Social economy & local development guidelines

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How can social economy help local development?

Introductory paper for the EQUAL learning seminar in Tivoli on 5-6 December 2006

Local Development and Regional Policy: Guidelines for Inclusion and Employability


Local development plays a decisive role in integrating inclusion and employment policies with special attention focused on social economy.

Local, or territorial, development policy is formulated taking into account a range of local conditions and regional differences and should be standardized with the ordinary (national) development policy, as part of a significant process of convergence, coherence and unity designed to maximize the impact and effectiveness of resources.

Community guidelines, which are reflected in national policy indications, draw attention towards priorities and objectives, which are fundamental in making social and economic development policies effective. In this light, supporting competitiveness and productivity through the innovation and improvement of social services and entrepreneurship processes is particularly relevant.

In Italy, Equal has unquestionably supported policy approach concerning institutional co-ordination and territorial design programming as a governance tool for local development and inclusion models. Moreover, the information capital developed within the territory has proved to be necessary in supporting and reinforcing local policies.

This vital resource has enhanced the local decision-makers’ programming and planning attitude, hereby empowering it. This, in turn, has positively affected the management of critical phenomena, within local community initiatives, within social infrastructure and, lastly, within transferability and sustainability models. In addition, the acquired information capital has allowed local decision-makers to create programming, in keeping with Community guidelines on productivity, competitiveness, inclusion and development.

The concept of Partnership, one of Equal’s key principles, has contributed to amplify the potential of planning processes and has enhanced local bodies, not to mention the main stakeholders governing development whose efforts are geared towards sustainability, as a result of social economy’s involvement, which is not to be considered strictly in economic terms. One sustainability issue is 'environmental awareness' in terms of the development and maintenance of cultural heritage, as well as the reduction of pollution and resource consumption. In fact, local communities with higher levels of inclusion report a more harmonious growth, a decrease in internal conflicts and a constant improvement in residents' quality of life(1).

The results obtained through the application of the partnership principle at the institutional level are remarkable, due to a vertical (i.e. from the European Commission to National and Regional Authorities and, lastly, to local bodies) and horizontal coordination made possible thanks to the creation and strengthening of networks meant to create an alliance involving the public, private and third sectors.

Therefore, local development and social economy coincide, as far as some key aspects are concerned:

  • providing support for the individual with regards to employment, and capacity building;
  • creating new and better job opportunities that are socially useful and economically sustainable;
  • supporting the entry of disadvantaged groups into the labour market.

More specifically, results derive from a greater "closeness" to the beneficiaries, not only in terms of geographic proximity, but also in terms of needs evaluation and representation. As a matter of fact, third sector organizations enjoy an operational flexibility, associated with their knowledge of local needs, which boosts opportunities for innovation and modernization of the social welfare system. Attention should be drawn to the fact that the natural tendency towards equality in third sector organizations is often supported and strengthened by Equal through specific economic guidelines and objectives, in the attempt to combine the two 'missions'.

As previously mentioned, the social economy is extremely pertinent to the integration of disadvantaged people, often providing primary job opportunities, as well as the creation of a résumé, which can later be applied in other contexts.

Thanks to Equal supported experiments, social responsibility models, new services and agreements, the third sector allows disadvantaged people to reach higher levels of performance within their organizations without any additional costs for the social community. All of this contributes to enhancing the so-called "social capital", which entails advantages such as the reinforcement of local identity, trust in the community and a sense of cohesion and solidarity, thereby raising citizens' awareness of their rights and responsibilities in civic life.

Thus, convergence between the social economy and local development facilitates the integration process between employment and inclusion policies through the participatory governance in the territory, thereby improving and fostering the social economy system and entrepreneurship.

Once again, according to Equal methodologies, the key principles of partnership and empowerment reinforce policy strategies and support design and planning. Therefore, partnership members are more able to: identify needs; develop appropriate projects and policies; plan coherent services. This promotes the development of diversified services capable of adapting to the growing complexities of the demand.

Opportunities for dissemination and enhancement, such as this seminar, can and must provide an important opportunity for evaluating and validating the results of Equal's efforts, with special attention focused on the relationship between social economy and local development. Comparison, critical assessment and validation should yield shared guidelines designed for specific territories and should define the content and priorities of specific inclusion and growth policies. These policies support different levels of activity, as has been previously shown in national programming documents:

  • Improvement of local resources in order to consolidate opportunities;
  • Transform local needs and shortfalls into definite and accredited objectives;
  • Amplify participation in order to formulate guidelines and maximize the impact of benefits;
  • Fight segregation and alienation through appropriate actions and solutions, by using transferable and sustainable models.

Thus, considering the current complex and variable context influenced by demographic, social and economic phenomena that are difficult to manage in the short term, and in light of the necessity to provide consistent and sustainable support to groups at greatest risk of social and economic exclusion, Equal’s experience seems to prove that social economy can make an important contribution to local development in order to focus greater emphasis on the identification of policy priorities, impact and quality of solutions, and on the empowerment of practitioners and beneficiaries.


(1) ISTAT (2000), I cittadini e l’ambiente. Indagine multiscopo sulle famiglie “Aspetti della vita quotidiana”, Year 1998, Roma, ISTAT.

ISTAT (2001a), Parentela e reti di solidarietà. Indagine multiscopo sulle famiglie “Famiglia, soggetti sociali e condizioni dell’infanzia”, Year 1998, Roma, ISTAT.