The notion of social economy, also referred to as solidarity economy, is one of the most controversial terms in Poland. Attempts are in place to characterise it and define it in various aspects. There are definitions created through indication of the legal and organisational forms that are specific for social economy (legal and institutional approach). Some also define this term through identification of common rules characterising various entities participating in social economy (normative approach). Jacques Defourny and Patrick Develtererecognised the following rules specific for social economy entities:
Such a rooting in the world of values and principles had been consciously exposed in the Polish Social Economy Manifesto of June 2008, where solidarity was underlined as one of the binding agents specific for the area known as social economy. Not only is it solidarity among people, but also a foundation of the economy of the Republic of Poland under the constitutionally defined social market economy.
Social economy is deeply rooted in Polish tradition and history. This is indicated by the names of its advocates: Stanisław Staszic, father Piotr Wawrzyniak, Edward Abramowski, father Wacław Bliziński, Maria Orsetti, Stefan Żeromski, Stanisław Wojciechowski, Teodor Toeplitz, Franciszek Stefczyk, Romuald Mielczarski, Jan Wolski, Stanisław Thugutt. „Społem”, Liskowa or Warsaw Housing Cooperative initiatives not only constituted social innovations, but also built a new binder of the society where all citizens were equal.
Undoubtedly, social economy may form one of the material components of the European Social Model and Polish social policy. Obviously, it will not solve all social and economic problems, but it might find an important place in the new social integration policy, i.e. the process where entities, environments and societies at risk of poverty and exclusion obtain new opportunities and resources necessary for full participation in economic, social and cultural life and to keep the living standard at the level considered normal in a given society.
One should keep in mind, though, that social economy entities have a much broader context:
The abovementioned benefits connected with the development of social economy are intertwined, complementary and enhance each other. Firstly, a subject of social economy and a social enterprise, rooted in the network of local connections, might become an effective tool for initiating and supporting mechanisms of local development, thus contributing to the improved welfare of the members of local community and supporting the fuller use of available resources at the local level. Secondly, a subject of social economy and a social enterprise with stable economic foundations might provide an actual opportunity to enter the labour market and to improve the future of persons at risk of social exclusion. Thirdly, it might provide socially useful goods and services, thus generating additional social benefits. It might also contribute to the development and reinforcement of the role of social capital.
Team for systemic solutions in the field of social economy
Pursuant to the Order of the President of the Council of Ministers No. 141 of 15 December 2008, the team for systemic solutions in the field of social economy was established. In September 2012, the Prime Minister signed an Order that extended the composition of the team. The team is intersectoral and interministerial.
The tasks of the team include:
The team for systemic solutions in the field of social economy consists of four working groups: legal group, educational group, financial group and strategic group.
Integrated system of support to social economy
On 11 March 2010, an agreement on co-financing of the systematic project entitled “Integrated system of support to social economy” was signed, to be implemented by the Human Resources Development Centre.
Measure number and title: 1.2 System support to institutions of social assistance and social integration
Project No.: POKL.01.02.00-00-005/09
Project title: “Integrated system of support to social economy”
Beneficiary name: Human Resources Development Centre
Beneficiary’s seat: Warsaw
Project value: PLN 55,993,558.89
Value of co-financing: PLN 55,993,558.89
Date of execution of the agreement: 11 March 2010
The project is aimed at increasing the level of development and improving the condition of social economy in Poland through construction of permanent, institutionalised mechanisms of essential support for social economy entities and their environment.
The project includes activities relating to the construction of support infrastructure for social economy entities. This involves establishment of the Social Economy Centres, which carry out networking activities, and support by means of a grant fund. Standards of exiting economic passivity of persons excluded from the labour market were developed and implemented under the project. With regard to improved competences and enhanced potential of the staff of social support and integration institutions, various forms of education are organised, such as post-graduate studies, courses, training, study visits, internships and consultancy services. Moreover, activities aimed at raising social awareness of the possibility to solve problems with the method of partnerships for social economy have been initiated, along with media campaigns and other activities that create a positive image of the social economy “brand”.
The project is addressed to social support and integration institutions, labour market institutions, non-governmental organisations and social economy institutions, as well as to the employees of the abovementioned institutions and public administration operating directly in the area of social support and integration.
The activities under the project include construction of a nationwide system of coordination, support, training and monitoring for social support and integration institutions, as well as for regional institutions from the social economy sector. 6 educational and advisory centres (Social Economy Centres) will be established, and a curriculum regarding social economy at the post-graduate level will be developed and implemented at 3 universities. It is expected that 800 persons will complete post-graduate studies, 400 public institution employees will be trained, 4,000 consultancy hours will be dedicated to social economy entities, 2,000 persons will participate in the seminars/local meetings regarding social economy, 750 persons will be trained with regard to local partnerships, including a specialist internship, 150 persons will participate in five-day internships, 498 persons will participate in the study visits in Poland and abroad, 6 entities will be awarded in the competition for the best social enterprise, and 150 local initiatives will receive financial support from the grant fund.
A social cooperative is a new entity in the Polish legal system. Its aim is not to run a joint business in the interest of its members, as it is the case with regular cooperatives, but rather to run a joint enterprise on the basis of the personal labour of its members to achieve professional and social integration.
A social cooperative is an institution which runs business that combines economic and social objectives, gathering persons generally at risk of social exclusion, who, jointly and on the basis of their personal labour, run an enterprise and implement the objectives of a social and professional reintegration of its members. Moreover, a cooperative may also run a social, cultural and educational activity for its members and for their local environment, as well as a public benefit activity regarding public tasks referred to in the Act on public benefit and volunteer work.
Profit is not the aim as such in those enterprises, it is an instrument aimed at achieving the highest aim, i.e. the social aim.
The main act of law regulating the activity of social cooperatives is the Act of 27 April 2006 on social cooperatives (Dz. U. of 2006 No. 94 item 651 as amended). The Act lays down the rules of establishing, operating, connecting and liquidating a social cooperative.
Social cooperatives create an opportunity for effective solution of problems of persons who face the greatest difficulties with functioning in social and professional life (including mainly on the labour market). The Act complements the existing regulations regarding social and professional reintegration. It provides conditions for the creation of new social and economic entities which will become alternative job opportunities for persons in need of social integration. Members of a social cooperative create jobs for themselves, thus ensuring income for themselves and for their families, and through joint activities, they change themselves and the environment they live in – they create something that becomes their common good, for which they are responsible. To this end they must cooperate, learning how to maintain interpersonal relationships and how to perform social roles. They also acquire skills which in the future might enable them to gain professional independence.
A social cooperative is established and operates due to: