Mapping of SEs and their eco-systems in Europe


CEPS is part of a European consortium, led by European Research Institute on Cooperative and Social Enterprises and International Research Network EMES, which conducts a study “Update of the Mapping of Social Enterprises and their Eco-systems in Europe”, funded by the European Commission.

The study aims to evaluate the state and development of social enterprise – as defined by the Social Business Initiative (SBI) in different countries (21 EU + 7 non-EU countries), including:

  • the current state of play in terms of typical forms, estimated number, key characteristics and role of social enterprises
  • main barriers faced by social enterprises
  • the main developments and initiatives which have been taken or are under preparation, expected to influence the social enterprise development.

In spite of the wide use of the term and gradual convergence of meanings under way at the EU level, social enterprises are still conceived in significantly different manners by national legislatures, policy strategies, academics and social entrepreneurs. In accordance with the European Commission definition, operational definition of social enterprises includes three dimensions:

Entrepreneurial/economic dimension – Social enterprises (SEs) are engaged in the carrying out of stable and continuous economic activities, and hence show the typical characteristics that are shared by all enterprises.

Social dimension (social aim) – The social dimension is defined by the aim and/or products delivered.
Aim: SEs pursue the explicit social aim of serving the community or a specific group of people that shares a specific need. “Social” shall be intended in a broad sense so as to include the provision of cultural, health, educational and environmental services. By promoting the general-interest, SEs overcome the traditional owner-orientation that typically distinguishes traditional cooperatives. Product: when not specifically aimed at facilitating social and work integration of disadvantaged people, SEs must deliver goods/services that have a social connotation.

Inclusive governance-ownership dimension (social means) – To identify needs and involve the stakeholders concerned in designing adequate solutions, SEs require specific ownership structures and governance models that are meant to enhance at various extents the participation of stakeholders affected by the enterprise. SEs explicitly limit the distribution of profits and have an asset lock The non-profit distribution constraint is meant to ensure that the general-interest is safeguarded. The non-profit distribution constraint can be operationalized in different ways.