Social Entrepreneurship in Greece

19.12.2012 Blog

On December 14, 2012, the Greek Ministry of Labour, Social Security and Welfare organised in Thessaloniki, Greece an awareness raising forum on social entrepreneurship in which a lot of stakeholders from the public and private sector actively participated. The main aim of the forum was to inform the public on three critical issues:
- The institutional framework of social entrepreneurship in Greece
- The Administrative procedures for setting up a social cooperative enterprise
- Examples of successful Greek social enterprises

During this forum, great emphasis was given on Social Cooperative Enterprises (SCEs) as the only form of social enterprise in Greece established by Law 4019/2011 in September 2011. SCEs fall into the following three categories:
- Integration SCEs, aiming at integrating individuals belonging to volatile groups into the economic and social life.
- Social Care SCEs, focusing on the provision of goods and services of social character towards elderly, infants, children, disabled and chronically ill.
- SCEs with a collective and productive purpose, aiming at providing goods and services that meet the needs of collectivity and also promote the local interest and enhance the local or regional development.

Representatives from the Ministry of Labour, Social Security and Welfare as well as from SCEs per se presented the state of affairs of social entrepreneurship in Greece and highlighted their future plans for development and respective needs.  Emphasis was given on the fact that even though social entrepreneurship is a new field in Greece, it is already promoted as an alternative way of coping with or overcoming the country’s difficult and ever-deepening economic situation and all the respective consequences that come along. Towards this end, the Greek government is currently planning in their strategy to provide financing through funding programs and new funding tools such as the operation of the social economy fund and the establishment of microfinance mechanisms in order to foster and further enhance the situation in the field which is still at an embryonic phase.

Besides the positive developments in the field, there are still several constraints that should be taken into strong consideration by the state. In particular, during this awareness event the debate between the panel and the audience (mainly social entrepreneurs and people who want to establish a social enterprise) was about stressing the level and importance of existing obstacles that many SCEs are coping with. Specifically, the participants focused their discussions on the problems encountered in relation to tax issues, social security issues, and also on problems encountered in opening a bank account – the simplest procedure of all - which has proved to be quite difficult and complicated especially for a SCE.  The main reason for this complex situation is the fact that SCE is a new legal form whereby no formal (institutional) recognition of social enterprises (and social economy as well) has ever taken place until 2011. Needless to say that for many the term “social enterprise” is still an unknown one.

It is imperative thus to establish a system of tight coordination between the different ministries and public agencies as a means of developing all the appropriate conditions for the operation of SCEs. The creation of a solid communication channel among different public and private entities which are directly or indirectly involved in their operation is essential. Possible amendments of the law should also be taken into account in order to facilitate the establishment and operation of such enterprises.

This event and all the respective discussions could be regarded as indicative of the hybrid situation of social entrepreneurship in Greece. It will take a long time for an operational environment for SCEs to be structured and this is a fact that should not be neglected. However, the positive message is that social entrepreneurship is for the first time put at the center of the Greek policy agenda. Its future and next steps remain to be seen.