For the 8th consecutive year, OpinionWay conducted an exclusive survey for Ashoka on the perception of social entrepreneurship in France. This survey reveals the perception of social entrepreneurs (47% of whom were women, and 53% men), and the general public regarding the ability of social enterprises to address societal and environmental issues. It also presents long-term trends and prospects for the sector.

A priority for the French: the fight against unemployment, in the face of climate change and health issues

Overshadowed by climate change in 2018, unemployment returns this year as French people’s main concerns. For 48% of them, it is the most urgent social or environmental problem to solve, reflecting anxiety about the economic conse-quences of the Covid-19 health crisis. The level of concern on climate change, which has been on the rise in recent years, remains high: it is a priority issue for 42% of the French. Climate remains an essential concern for social entre-preneurs: 82% consider it to be the most urgent issue to be resolved, ahead of social cohesion (49%). Also linked to the health crisis, health is now among the top 3 priorities of the French, two points ahead of issues related to poverty (39% vs. 37%)

Another effect of the crisis is that French people now have higher expec-tations of public authorities, which are identified by 34% of respondents as the most innovative type of actor to solve social and environmental prob-lems. This represents an increase of 10 points compared to the previous survey. Social enterprises are perceived as the most innovative actors in solving social issues by only 20% of the French, a figure down 5 points, and similar to that obtained by traditional enterprises.

Social entrepreneurs, on the other hand, continue to believe that they are the most effective actors in solving social and environmental problems. This belief is shared by 67% of them and is up 9 points. However, while 87% of social entrepreneurs were optimistic about their ability to solve major societal problems in the previous survey, this figure drops to 78% in 2020 and 70% for environmental issues.

Declining awareness of social and solidarity economy and social entrepreneur-ship but increasing recognition of their usefulness

A key finding from the survey is that awareness of the terms “social and solidarity economy” and “social entrepreneurship” fell sharply this year. Only 47% of respondents said they had heard of the social and solidarity economy, a drop of 21 points compared to the previous survey. Social en-trepreneurship is also experiencing a significant drop in awareness (-13 points), admittedly more moderate, but still substantial. Only 25% of French people say they are aware of this term, the lowest level since 2012.

Nevertheless, social entrepreneurs remain identified as relevant actors in ad-dressing societal issues: 78% of respondents consider social entrepreneurs to be useful in addressing social issues, and 69% believe them to be useful to address environmental issues and climate change.

The attractiveness of the sector, although slightly declining, remains relatively stable and is even increasing among young people: 45% of of people in the 18 to 24 age group say they are interested in the social and solidarity economy sector to start their own business (+2 points), and 59% to work in it (+9 points). This is a sign that, despite the crisis, this generation keeps looking for purpose in their professional career.

Ecosystem and partnerships

3% of social entrepreneurs think that collaboration with other ac-tors in the economy (traditional companies, public authorities) is fea-sible, and 47% even believe that the crisis will facilitate these collabo-rations, as all actors need to show flexibility, adaptation, and reactivity. Moreover, 85% of social entrepreneurs collaborate with traditional companies, and 72% work with public authorities (+6 points). The belief that the develop-ment of their activity can be positively impacted by collaborating with public authorities is also up 6 points, moving to 94%. The perception public authorities’ measures taken in response to the crisis to support economic activity is, howe-ver, more nuanced: though these meseasures are seen as sufficient by 65% of the social entrepreneurs surveyed, 64% of them consider that they are insuffi-ciently adapted to the specific needs of social enterprises.

Probably in relation to the crisis, social entrepreneurs responded this year that they seek to engage in partnerships to receive financial support rather than to benefit from collaboration. Expectations in terms of financial aid and subsidies increased respectively by 6 and 8 points, and 64% of social entrepreneurs said they hoped for increased markets for their products and services (+10 points). These figures should be compared with the obstacles to the development of the sector identified by social entrepreneurs: for 51% of them, the main obstacle is the lack of financial means (+8 points). Nevertheless, the joint design of new products and services remains a crucial expectation for social entrepreneurs (63%), a sign that the logic of cooperation remains strong, in a context where 25% of them deplore a lack of partnerships with traditional companies.

Optimistic development prospects despite the crisis and in a context of societal transition

89% of social entrepreneurs believe that the opportunities for the develop-ment of social entrepreneurship are good in France. This figure is stable and reflects strong confidence in the future, despite the health crisis. In fact, the health crisis is seen as a threat by only 5% of the social entrepreneurs surveyed. 6 out of 10 even consider it as an opportunity for the sector. 25% of social entrepreneurs plan to redirect all or part of their activities following the crisis, and 83% even plan to hire new staff (+14 points), a high figure that a possible drop in employment at the beginning of the crisis can only partially explain.

These optimistic results need to be read in light of the social entrepreneurship’s role in addressing major contemporary transformations. While the issue of eco-logical transition is gaining ground in the public debate and while the health crisis has emerged for many observers as a unique moment to build a sus-tainable and inclusive “new world”, social entrepreneurs bring alternatives to business as usual. The French people recognise their role, as more than 80% of them believe that social entrepreneurs have a role to play in the construction of the post-crisis economy, particularly in fighting the consequences of the crisis, such as unemployment, which is their primary concern. 68% also associate the notions of social entrepreneurship and ecological transition. This figure even rises to 93% for social entrepreneurs, who intend to affirm themselves as the pioneers of a more sustainable “new world”.

Carine Valette
Communication & Publications Manager
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