A plural social economy, guarantee of well-being and social cohesion

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The social economy is part of the country's roots and identity and constitutes an enormous heritage of society that needs to be promoted.



Member of the Board of Directors of the Catalan Coordinator of Foundations and assistant to the General Management of the Pere Tarrés Foundation. 

Vertical photo: 
Rafael Ruiz de Gauna.
Square photo: 
Rafael Ruiz de Gauna.
Horizontal photo: 
Rafael Ruiz de Gauna.

Modern societies have a complex structure. At the extreme poles we can find a commercial company that seeks to generate profits to distribute among shareholders, with more or less emphasis on human rights, well-being and sustainability, and a public sector that formally looks after the rights and services to citizens. However, a very relevant and increasingly significant agent that emerges between these two sectors is often forgotten, the social economy , which shares private initiative with a desire for public action. We are talking about foundations, associations, cooperatives, mutuals... but also about other not so well-known organizations, such as labor societies, insertion companies, special work centers, agricultural transformation societies and other new, less formalized realities.

According to data from the European Union provided by the Observatory of Foundations of the Catalan Coordinator of Foundations, the social economy represents 10% of organizations and 6% of workers in member countries.

The organizations that make up this economic model have a common denominator; they are private entities that do not seek to maximize results to repay a capital, but to develop an economic activity without profits or with a limited distribution. And often, enhancing the general interest and the common good of all of society , especially the most vulnerable. They are present in all sectors, but very prominently in services to people, and especially in the fields of social action, health and education. And those entities that have members or partners as "owners" are endowed with democratic principles in their government, a style that permeates the entire sector of the social economy, where the voice of the workers and agents involved is relevant and a common practice in management.

They are institutions that stand out for some principles and actions. They try to ensure the quality of employment, in markets that are often highly regulated and under-equipped. They contribute to a different economy, an alternative to the traditional mercantile sector and an omnipresent state, all the while claiming the role of civil society and social initiative in building the common good and an activity with a more humane perspective. They are proactive in identifying emerging needs in society and out of social responsibility try to provide innovative answers, sometimes not sufficiently economically viable. They show a special sensitivity for environmental sustainability or the equality policies of all people linked to the organization.

In this panorama we find the foundations , entities that without owners or partners have permanently committed funds for carrying out activities of general interest , closely supervised by the public authorities, and that often mobilize private resources for this good collective, in the exercise of a responsibility that must not be exclusive to the Administration.

In cyclical economic crises, social economy organizations cushion the impact on workers' employment, while providing more stability and continuity, albeit in the face of profound changes in the market or public policies, as happens in other sectors , they must address restructuring.

The importance of their social contribution has traditionally been valued and collected by the tax system, which deducts business and private contributions made to any of these organizations (according to the recently reformed patronage law), and also reduces taxes that have to pay, for the significant contribution that their activity makes to social welfare and to the State's own goals.

It is a plural and diverse sector, which since the 19th century has contributed significantly to the generation of quality services to social cohesion . You only need to remember the workers' athenes, the work or consumer cooperatives, the mutuals or the first hospitals, schools or social and leisure centers.

It is, therefore, part of the country's roots and identity and that must be enhanced , with legislation that contemplates and integrates the diversity of realities , and with policies that support the strengthening of their structures. And that they also give visibility to the role of civil society and philanthropy in the structuring of a country that is supportive and committed to the common good, that enhances people's rights. Having a third sector and a solid social economy is a guarantee of the future and solidarity , in a context in which foundations play an important role, always from the recognition of plural realities.

*Article published in the framework of 'L'Àgora CCF: voices of the foundational world', an initiative of the Catalan Coordinator of Foundations .

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