Social economy at a glance
In 2015, it was estimated that around 3670 economic entities could act as social enterprises:
- 2430 associations and foundations,
- 1000 cultural community centres,
- 200 specialised enterprises for work integration of people with disabilities,
- 44 cooperatives of people with disabilities.
There is a lack of data concerning social enterprises in Bulgaria. According to estimations, social enterprises account for:
- 1% of all enterprises in the country,
- 2% of the employed population,
- 0.7% of the added value produced in the country.
Source: Social Enterprises and their ecosystems in Europe, Country Reports, Bulgaria, 2019
* For this website we included this overall assessment of the level of development, it is based on the data and information about the social economy ecosystem currently available and therefore has some limitations. However, we still considered it useful to include this overall assessment.
** Source: EESC/CIRIEC (2016) Recent evolutions of the Social Economy in the European Union, please note that this estimate is on the high end as it is based on organisation type and did not apply a more narrow check for all elements in the social economy definition.
For more details on the data quality see our note on social economy data.
Tradition and origins
Social economy in Bulgaria has developed based on three main historical pillars, which emerged and grew at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century: cooperatives, cultural centres (Chitalishta) and sheltered employment structures for people with disabilities. Associations and foundations also developed during the last century, but they really expanded after the transition period.
After the socialism era, some social economy forms revived, such as the Chitalishtas, whereas other have strongly declined, like cooperatives. Overall, since the 2000s, the social economy has expanded, driven by EU integration, and growing social needs among the population.
Framework conditions and social economy ecosystem
Policy and legal framework
The development of the social economy in Bulgaria had not been driven by a unified definition until the adoption of Law on Social and Solidarity Economy Enterprises entered into force in May 2019.
This law gives a first definition of what social economy legal entities are in Bulgaria. It aims to promote the development of the social economy as an economic branch with special rules through the work of the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy. This later shall promote methodological assistance, national training programs, the creation of a register for social enterprises, and work on statistics as tools to support the development of the social economy in Bulgaria.
The National Recovery and Resilience Plan launched in 2022 comports a chapter on social economy, planning to develop the following actions:
- The development of regional administrative capacities for the modernisation of social economy entities,
- The creation of a digital platform to promote social economy entities to potential partners, build supportive ecosystems and networks, provide a commercial and distribution platform for social enterprises.
- The support to networking and clustering activities to better structure the ecosystem and facilitate the dialogue between social economy entities and institutions, local communities, and businesses, etc.
Policymakers in the field of the social economy
At the national level, the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy has a leading role, working for the promotion of the social economy in cooperation with other Ministries, including the Ministry of Economy and Industry, the Ministry of Finance, the Ministry of Education and Science, and the Ministry of Health.
Regional and local authorities are also involved in the promotion of the social economy. The 2019 law allows local authorities to support social economy entities by providing municipal property to answer the needs of social economy entities. It also promotes cooperation between social enterprises and public authorities, especially for the provision of welfare services.
Networks, federation and representative entities
In Bulgaria, representative organisations play an important role supporting the social economy. They provide representation, training, they also can build partnerships with different actors to promote the social economy (high schools, local and national government bodies, traditional enterprises).
Most networks focus on representing one type of organization (National Union of Worker Producer's Cooperatives, the Central Cooperative Union, the National Federation of Employers of Disabled People). But some NGOs also focus on framing their actions with regard to the vulnerable groups they work for.
How to get involved in the social economy in Bulgaria?
The program Rinker for entrepreneurship and education promotes social entrepreneurship at an early age thanks to its program named 'Sprouts', an entrepreneurship and financial literacy program for children and young people.
Supporting social economy can also be done through citizen-oriented consumption activities. That is why social economy entities have started to create online marketplace for Bulgarian citizens to buy products manufactured within the social economy ecosystem.
The government has created some initiatives to support the social economy in Bulgaria:
- A dedicated platform on the social economy in Bulgaria has been put in place by the Ministry of Labour and Social Policy.
- Every year, the government launches a competition for the award on social innovation in support of the social economy.
Apart from the government, various networks offer support
- Obtain information: organisations, such as the Bulgarian centre for non-profit law, offer information content on the social economy and exchange good practices.
- Gain visibility: The International Fair in Plovdiv annually hosts more than 100 social enterprises, cooperatives, and NGOs to highlight their products and activities. Annual contests and awards can provide visibility while giving financial impulse to social entrepreneurs.
- Training and guidance on a variety of topics such as business development, impact measurement, definition of business models.
- Incubation and acceleration programs.
Some national funding programs have been put in place to support the social economy. Some target social economy entities, while other are also accessible to other types of entities. Support is provided through:
- Grant schemes,
- State subsidies.
In kind support: access to real estate-private municipal property under facilitated circumstances,
- Financial support for training and upskilling of social economy entities' employees,
- Guarantee funds,
- Vouchers to access the Bulgarian Stock Exchange,
- Micro-credit facilities.
Learn more about the social economy in Bulgaria
- National database on social enterprises : https://seconomy.mlsp.government.bg/%d0%b1%d1%80%d0%be%d0%b9-%d0%bd%d0%b0-%d1%81%d1%83%d0%b1%d0%b5%d0%ba%d1%82%d0%b8-%d0%bd%d0%b0-%d1%81%d0%be%d1%86%d0%b8%d0%b0%d0%bb%d0%bd%d0%b0%d1%82%d0%b0-%d0%b8%d0%ba%d0%be%d0%bd%d0%be%d0%bc%d0%b8-2/
- The Pia Mater Foundation has launched a portal "Institute for Social Entrepreneurship" which provides information on social entrepreneurship and good examples across the country. It also launches advocacy campaigns to promote support measures for social entrepreneurship. Website: https://sites.google.com/a/piamater.org/theinstistute/
- The Bulgarian Charities Aid Foundation (BCAF) has launched an information platform on social entreprises in Bulgaria, in partnership with the Ministry of Labour and Social providing up-to-date contend on funding opportunities and national competitions. Website :https://socialenterprise.bg/
- Rinkers program offers ressources on social economy and social entrepreneurship as well as education, training and acceleration programs on social entrepreneurship. Website : https://rinkercenter.org/en/rinker-center.html
- The BCAF platform 'social enterprise' offers resources and toolkits and reports on social economy. Website : https://socialenterprise.bg/resources-1/biblioteka.html
- Social Enterprises and their ecosystems in Europe, Country Reports, Bulgaria, 2019. Link: Document database - Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion - European Commission (europa.eu)