Inclusive Growth initiative, the Knowledge-Sharing Alliance programme, the development of the Global Deal and the implementation of the OECD Strategy on Development. From 2003 to 2012, she was Head of the Urban Programme in the Directorate for Public Governance and Territorial Development. She has also previously worked in the Trade Directorate and the Directorate for Financial and Enterprise Affairs. Before joining the OECD, Ms. Kamal-Chaoui worked for a university-based research institute as well as several media outlets.

During her extensive career at the OECD, she has forged numerous strategic partnerships and collaborations for the OECD. They include major philanthropic organisations (e.g. Ford Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Rockefeller Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Open Society Foundations) as well as other prominent organisations (e.g. Vatican Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace, Club of Madrid), multilateral institutions (World Bank, IADB, ADB, EBRD, European Commission) and the private sector. She has been a member of several International Committees and Advisory Boards (World Economic Forum Deputy Board of Trustees, Shanghai World Expo, Michael Bloomberg Mayors Challenge for Europe, Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo’s Strategic Committee). She has also been a Lecturer at Sciences Po Paris.

Ms. Kamal-Chaoui is a French and Moroccan national. She holds a Master’s Degree in Macroeconomics from the University of Paris Dauphine and a Master’s Degree in Foreign Languages and History from the University of Paris Diderot. She recently received the "Women of the Decade in Enterprise and Leadership" award of the Women's Economic Forum.