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Handbook on the Economics of Reciprocity and Social Enterprise

Handbook on the Economics of Reciprocity and Social Enterprise

Elgar original reference

Edited by Luigino Bruni and Stefano Zamagni

The recent era of economic turbulence has generated a growing enthusiasm for an increase in new and original economic insights based around the concepts of reciprocity and social enterprise. This stimulating and thought-provoking Handbook not only encourages and supports this growth, but also emphasises and expands upon new topics and issues within the economics discourse.

Chapter 32: Social enterprise

Carlo Borzaga

Subjects: economics and finance, behavioural and experimental economics, economic psychology, public sector economics, politics and public policy, social entrepreneurship, social policy and sociology, economics of social policy


The term social enterprise was used for the first time in the 1980s to identify the innovative private initiatives established in Italy by volunteer groups that had formed to deliver social services or provide economic activities designed to facilitate the integration of disadvantaged people. At about the same time, organizations sharing similar goals were developing in a number of other European countries. These initiatives were initially set up using the not-for-profit legal forms made available by national legal systems (associations, foundations or cooperatives), which were in some cases modified to allow them to combine entrepreneurial activities with the pursuit of social aims. As a result, in some countries such as France and Belgium, most of these organizations adopted associative forms, while in other countries, such as Italy, organizations adopted the cooperative forms, giving rise to social cooperatives. Since the 1990s, the concept of social enterprise has been increasingly used to qualify entrepreneurial initiatives operating in a number of diverse sectors of general interest. The defining features of social enterprises are the goals pursued and the production modalities adopted, and not simply the goods and services produced. As a consequence, various types of initiatives of different kinds are currently defined as social enterprises, including those promoting ethical financing, micro-credit, fair trade, and generally those initiatives producing goods and services with goals other than profit, such as those that aim to combat poverty and undernourishment (Yunus and Weber 2008).

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