Social Enterprises in Times of Crisis

We are witnessing a rapid growth in the number of social entrepreneurs in Spain in the recent years as never seen before. At this moment, Spain is facing a desolate social and political situation: unemployment rate has surpassed 26% (more than 55% per youth), public budget cuts are constant, a number of national banks have collapsed, an increasing dissatisfaction with the public authorities exists… This context has resulted in an opportunity for social entrepreneurs, who have been attracted by the challenge of solving social problems and helping more vulnerable groups in times of crisis.

According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) [1], there were 747 social entrepreneurs in Spain in 2009. That was equivalent to 0,53% of the working population, a low figure compared to other countries such as UK or EEUU. Despite the fact that finding official data regarding the people working in that sector in Spain is difficult, there is evidence that the number social entrepreneurs have increased; which vary from small companies selling organic food to enterprises that employ disable people.

As example of the growing role of social entrepreneurship in Spain; Bill Drayton, founder of Ashoka, received the Prince of Asturias Award for International Cooperation in 2011. “There are at least three times more Ashoka Fellows in Spain than in any other sovereign debt countries: Spain is beginning to call social entrepreneurs to action, and they are responding”, Bill Drayton said [2]. Ashoka is an international network which supports projects that cause positive social impact. The election of Bill Drayton can be seen as the recognition of the key role that social entrepreneurs are playing in Spain during those years of economic crisis; filling a gap that traditional companies and the State have abandoned. This way, social enterprises are considered agents of change, for the reason that they could lead to a more sustainable economy; as they are based on values of solidarity, cohesion, inclusion empowerment and innovation.

On the other hand, the European Union has also recognized the importance of the social economy. This sector employs more than 11 millions of workers in the EU, accounts for 4.5 % of the active EU population and contributes for 10 % of the European economy (GDP) [3]. On the other hand, the President of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso said “Social business can be indeed a very powerful agenda for change. To deliver better outcomes for the common good. To show that it is possible to do things more responsibly and more fairly, whilst still being a success on the market. And to become a real engine of growth in the EU. Europe must not only be part of these changes. Europe should be in the lead.”

For these reasons, the European Commission recently approved the “Social Business Initiative”; which aims to support the creation and development of social enterprises, focusing on facilitating the process of finding funds.

Therefore, social entrepreneurs are crucial actors in today’s context, as they are helping to create a more inclusive society and to promote sustainable growth. This way, social enterprises are likely to become indispensable players in the near future, not only increasing its number but its relevance.


[1] Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (2011) Report on Social Entrepreneurship: Executive Summary


[3] European Commission (2014) The Social Business Initiative of the European Commission

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