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In Europe, social entrepreneurship has gained prominence on political agendas as a result of the measures taken in the framework of the Europe 2020 strategy, with different penetration rates in different countries.

S ocial entrepreneurship is recognised as a force for change, all over the world and through a diversity of actors: international institutions, political decision-makers, businesses, civil society and citizens. Since the 1990s, this global phenomenon has been regularly unfolding at local levels, emerging in various socio-political contexts. Several initiatives are helping to take stock of the situation and reveal these regional differences, among which are the work of the OECD1, the European Union (EU)2, the EMES research network3, CIRIEC International4, and the ICSEM project5 which compares models of social enterprises and their institutionalisation process throughout the world.

In Europe, social entrepreneurship has gained prominence on political agendas due to measures taken as part of the Europe 2020 Strategy, with different penetration rates depending on the country. For example, a CIRIEC study shows that in 2015, paid employment in social economy accounted for 9 to 10% of the active population in Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, while this figure was less than 2% in Croatia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia and Romania6. In Eastern Europe, the Balkans or the Baltic countries, a new interest in social entrepreneurship can be observed, particularly from politicy makers, paving the way for a positive evolution of social economy ecosystems7.

Beyond the Old Continent, social entrepreneurship has also entered the political agenda. In North America, Oceania or Asia – with significant regional differences –, this can be witnessed by the joint effort of public authorities and field-actors to consolidate favourable ecosystems. As an example, let us mention the longstanding developments in Quebec: in 2016, Quebec had 11,200 social economy enterprises employing 220,000 workers8. More recently in South Korea, in 2016, social enterprises employed 39,195 workers, representing 0.15% of total employment9. In Africa, and Central and Southern America, the issue is also on the political and civil society agenda, highlighting in particular the role that social entrepreneurship can play in strengthening community dynamics, or in the addressing of social and ecological issues.

Various initiatives contribute to documenting social entrepreneurship, but several challenges must be overcome to further improve knowledge of this situation. The lack of reliable, and globally comparable, statistical data on the extent of the phenomenon and its contribution to economic and social value creation remains an issue. The efforts of national statistical offices, Eurostat and the development, in certain countries, of satellite accounts10 for non-profit institutions should be highlighted in this respect11.

Beyond statistical data, a detailed understanding of the context in which social entrepreneurship has emerged, and the main challenges and conditions for dissemination, is essential to support its development. The evaluation of its social impact must also be strengthened in order to understand its contribution to the ecological, economic and social transitions, and to demonstrate the added-value it creates. In this respect, initiatives such as the Better Entrepreneurship Policy Tool12, or the action “Promoting Social and Solidarity Economy Ecosystems”, carried out by the OECD in EU Member States and in 6 non EU states with the financial support of the European Union, will be helpful in revealing the full potential of social entrepreneurship as a lever for more inclusive and sustainable growth.


Julie Rijpens
Policy Analyst, Social Economy and Innovation Unit
Antonella Noya
Head, Social Economy and Innovation Unit


1. OECD/EU (2017), Boosting Social Enterprise Development: Good Practice Compendium, OECD Publishing, Paris.
2. European Commission (2020), Social enterprises and their ecosystems in Europe. Comparative synthesis report, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.
6. CIRIEC (2017), Recent evolutions of the Social Economy in the European Union, European Economic and Social Committee, European Union, Brussel.
7. See for example the Policy Reviews “Boosting social entrepreneurship and social enterprise development” published by OECD on Estonia (2020 –, Lithuania (2019 – Serbia (2013 –
8. Institut de la statistique du Québec (2019), L’économie sociale au Québec. Portrait statistique 2016, Québec, Institut de la statistique du Québec (disponible en ligne).
9. OECD (2018), Job Creation and Local Economic Development 2018: Preparing for the Future of Work, OECD Publishing, Paris.
10. A satellite account is a framework for presenting data on the economy of a particular field in relation to the overall economic analysis of the central national accounts framework. (
11. OECD (2017), Towards Satellite Accounts for Third Sector and Social Economy: challenges and opportunities. Concept Note, Working seminar co-organised by the European Commission and the OECD, Paris, 16 octobre 2017.
12. The Better Entrepreneurship Policy tool, developed by the OECD and the European Union, assesses the ecosystem and whether current policies and programmes are conducive to the creation and development of social enterprises.


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