Social economy refers to all business activities that are not only driven by a strong social mission but that are also intended to be economically viable. This includes cooperatives, mutual societies, non-profit associations, foundations and social enterprises, covering a wide range of activities. The goals of social economy organisations are generally to provide goods and services (including employment opportunities) to their members or community, as well as the pursuit of general interest goals, such as environmental protection. In this way, social economy organisations aim to make a profit for people other than investors or owners.
To ensure that social economy enterprises can compete effectively and fairly, without regulatory discrimination and taking into account their particular needs, the European Commission launched the Social Business Initiative (COM (2011) 682 final) . Another European Commission initiative in this field was the launch of Towards social investment for growth and cohesion (COM (2013) 83 final) , which promotes social innovation as a source of growth and jobs, supports innovative entrepreneurs and mobilises investors and public organisations.
According to the Recent evolutions of social economy study, financed by the European Economic and Social Committee, the social economy accounted for 13,621,535 jobs across the EU from 2014 to 2015. However, the level of employment in social economy organisations varies among EU countries. In Belgium, Italy, France and the Netherlands, 9–10% of the working population work in social economy organisations, while in other countries the social economy is still emerging (for example, under 2% of the working population in Lithuania, Croatia, Romania, Slovenia and Slovakia work in social economy organisations).