Social and solidarity economy puts man at the centre
Social and solidarity economy are types of activities which place the focus on the persons. Profit itself is not the end goal - it is used as a tool to serve those who need help, e.g. in support of employment and reintegration of people at risk of social exclusion - including persons with disabilities, seniors, the unemployed.
Where and when did social and solidarity economy begin? Traditions and values reflected by social and solidarity economy were formed in Poland even before it regained independence. At this point, it is particularly worthwhile to mention the cooperative movement, which has often been the sole alternative to meet, at least to a basic extent, the needs of entire economically excluded social groups. The cooperative movement placed its focus on the value of individual work and individual treatment of persons involved in the cooperation - regardless of the financial resources they had at their disposal.
Despite the fact that currently, social and solidarity economy is developing in radically different conditions, it is the subjective approach to employees and the focus on the social impact that remain at the very core of the entities within that sector.
Social and solidarity economy in the government policies
Issues related to the development of the social and solidarity economy have been included, among others, in the Strategy for Responsible Development. That is mainly due to the fact that social economy focuses on the needs of the persons who suffer from disabilities, mental illness, long-term unemployment, poverty or who are elderly and thus are unable to fully participate in social or working life.
It is worth noting that the threat of social exclusion does not only concern individuals, but that it also has serious consequences for their families and the communities in which they live. That is why it is so important to focus on developing a social and solidarity economy for counteracting social marginalisation.
A comprehensive document which outlines the specific directions of state policy in that respect is the National Programme for Social Economy Development until 2023 - Social Solidarity Economy (NPSED). This document was adopted in January 2019. It identifies four key areas in which the social and solidarity economy plays an important role and therefore requires focused support from public authorities. These key areas relate to the involvement of the social economy sector in the implementation of public services and tasks, reintegration potential of the social economy sector, ability to compete
with other members of the economic cycle, as well as education and promotion. It also emphasises the solidarity dimension of social economy - relating mainly to a comprehensive approach to the needs of persons who are at risk of social exclusion in order to enable them to increase their engagement in social and professional life.
What are social economy entities?
Social economy entities include numerous types and forms of activities, both in the cooperative sector and the non-governmental sector. They include, for instance: associations, foundations, social cooperatives, cooperatives of persons with disabilities and blindness, labour cooperatives, religious organisations or country housewives associations. The category of social economy entities also includes entities playing an important role in the reintegration of persons at risk of social exclusion, i.e. occupational therapy workshops, social integration centres, social integration clubs, vocational activity establishments and sheltered work enterprises.
Data gathered by the Central Statistical Office in 2016 shows that the social economy sector in Poland consisted of approximately 94 thousand entities employing over 340 thousand persons.
Reintegration and employment
The integrative nature of the social and solidarity economy is based on creating the proper conditions for persons who - for various reasons - are unable to fully participate in social and professional life. However, it is not only about establishing work opportunities for individuals, but also about placing the emphasis on employees, involving them in decision-making processes and restoring their ability to play different social roles.
The integrative nature of social and solidarity economy which also extends beyond employment is most visible in the group of entities benefiting from support related to the employment of persons at risk of social exclusion, e.g. persons with disabilities, the unemployed, impoverished, persons leaving foster care. Social enterprises deserve particular attention at this point.
Social enterprises - what are they, exactly? A status of a social enterprise may be obtained by - among others - non-governmental organisations, social cooperatives and religious organisations which meet defined conditions involving - for instance - allocating all profits to social activities or social and professional reintegration of employees, ensuring that at least 30 percent of employees are persons classified as being at risk of exclusion; moreover, the entities must be managed in a participatory manner.
At the beginning of 2019, the list kept by the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Policy included over 950 social enterprises, employing almost 7.5 thousand employees, including over 1.8 thousand persons with disabilities (24%). These companies also employed a significant number of other persons at risk of exclusion, e.g. the unemployed, mentally challenged, the elderly. Today, over 1000 entities are already registered on the list of social enterprises.
Another crucial group of social and solidarity economy entities that creates a favourable working condition for persons at risk of social exclusion includes social cooperatives, labour cooperatives and cooperatives of persons with disabilities and blindness. As at the end of 2017, these entities provided jobs for approximately 35 thousand employees, 16.5 thousand of whom can be defined as persons at risk of social exclusion.
In addition, social economy entities also include institutions and entities focusing on social and professional reintegration prior to taking up employment. Such entities primarily include social integration centres. Nearly 400 such entities existed in 2017. These entities allowed approximately 24.5 thousand persons to benefit from their offer allowing for fuller participation in social life and support in taking up employment.
Support for the social economy
The system of support for the social and solidarity economy covers three key areas.
The first area involves the coordination of national and regional policies. The Minister of Family, Labour and Social Policy plays a key role in this area. In addition to adequately reflecting the core issues in the national strategy and programming documents, the area of coordination also involves support and ensuring the coherence of actions carried out at the regional level. The National Committee for Social Economy Development serves as a support for the Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Policy as it includes representatives of the social economy sector, central offices, local government authorities, social partners, financial institutions and science. The voivodeship government units responsible for coordinating social economy in the regions are supported by the Regional Committees for Social Economy Development.
The Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Policy also plays an important role in the second area of the support system for social economy, related to providing support in creating work opportunities in social enterprises. Thus, the Minister's tasks include in particular developing standards for managing the operations and services rendered at Social Economy Support Centres (SESC) and conducting the accreditation process. What does that mean? Obtaining the Minister's accreditation allows SESC to access to calls for proposals under Regional Operational Programmes.
Currently, approximately 60 accredited SESC operate in Poland. In accordance with the standards, these units have adequate facilities and personnel adequately trained for providing comprehensive support for social economy entities. The services provided by SESC include local animation, incubation for social business start-ups and providing business advice to help persons at risk of social exclusion find work in new or existing social businesses. In addition, SESC often acts as a spokesperson for social economy entities, allowing to enhance the cooperation between social economy entities and local government units. In addition, another important part of that area includes preferential repayable financial instruments dedicated to social economy entities implemented by Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego. In result, the social economy entities can benefit from over 2 thousand loans, which will facilitate their development, but also contribute to the creation of new job opportunities
The third, equally important area of the support system includes activities related to dissemination of knowledge concerning the social economy sector, creating conditions for cooperation and development of innovations. These actions are implemented in various formulas - both at the national and regional level. They concern, for instance, improving the quality of social development policy programming in municipalities and counties, including issues related to social and solidarity economy in the education process, creating clusters and cooperation networks involving social economy entities and business entities.
Social and Solidarity Economy Seal of Quality
The Seal of Quality is a special form of honouring the entities which successfully combine economic activity with social involvement. The prizes awarded as part of the competition contribute to establishing the brands of specific entities and the entire social economy sector.
The competition is organized as part of the project “Quality label certification system for social economy entities and local government units” implemented in partnership by:
The Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Policy - partnership leader;
Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego - partner;
Europejski Dom Spotkań – Fundacja Nowy Staw – partner.
From 2019, the certificate is awarded in the following categories: I. Debut of the Year, II. The best employer, III. Market success, IV. Social Economy Entity project financed from ESF repayable funds, V. Socially responsible local government.
Since 2018, 71 social economy entities have been awarded the “Social and Solidarity Economy Seal of Quality”.