Social and Solidarity Economy | 8 min to Understand Everything (2023)

Social and Solidarity Economy | Definition and challenges

You have heard ofl’ESS, but you don't understand the concept? Do not panic ! We are betting today to offer you adefinitionplain ofSocial and Solidarity Economy. If the field of action is indeed very broad and includes a large number of activities andd’initiatives, it is often seen as a third sector of the French economy. Yet,SSE in Francetoday employs 14% of workers and represents 40% of the agri-food sector! From its foundations to itssocial and environmental impact, passing through itsvalues,Social and Solidarity Economyis theeconomic model of the future. In 8 minutes, you will know everything there is to know to shine in society, and why not,commit.

The historical foundations of the SSE

The Social and Solidarity Economy is a concept that has been forged over the years, against the background of societal problems and solidarity initiatives. This is why it is essential to go through a short history lesson to grasp the essence of its definition. We promise, we stay concise!

The birth of the Social Economy

At the beginning ofSocial Economy, There's theindustrial Revolutionof the 19th century in France. Production sites are becoming industrialized on a large scale, humans are being replaced by machines and processes aredehumanized. The workers then organize themselves to deal with theemerging social issues. This is how thefirst cooperativesarise for production, consumption and agriculture. The first mutual benefit societies (ancestors of the mutuals as we know them today) were also born at this time.

The beginning of the 20th century was marked by the vote ofthe association law 1901, which allows any citizen to associate without prior authorization and still governs many associations today. Then in 1947, in a post-war context where everything had to be rebuilt,cooperation statusis legally defined asSCIC(Cooperative Society of Collective Interest). These companies have a vocation of collective interest which presents a character of social utility.

The appearance of the Solidarity Economy

During the Glorious Thirties, the purchasing power of the French continued to increase. The unemployment rate is at its lowest, working hours are decreasing, andhouseholds consume excessively,both leisure and consumer goods. The phenomenon is accompanied bymass productionto alleviate the frenzy of the consumer society.

(Video) Social impact measurement for the Social and Solidarity Economy

In 1973, a firstoil shockwill falter the model and get the better of a flourishing economy. The price of a barrel of oil is quadrupled, at a time when three quarters of the energy consumption of industrialized countries is based on black gold. Purchasing power fallsunemployment is on the riseand social exclusion is increasingly intense.

That's whenSolidarity Economyexpands. Unlike the Social Economy, it is defined not by the form of its structure (association, cooperative, etc.) but by the activity of the company. Although the definition was vague at the time, it designates an activity that has a social utility (fair trade, access to housing, personal assistance, etc.) and contributes to theeconomic democracy, puttingthe citizen at heartof the model.

The emergence of the modern concept of the SSE

The 2000s saw the emergence of new entrepreneurial dynamics and the organization of apublic policyaround the ESS. We speak thenof social entrepreneurship. The social entrepreneur does not create his business for profit but forcontribute positively to society.

Networks are being set up, such as Avise or MOUVES (MOUVement des Entrepreneurs Socials) and establishing the SSE as a solution for the sustainable development of the economy.

L’ESSwas finally supervised in 2014 bya lawwhich formalizes the rapprochement of the social economy, the solidarity economy and social entrepreneurship as a single body.

(Video) How to learn a language: for Social and Solidarity Economy activists

Social and Solidarity Economy | 8 min to Understand Everything (1)

Social and Solidarity Economy: definition and values

SSE characterized by law

The Social and Solidarity Economy, as governed by the law of 2014, is defined by 4 main criteria:

  • social utility:the SSE is based on the principle of solidarity and collective utility;
  • economic performance:the business model must be viable;
  • democratic governance:no vertical management, here the decisions are made in consultation between the members of the association or the cooperative;
  • limited profit:the heritage is collective and indivisible, the results are mostly reinvested in new projects and for the rest, redistributed among all the members.

Its aspiration is therefore to create sustainable growth around greater social cohesion.

Social and solidarity values

Beyond these legal rules, the SSE carriesvalues ​​and ambitionsmuch wider. First of all,the humanis at the center of the concept and relegates capitalism to the background. This does not mean that social entrepreneurship does not participate in the economy: in 2014, the SSE already represented 10% of GDP. On the other hand,capital is reinvestedor shared equitably.

Thejob qualityis also an essential component of the SSE. 14% of positions held in France come from the SSE, and people are more invested in their missions, in which they find meaning. Involvement in decision-making is stronger there because of the democratic nature of governance, even if the pattern can be very different in large structures.

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WithSocial and Solidarity Economy, it is not up to the territory to adapt to economic requirements (building, for example, a 3rd shopping center in a catchment area that could have been satisfied with just one), it is, on the contrary, the economy that takes into account territorial specificities toto respond to needs Population. Thus, its growth is geared towards the inhabitants (access to housing, aging of the population, etc.). THEsocial connectionsare reinforced by this territorial anchoring.

Finally, in a dynamic focused on quality of life, the SSE advocatesresponsible consumption patternsand respectful of the environment. By favoring the local and the territorial, we promote short circuits andsources of jobs that cannot be relocated. Some companies have even relocated all or part of their production to France by integrating into a social entrepreneurship approach.

The fields of action of the SSE

Contrary to popular belief, not all SSE companies are linked to a social activity! Of course, they respond to social needs that cannot be taken care of by the State: the provision of care and services for aging populations, access to housing for people in precariousness, access to employment, among others.

But the Social and Solidarity Economy affectsall sectors: housing, energy, environment, food, mobility, clothing, etc. We even seeemerge from citizen initiativeswhich are becoming more professional and which overlap with several of these issues:

  • students looking for accommodation and elderly people who want to make a room available in exchange for a little company and daily help;
  • crowdfunding platforms that connect business creators and individuals wishing to invest;
  • eco-responsible companies that hire people with disabilities and thus promote their integration;
  • etc.

The challenges of the SSE, to regenerate the planet?

Even if it is not obvious at first glance, the Social and Solidarity Economy is nevertheless part of aeco-responsible approach: through its missions and objectives, entrepreneurial initiatives related to the environment andregeneration of the planetbloom.

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Social innovation, for projects with a strong social and environmental impact.

Social innovation is a concept that aims to change practices related to an unsatisfactory social situation. In other words, project leaders identify a problem or a social need, and propose innovative responses. It is on this observation that many initiatives have been developed in recent years, some of which focus on an eco-responsible approach:

  • Conception durable :Exit planned obsolescence! We create consumer goods of good quality, solid and made to last, according to fair production processes and with respect for people and nature;
  • Responsible and alternative consumption:short-circuit food is developing more and more, and applications for recovering unsold items and avoiding food waste are multiplying. We can also think of local currencies, which favor local shops and services;
  • Sharing Economy:rather than buying, why not try renting or lending between individuals? Today, you can find networking platforms for almost all everyday objects (car rental, tools, washing machines, sports equipment, etc.);
  • Reuse and second life:it is increasingly easy to renovate our old, broken or damaged objects, in order to restore them to their main function. We can think of the reconditioning of electronic objects, the renovation of furniture, bicycles, the donation and resale of clothing, among others). Many companies also apply torecycle and transformgoods or materials to give them a second life (a container becomes a home, pallets become garden furniture, etc.);
  • Energetic transition :through the production of renewable energies or the energy improvement of homes, the players in the energy transition now represent a significant part of the economy.

The Ecopreneur at the service of the Social and Solidarity Economy

The SSE is putting people and their natural territory back at the center of growth issues, not by exploiting them excessively but by adapting to their needs and capacities. It is a foundation closely related togreen entrepreneurship, and whose values ​​are those we defend withEcopreneur: in addition to acting for the planet, the green entrepreneur improveshuman well-being and social equity. He or she also demonstrates great creativity by acting in the present while thinking about the future: consumer objects must be biodegradable or reusable to create a positive ecological footprint and asustainable growth.

Ecological entrepreneurship has a global dimension since it affects all aspects of our daily lives, and bringsreal answerto the regeneration of the planet.

So, convinced by the benefits and action of the Social and Solidarity Economy**? Even if the excesses are beginning to point their noses (tax benefits and subsidies that promote corporate opportunism and theGreen Washing, recovery and distortion of values),l’ESSis undoubtedly amodel to followfor future generations. Even isolated citizen initiatives can give rise to inspiring examples, and everyone can act at their level. If you have theentrepreneurial fiberand want to have apositive impact on the social economyand onour beautiful planet, you too could become an accomplished Ecopreneur.

(Video) Exploring Social and Solidarity Economy’s (SSE) Development in Asia

So if you want to quickly master all aspects of creating and developing a profitable activity or business, with an ethical and ecological approach, joinour Ecopreneur ecological entrepreneurship training program. Our support will help you focus on your core business with complete peace of mind.

Or come and attend ourfree webconference on ecological entrepreneurshipand discover how you too can help the planet while creating your job.


1. Localizing the SDGs through Social and Solidarity Economy for Sustainable Societies
2. Documentary "Solidarity Economy in Barcelona" (English version)
(Miguel Yasuyuki Hirota)
3. Introducing Solidarity Economy
(Solidarity Research Center)
4. What Is the Social Solidarity Economy?
5. American Climate Rebels Episode 11: Cooperation Jackson: Building a Social and Solidarity Economy
6. The Social and Solidarity Economy Movement: Perspectives from the U.S., Spain and Latin America
(Latin American & Iberian Institute)


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