Social Economy and Innovation

Social entrepreneurship & Social enterprises


Social entrepreneurship is the process through which specific types of actors – the “social entrepreneurs” – create and develop organisations that may be either social enterprises or other types of organisations. It also designates a field including a broad set of initiatives with a social impact dimension in a spectrum ranging from for-profit to non-profits.

Social entrepreneurship flourishes when a holistic policy ecosystems is in place – an appropriate regulatory framework, means to ensure a better access to market and finance and opportunities for skills development notably through business support structures.

Since its 1990’s pioneering work to define social enterprises, the OECD’s work on social entrepreneurship has significantly expanded and has developed a robust evidence base on effective policies for social entrepreneurship.

Social enterprises are identified by the OECD as “any private activity conducted in the public interest, organised with an entrepreneurial strategy, whose main purpose is not the maximisation of profit but the attainment of certain economic and social goals, and which has the capacity for bringing innovative solutions to the problems of social exclusion and unemployment.”

More recently, the European Commission has defined a social enterprise as being “an operator in the social economy whose main objective is to have a social impact rather than make a profit for their owners or shareholders. It operates by providing goods and services for the market in an entrepreneurial and innovative fashion and uses its profits primarily to achieve social objectives. It is managed in an open and responsible manner and, in particular, involves employees, consumers and stakeholders affected by its commercial activities."


Policies to support social entrepreneurship in the European Union

Since 2011, the OECD has worked to develop policies and programmes to support social entrepreneurship and foster social enterprise development, with the financial support of the European Commission DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion (DG EMPL).

This work has notably materialised in the production of in-depth policy reviews on social entrepreneurship that aim to assess the policy gaps in EU Member States in this field and to promote good policy practices.

Promoting the legal and regulatory frameworks for social enterprises in the European Union

In 2020, the OECD launched a two-year project, with the financial support of the European Commission DG for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs (DG GROW), to promote the development of legal and regulatory frameworks in EU Member States that effectively allow social enterprises to develop and thrive.

As part of its outputs, a manual providing guidance for policymakers to assess, design and improve legal and regulatory frameworks for social enterprises will be produced. The production of a manual will be complemented by a mutual learning seminar for representatives of national governments involved in designing policies, especially legal and regulatory frameworks for social enterprise development.

More information on the Action can be found on the dedicated webpage


Our work on supporting social entrepreneurship consists of the following:

Policy guides

Thematic papers


Designing Legal Frameworks for Social Enterprises: Practical Guidance for Policy Makers (2022)

Milestone publications

In-depth country reviews on social entrepreneurship

Policy briefs


* These publications have been produced with the financial support of the European Union.


For general information about Social Economy, please contact 


Related Documents