Ekonomia społeczna potrzebuje zakorzenienia w świecie wartości i zasad. Są to poza solidarnością – przedsiębiorczość, zaangażowanie, odpowiedzialność oraz pomocniczość.
Manifest Ekonomii Społecznej

Social economy in Poland
aktualizacja: 25.07.2012
"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
Poland has progressed through a profound transformation of its social, economic and political structures since the fall of communism. The national economy has been growing steadily (3.7% GDP growth in 2010); however, national economic statistics do not reflect the social challenges that many Poles face in their daily lives. The low living standards result in a large part from the consequences of the structural changes that took place during the transition from a centralized to a market economy. During that time, many large public employers either closed, reconstructed or privatized, which, almost always, resulted in massive layoffs. Since at this time, Poland moved from an industry-based to a service-based economy, many of these laid off workers could not find work, as their skills had become obsolete and unnecessary. Today, the unemployment rate remains relatively high in the EU and amounts to around 9,6% (Eurostat, 2011).

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.

Development of the sector
Poland’s entrance into the European Union in May 2004 brought new opportunities for resolving the problems on the Polish labor market and improving the living standards of the population. The structural funding that was made available contributed to raising living standards not only in very tangible ways (ex. by improving and expanding communication, technology and administrative infrastructure), but also by investing in research and development of new systemic models and approaches to more effectively counteract social problems. A portion of the structural funds was disbursed through the EQUAL Initiative program, which enabled cross-sectoral partnerships to explore new ways of supporting the most vulnerable social groups on the labor market through research, information exchanges, and study visits between EU member states.

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).

Social economy institutions in Poland – then and now
Prior to the Second World War, the social economy in Poland comprised primarily cooperatives and mutual insurance companies. During the communist period, these institutions were exploited for propaganda purposes and, as a result, now arouse negative associations for some Poles.

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).

  • An estimated 16,000 cooperatives currently function in Poland in a variety of domains ranging from housing and medical services to consumer cooperatives.
  • Over 500 social cooperatives have been founded since the 2006 Polish Act on Social Cooperatives was adopted.
  • Over 60 Social Integration Centers (CIS) have been established based on the 2003 Act on Social Employment by Polish NGO’s, welfare centers and local governments to provide employment for people from socially marginalized groups (especially long-term unemployed, the homeless, formerly incarcerated individuals).
  • About 60 Vocational Training Centre (ZAZ) offer transitional employment specifically to the physically and mentally disabled with the goal of helping them re-enter the open labor market.

Changes near at hand
Polish society is currently discussing the idea of an act on social entrepreneurship. Such an act would include: an up-to-date definition of a social enterprise, a list of possible forms of support to such entities on the side of the state, creation of a Chamber of Social Entrepreneurs which would control the reliability of activities conducted by social economy entities. Until now, the status and activities of social enterprises haven’t been legally defined. The project was initiated in 2009 by the team dealing with solutions for the social economy sector, officially appointed by the Polish Prime Minister.

Challenges ahead

  • Modernizing the cooperative sector,
  • Economizing the NGO sector,
  • Creating more social enterprises,
  • Capitalizing on importance of the social economy for local development,
  • Making better use of different financing mechanisms,
  • Enrooting the social economy in society.

For detailed information, see the 30-page pamphlet available for download in the „Library” section.