The Third Sector in Europe
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The Third Sector in Europe

Edited by Adalbert Evers and Jean-Louis Laville

This book explores Europe’s third sector – the non-profit organisations and providers of social services such as mutuals, co-operatives, associations, voluntary organisations and charities: these elements of a civil society are important yet often overlooked features in contemporary socio-economics and social policy.
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Chapter 7: The Netherlands: from private initiatives to non-profit hybrids and back?

Paul Dekker


Paul Dekker INTRODUCTION Private non-profit organizations have a strong position in Dutch society, not only economically but also culturally. They are seen as embodiments of national identity, that is, as representing what are imagined as typical Dutch traditions of private responsibility for common interests, of religious pluralism and of a non-authoritarian state that is pragmatically looking for partnerships in society. However, the area of private non-profit organizations is hardly ever described in commonly understood international terms as a ‘third sector’ or ‘non-profit sector’. The Dutch use their own non-economic terms to talk about organizations in the area between state agencies and business firms: ‘private initiatives’ and ‘societal midfield’. The oldest term is private initiative (particulier initiatief), used to describe the origins of many organizations: groups of citizens in voluntary associations and pursuing issues that supersede individual interests. Until the 1990s the term was also used in the abbreviated form, ‘het PI’, indicating the field of non-profit service providers that were the offspring of the private initiatives (but had turned into vested interests). Nowadays the abbreviation is seldom used and the term ‘private initiative’ itself has become somewhat ambiguous since it can now mean private commercial initiatives as well. The term ‘societal midfield’ (maatschappelijk middenveld) was introduced in the 1970s and focuses on the functions of organizations as intermediaries, mainly between the individual citizen and the state, but also between groups in society. On the one hand, the organizations in the societal midfield represent the interests of their specific group at...

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