Social economy in Poland
"The social economy is not only the result of legal resolutions and acts. It is not only a question of social awareness, though public support is very significant. The social economy is a social movement that should lead to a new vision for Poland’s development. The social economy is a way of involving the third sector in Poland’s economic development" - Jerzy Hausner, former Minister of Labor and Social Policy and former Vice-Premier.
The past and the present
Vulnerable social groups in particular – such as former employees of collective farms, women over 50 years of age, social minorities, the physically and mentally disabled (who have the lowest employment indicator in the EU at ~24,6% (2009)) – have limited opportunities on the quickly changing and highly competitive labor market. People in vulnerable social groups do not have the skills to productively participate in economic life, face considerable discrimination from potential employers and, as a result, continue to rely predominantly on state aid. Individuals in these groups lack the skills and competency necessary to adapt to an ever changing market. The new economy required people with specific skills. Preferably, it sought out young individuals that could commit time to training for newly created occupations, leaving behind underprivileged and older individuals without adequate vocational skills.
While, in the last 20 years, societal measures have been taken to aid individuals from vulnerable social groups in joining the labor force, Poland’s aid measures remain relatively low in comparison to its EU counterparts. In fact, Poland share of public and private expenditure intended for social purposes is below OECD average, with private expenditure being particularly low (OECD Factbook 2010). The European Union acknowledges that the European society is “aging” and that proper steps need to be taken to ensure they are able to be transitioned into roles needed in the current labor market. The employment of these individuals is not only vital in the development of the economy, but it would also decrease social aid costs.
Social entrepreneurship has been accepted as an innovative and practical solution to the problem of unemployment. Social enterprises in Poland, just as in other countries, offer creative approaches to maintaining financial self-sufficiency while fulfilling a clearly defined social mission. However, Poland’s social economy sector has yet to utilize its full potential: it makes up 5,9% of the labour market – in comparison to 8,3% in France, 9,5% in the Netherlands and 9% in Ireland (2008).
Cooperatives are the most inclined to negative connotations, as the term was used to describe work and neighborhood unions during communist rule. For some of the older individuals in Poland, the word “co-op” has become a synonym for a communist business. While defined as a cooperative union, co-ops during that era had very little to do with cooperation or democratic standards. During the 1990’s many co-ops restructured themselves into companies, to some extend because of the negative associations with the word “co-op”, or returned to true principles of a cooperative.
After the fall of communism, the social economy sector has evolved to include a variety of institutions, ranging from time banks to social enterprises. Contemporary social economy institutions in Poland are involved in a wide range of activities, address different social problems, and often support specifically targeted social groups. All of them are characterized by the dual objective of maintaining financial independence and fulfilling a social mission.
The social economy sector in Poland includes a diverse range of institutions, some emerging from the traditional non-government sector and others more closely associated with the private sector. Over 19% out of a total of 64,500 non-government organizations (NGO’s) take advantage of the possibility of running an income-generating business activity (2008).
Changes near at hand
For detailed information, see the 30-page pamphlet available for download in the „Library” section.