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Social economy: Forging a new path in the recovery for people and the planet

This month the global death toll from the pandemic passed 5 million. With global confirmed cases rising again, the social and economic wounds inflicted by Covid-19 are deepening day by day. It is time for an innovative approach that can treat – and heal – these wounds together. It is time for the social economy to take centre stage.

For too long we have approached the economic and social challenges we face as separate problems. The economic sphere – the realm of businesses, ruthless in maximising profits. The social sphere – the realm of public actors and charities, fixing and mitigating the worst excesses of market forces.

Yet the many and vibrant actors of the social economy quietly demonstrate that economic efficiency and social commitment can go perfectly hand in hand. This is an economic model that does not solely seek economic profit, but rather prioritises people and their needs.

Looking ahead, the social economy has much to offer the recovery. The values of participation, solidarity, innovation and collective ownership that govern the social economy can help rebuild trust in shattered communities and left-behind places, and re-engage marginalised groups. It can also lead the way in the development and fair digital and green transitions.

The OECD has rightly been a champion of the social economy for more than 25 years, and particularly so during the pandemic. Policymakers the world over are paying attention. In September, the OECD Conference The Social and Solidarity Economy: From the Margins to the Mainstream attracted nearly a thousand participants from around the world to hear from more than 50 speakers including ministers, secretaries of state, mayors, heads of international organisations and ambassadors. And there is much more to come from the OECD’s Global Action to Promote Social and Solidarity Economy Ecosystems.

Europe is well aligned with the OECD in this regard. The European Commission will adopt a European Action Plan for the Social Economy in the coming week, as announced by President Von der Leyen at the beginning of the present mandate. In doing so, the EU will become the first transnational organisation to have its own strategy for social economy enterprises and organisations.

The social economy is at the heart of the European Institutions’ agenda because of the convergence between the inclusive and fair growth generated by these enterprises and the EU objective of building an economy based on the climate and environmental concerns, the technological progress and the demographic change. Its role is already firmly embedded in the Pillar of Social Rights, the “European Skills Pact”, and the updated Industrial Strategy by the inclusion of the social economy as one of the 14 Industrial Ecosystems for the EU’s recovery; while the EU Next Generation Funds adopted for the Post-pandemic recovery plan prioritise the social economy. Spain is one of the first Member States to include “social economy” among the priorities of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan.

These initiatives are a welcome step forward if the social economy is to take centre stage in the recovery. Both will look closely at the legal and other frameworks needed to grow the sector – and its impact – in a way that recognises its full diversity of businesses and business models.

In a world gripped by crisis, the social economy is in a unique position to heal our growing wounds. With an eye to both social and economic challenges, it can unite us in developing and implementing solutions to both. That, surely, is a mission worthy of our attention and support.

As part of the Global Action, CEPES is leading a Peer-Learning Partnership involving 25 public departments, experts and social economy organisations from 3 continents working together to promote favourable legal frameworks for the social economy.

Author profile
Head of the Unit on Social Economy and Innovation at | Website

Antonella Noya is the Head of the Unit on Social Economy and Innovation at the Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs, Regions and Cities. She organises and co-ordinates the work on social economy, social entrepreneurship and social innovation inside her Directorate. Antonella leads the co-operation with the European Union (DG EMP, DG GROW, EEAS) in these areas of work.

Antonella holds a university degree in political science, a specialisation in legislative drafting and a post graduate degree in economics of territorial development and urban planning from the Sorbonne. She speaks fluent English, French and Italian and fair Spanish.

Antonella has authored, co-authored and co-ordinated a number of OECD publications and policy papers various topics.

Antonella sits in various national and international scientific and steering committees and advisory boards (including the French advisory panel on Social Impact Investing, Convergences and INCO.ORG). She represents the OECD at the United Nations Taskforce on Social and Solidarity

Economy and at the GECES (Group of Experts on social economy and social enterprises) co-ordinated by the European Commission.

In 2021, Antonella was recognised by the Euclid Network as one of the 100 influential Women in social entrepreneurship.

Author profile

Juan Antonio Pedreño holds a BA in Chemistry (specialized in industrial chemistry) at Granada’s University (Spain). He is an expert on social economy and co-operatives.

He started his professional career as High School teacher and became a founding member of the education co-operative Severo Ochoa, of which he assumed the presidency for more than 20 years.  Currently, he is the President of Social Economy Europe, CEPES (Spanish Confederation of the Social Economy Enterprises), UCOMUR (Murcia’s Region Worker Co-operatives) and UCOERM (Murcia’s Region Education Cooperatives). Furthermore, Mr. Pedreño is the General Coordinator of the ESMED network (Euro-Mediterranean Social Economy) and a member of the Spanish Economic and Social Council. He is the author of articles and papers on the social economy enterprise model.

CEPES is the Spanish umbrella organisation representing social economy enterprises and organisations at national level. Social Economy Europe (SEE) is the voice of social economy in Europe.