Social Enterprise in Spain: From a Diversity of Roots to a Tentative Typology of Models

Millan Di'az-Foncea, Esther Villajos, Teresa Savall, Carmen Guzman,

Francisco Javier Santos, Marta Solorzano-Garcia, Chaime Marcuello-Servos, Rafael Chaves-Avila and Carmen Marcuello


This chapter’s objective is to analyse the various perspectives on the concept of social enterprise (SE) as well as the different SE models existing in Spain. While the first major section presents the context and the main concepts related to the SE phenomenon in the country, the second one identifies and describes models of social enterprise.

Understanding Concepts and Context

In Spain, the term “social enterprise” has historically been linked to the organisations that promoted the social and labour integration of persons at risk of social and labour exclusion and other similar social activities. These organisations are recognised as part of the social economy, in accordance with the standpoint of European Union institutions (Monzon-Campos and Chaves-Avila 2017). The fields in which the concept of social enterprise first emerged in Spain are probably academia and politics, which are more connected than field initiatives to debates and research in Europe.

At the beginning of the 1980s, different social organisations that had launched special programmes of training and labour integration, focusing on excluded people or people at risk of exclusion, experienced difficulties with regard to the subsequent social integration of their trainees. They then began to create labour initiatives as a follow-up of the training process they offered. These initiatives can be viewed as the predecessors of work-integration social enterprises (WISEs) in Spain, and they are considered as the country’s first “social enterprises” (Vidal 1997; Puig Olle 1998; Alvarez 1999; Rojo Gimenez 2000; Garcia and Esteve 2007), although they did not obtain legal recognition until 2007 (Law 44/2007).1 Other initiatives that emerged during

Spain 201 these years and can be linked to social enterprise in Spain include “sheltered-employment centres” (centras especiales de empleo; we will use the English acronym, SEC, hereafter), which dealt with the work integration of disabled people and gained legal recognition in 1982 (Law 13/1982 for the Social Integration of Disabled Persons), and social-initiative cooperatives, similar to Italian social cooperatives, which emerged to manage social services and cultural activities, were precariously financed by the government, and were finally recognised at the national level by Law 27/1999 on Cooperatives.2 These three types of organisation can be considered as predecessors of social enterprises in Spain, although they did not really self-identify with this concept, except maybe in the case of those belonging to the first type.

But despite the existence of these initiatives, the recognition of the concept of social enterprise at the general level did not come until 2006, when Ashoka-Spain selected its first fellows, increasing knowledge about social entrepreneurship and social-business activities among the media and thus among a broad sector of society. New consultancies and institutions are related to the understanding that social enterprises are a vehicle for social innovation and bring about solutions to social problems which neither the traditional market nor the public administration can provide.

In fact, the term “social enterprise” is still underused in Spain, and a debate still exists regarding its definition. A mix of perspectives on this concept, with different nuances, can be observed (European Commission 2020) and, following a tendency that Ashoka initiated, the term “social entrepreneur” is now used more frequently than that of “social enterprise”. Social-economy entities also contribute to this debate and support the idea that some traditional social-economy organisations—and not only WISEs and SECs—should be recognised as social enterprises. This is the case of some agricultural cooperatives, with a long tradition in Spain, which have empowered people in the country’s hinterland and were in many cases the only economic organisations in those areas.

Other business models have also recently emerged with the goals of overcoming the challenges of funding and increasing the viability of nongovernmental organisations (NGOs). Some NGOs started searching for a commercial approach to diversifying their funding sources, following a path that had been opened—although not in a very conscious way—by other NGOs in the mid-1990s.

Finally, the concept of social enterprise has also been used to refer to those social movements, including associations and other transitional movements, which took the leap from the social field to the business arena. They were aware of the need to professionalise the alternatives they proposed, and to give them economic viability to increase the dissemination of their principles and practices in the economic arena, so

202 Diaz-Foncea, Villajos, Savall, Guzman et al.

they acquired entrepreneurial characteristics. Likewise, other experiences originated in individual initiatives or informal movements that developed business activities and opened small shops emphasising fair, organic and local trade.

In sum, the debate about the concept of social enterprise is still open in Spain. This concept has roots in the social-economy sector, but organisations with an Anglo-Saxon perspective also use this term with increasing frequency. On the basis of the above analysis and of other works (Chaves-Avila and Monzon-Campos 2018) about the various sources of the concept of social enterprise in Spain, four major groups can be highlighted within the existing range of organisations and businesses linked to this concept:

  • • organisations coming from the social-economy tradition (socialintegration cooperatives, sheltered-employment centres);
  • • organisations linked to social innovation and encouraged by platforms such as Ashoka;
  • • transitional movements seeking new business models in different areas (e.g., the solidarity economy, the “Som” movements5);
  • • for-profit enterprises seeking to improve their social impact (B Corps, common-good economy, enterprises implementing social-responsibility practices).
< Prev   CONTENTS   Source   Next >