W poszukiwaniu polskiego modelu ekonomii społecznej Administrator: FISE EQUAL

Background of the project

Despite significant economic growth over the last few years, resulting largely from increased productivity, employment indicators in Poland have remained virtually unchanged.  The employment rate, which has not exceeded 50%, is among the lowest in Europe. Moreover, access to jobs is not equal and social groups especially vulnerable to discrimination, including the disabled, ethnic minorities, women (especially single mothers), the homeless, ex-prisoners, people with chronic illnesses and especially those with mental illness, remain markedly disadvantaged. From a purely economic point of view it is unprofitable to create jobs that address the needs of those who are disadvantaged, to train them and to offer them steady employment, because it involves high costs that enterprises operating on the open market do not want to (and cannot) incur. It is worth noticing that social policy decision makers have not treated work as a basic form of aid for high risk groups. Material aid as well as access to medical services, therapy and rehabilitation have taken precedence, while work has been seen as a lower priority. This approach, however, has been changing recently—the notion that work should be accessible to all and that exclusion from employment leads to social exclusion is increasingly gaining support. Furthermore, even meagre social benefits (per head) are increasingly considered as too great a burden on the national budget.

Such a mass scale of social exclusion in Poland requires innovative strategies for social and professional integration of disadvantaged groups. One of the most potentially efficient strategies could be the social economy (SE), whose social enterprises are characterised by ‘their ability to find innovative and dynamic solutions for the problems of unemployment and social exclusion and to facilitate a type of economic growth that enhances social cohesion, which is one of the dimensions of sustainable growth’ (Noya/Lecamp, 1999). The term ‘social enterprises’ encompasses non-governmental organisations, social companies from the business sector as well as the traditional cooperative sector.

It is important in our project to define the scope of and interrelationships between the terms ‘non-governmental organisations' (the third sector) and ‘the social economy’. In our opinion, social economy institutions and the third sector are distinct from each other, but the third sector is part of the social economy in a broad sense (this view is in line with the EU practice). Thus, we accept that the subjective scope of SE is broader than that of the third sector. Consequently, in our project we will focus (but not exclusively) on the current and potential role of non-governmental organisations in developing the area of the social economy (especially through the social enterprises that they create).

In Poland, through the efforts of the non-governmental sector (and in our project we are especially interested in this kind of grassroots approach), the legal foundation for building the social economy  comprises three acts: the Social Employment Act of 2003, the Promotion of Employment and Labour Market Institutions Act of 2004, and the Public Benefit and Voluntary Service Act of 2003. Along with other governmental initiatives, such as the draft social housing development programme and the lifelong learning programme, the existing legislation is a symptom of an emerging, more comprehensive policy oriented toward decreasing social exclusion. Still, this does not guarantee a coordinated approach to developing the social economy in Poland, especially as the above-mentioned acts are only coming into force and their impact on the labour market remains unknown. The conditions necessary for efficient operation and preparation of participants for active involvement in the development of the social economy in Poland is also largely unknown.

By identifying the optimal model for the social economy in Polish conditions, it will be possible to develop tools (methods and approaches) for supporting the self-sufficiency and sustainability of SE projects (especially those run by non-governmental organisations), and to thus prevent social exclusion more efficiently. Such a model will also reinforce an innovative approach to growth in Poland’s third sector, which will support the economic self-sufficiency of groups vulnerable to discrimination, enable individuals to take responsibility for their own lives, and in effect reduce the need for benefits that simply support their existence but do not substantially change their standard of living.

We must add here that during activity 1—i.e. at the information-collecting stage as well as during discussions both within the Partnership and with a wider audience—we decided to broaden the scope of activities planned within the project. First, we took a wider approach to the SE infrastructure. Apart from the issues of legislation regarding the SE and financing the SE, we decided to tackle the issues of the social environment and SE relations with the business sector. Second, the project activities are no longer devoted exclusively to research but are oriented to developing a robust support system for SE projects. Finally, we have broadened the scope of the research, which is now not only quantitative but involves a very in depth qualitative component. The regional cooperation component and the resulting promotion system have been enhanced significantly as well. We believe that these changes are in line with the very essence of the Equal programme and will prove beneficial for the development of the non governmental sector and social economy.

The Project is supported by the European Social Fund under the EQUAL Initiative of the European Union.