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Social Enterprises in Italy

Mara Benadusi, Teresa Consoli, Deborah De Felice; Francesco Mazzeo Rinaldi, Carlo Pennisi and Maria Olivella Rizza - University Catania; Giulio Citroni, Emanuela Chiodo, Tiziana Crispino and Alessandro Sicora - University Calabria

Abstract: The organizational, political, institutional and legal landscape of social enterprises (SE) in Italy is rather complex. At least four different “families” can be distinguished: social-innovation start-ups; social-economy organizations; non-profit organizations with an entrepreneurial style and a market-orientation; and the so-called “social cooperatives” established by law in 1991. Each of these four “families”, according to its history and traditions, has different relations to other sectors and policy actors. Areas and fields of activity differ as well, as do legal forms – with a small minority of SE boasting the legal title of social enterprise recently established by law. The most well-represented are social cooperatives, nearly two-thirds of which serve users with unstable living or employment situations, joined by foundations and ecclesiastical bodies, a significant component of which are engaged in providing services for people with social needs. Historically characterized by a strong “Bismarckian” legacy, Italian welfare is increasingly opening up to non-public organisations, and SE may find opportunities to develop. However, economic, cultural and administrative differences across the national territory (especially in the North/South divide) determine very different conditions for SE to operate. Academic inquiry into social entrepreneurship in Italy has generated a rich body of scientific research characterized by a variety of approaches and theories. Relational sociology, the so-called “civil economy” school, the Trentino-based school that orbits around the Euricse Research Institute, the Florence-based school linked to the Yunus Center, and the business school associated with Milan’s Bocconi University, as represented by Elio Borgonovi and Giorgio Fiorentini, are the main arenas of debate on social enterprises. There are also several data collections in Italy concerning (social) enterprises. The CENSUS database from ISTAT (Italian National Istitute of Statistics) and the EXCELSIOR database from Unions of Chambers are national surveys monitoring the evolution of private enterprises and the labour market. Although they are not specifically focused on social enterprises, CENSUS and EXCELSIOR include a focus on the non-profit sector according to its legal definition. EURICSE (the European Research Institute on Cooperative and Social Enterprises) and IRIS (Research Institutes on Social Enterprises) specifically refer to SE, but produce secondary data collections. Alongside the consolidated world of social cooperation that continues to undergo expansion despite the economic crisis, new initiatives and trends are gaining space in the public sphere. One of the most interesting of recent trends is the almost exponential growth of incubators, co-working spaces and centres for fuelling social innovation. These activities however cannot develop unless business owners/shareholders are aware of the special nature of their businesses, there is a consolidated, pre-existing social network, and the country’s policy and regulatory environment develop in a way that fosters and facilitates this kind of activity.