The purpose of this course is to expose students to relevant knowledge, insight and skills necessary to know and understand the ecosystem where the social economy and social enterprises thrive in Europe. To achieve this goal this course will survey its origin and evolution as a national reality in the major countries of the European Union from a social, economic and political perspective. For this vision to be thorough and complete, we will study the perspective adopted by the European Commission as reflected in its institutional tools and channels (regulations, experts group, mapping, etc.) which take into account the different national realities of social enterprises in Member States and exchange of feedback between these and the Commission. In addition, the presence of the social economy and social enterprises in other European institutions, such as the European Parliament and the European Economic and Social Committee, will also be included.
The EU-centred perspective on social enterprise will be counterbalanced with more bottom-up experiences that have also helped shape the ecosystem across the 28 Member States. Be it networks of support of social economy organizations, communities of interest of social entrepreneurs and supporters, research initiatives or the collective action of citizens, different ways of supporting the development of social enterprises exist. Indeed, it is the combination and interaction of these two dynamics (top-down and bottom-up) that contribute to explain how the social enterprise ecosystem has evolved across different geographic regions in Europe.
The Social Business Initiative was the first pan-Europan plan conceived by the European Commission to support an inclusive and dynamic ecosystem for social enterprises in Europe:
“The single market needs new, inclusive growth, focused on employment for all, underpinning the growing desire of Europeans for their work, consumption, savings and investments to be more closely attuned to and aligned with 'ethical' and 'social' principles.
In order to promote a 'highly competitive social market economy', the Commission has placed the social economy and social innovation at the heart of its concerns, in terms of both territorial cohesion and the search for new solutions to societal problems, in particular the fight against poverty and exclusion, under the Europe 2020 strategy, the flagship initiative 'The Innovation Union', the European Platform against Poverty and Social Exclusion and the 'Single Market Act' (SMA).
The public consultation for the SMA revealed high levels of interest in the capacity of social enterprises and the social economy in general to provide innovative responses to the current economic, social and, in some cases, environmental challenges by developing sustainable, largely non-exportable jobs, social inclusion, improvement of local social services, territorial cohesion, etc.
A social enterprise is an operator in the social economy whose main objective is to have a social impact rather than make a profit for their owners or shareholders. It operates by providing goods and services for the market in an entrepreneurial and innovative fashion and uses its profits primarily to achieve social objectives. It is managed in an open and responsible manner and, in particular, involve employees, consumers and stakeholders affected by its commercial activities.
The Commission uses the term 'social enterprise' to cover the following types of business:
those for which the social or societal objective of the common good is the reason for the commercial activity, often in the form of a high level of social innovation,
those where profits are mainly reinvested with a view to achieving this social objective,
and where the method of organisation or ownership system reflects their mission, using democratic or participatory principles or focusing on social justice.”
 Communication on the Social Business Initiative. Creating a favourable climate for social enterprises, key stakeholders in the social economy and innovation.