Social Economy Europe, the European platform for social economy organisations, of which REVES is a member, has formulated the following definition:
"Social Economy enterprises and organisations are economic and social actors present in all sectors of society, which are set up in order to meet citizens' needs. Above all they are characterized by their purpose: a different way of doing business which continuously associates the general interest, economic performance and democratic operation."
Social economy represents and applies the following values:
- the primacy of the individual and of social objectives over capital;
- the defense and implementation of principles of solidarity and responsibility,
- conjunction of members users' interests and the general interest;
- democratic control by members;
- voluntary and open membership;
- management autonomy and independence with regard to the authorities;
- surpluses are primarily intended for sustainable development projects, for member services interests and for the general interest.
Yet, a universal definition of « social economy » which is applied in all EU member states does not exist. This is due, for example, to a legal context or statutes of enterprises that differ from member state to member state.
Nevertheless, social economy can generally be defined following the aforementioned values and principles. In some countries, terms such as solidarity-based economy, third sector or third system are used to describe a different approach to entrepreneurship.
Local partnerships between social economy and local authorities
REVES was founded because local authorities and social economy in different EU member states and neighbouring countries share the belief that partnership between both actors, compared to traditional public private partnerships, has an added value.
Social economy pursues objectives that are similar to those of a local authority. Economic activities are based on the principles of social inclusion, anti-discrimination and sustainable local development. Participation of employees and beneficiaries in their decision-making processes is a key element in the set-up and functioning of social economy.
Design and production or delivery of products and services, internal management processes, ..., ... are influenced by different stakeholders.
Moreover, social economy enterprises and organisations are deeply rooted at local level. They dispose of a wide knowledge regarding the needs of their beneficiaries/employees and local environment in general. In addition, it is often them having direct contact with those parts of the population that are often sidelined and/or do not have any opportunities to participate in social, political or economic life.
Interesting and innovative methods of participation and new approaches to responsible entrepreneurship emerge out of social economy activities. However, these methods would be far more effective and spread, if they were taken up and supported by other local actors such as the local authority.
It is above all in the local community, close to individuals, where we can find untapped potential of shared responsibilities. To fully use this potential, the roles of each community member, be it companies, elected representatives, public administrators, associations, or single citizens, need to be redefined.
New forms of participation and dialogue between the various members of society, shared decisions and their joint implementation therefore play a crucial role. Local authorities and social economy structures, in their role of promoters both of democracy and the many goals of sustainable local development are well positioned to prompt a revision and remodelling of responsibilities, initiatives and local services.
Together they can work on, and realize, policies and strategies for local sustainable development that reach beyond the terms of office of local, regional and national partnerships. Thereby, they may also in a position to significantly contribute to solidarity and cohesion between different cities and regions in Europe and the world.