Social economy at a glance
In France (2021), the Social Economy accounts for:
- 14% of private employment
- 2,3 million people employed in the sector and 12 million volunteers
- 10% of GDP (Gross Domestic Production)
- Around 222 000 entities, including, in 2017,
- Associations: 1,3 million (83 000 employing minimum one employee)
- Cooperatives: 2650 (includes workers cooperatives, persons cooperative, WISES, activity and employment cooperatives, etc.)
- Foundations: 1600
- Mutuals: 8000
- Commercial enterprises of social utility within the SSE: around 1700
- Social enterprises, among which (adapted enterprises, establishments or services providing assistance through work – ESAT, structures for integration through economic activity)
French Ministry of Economy and French Chamber for social and solidarity economy, 2021
BPI France, 2022
Impact assessment study on cross-border activities of associations, 2023
National list of "Entreprise Solidaire d'Utilité Sociale" (ESUS) accreditations, 2019
Social enterprises and their ecosystems in Europe, Country Report, France, 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
In France, one rather talks about Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE), as a way to capture both the fact it is composed by a multiplicity of entities with different structures, and that they base their activity and internal functioning on a principle of solidarity and social utility.
In the 19th century, the social economy developed under the influence of political movements such as utopian socialism and social Catholicism. It was recognised in 1980 with the Chart on Social Economy, establishing the key principles of the social economy : primacy of service to members and/or to the community over financial profit, democratic governance and restrictions regarding the individual redistribution of profit.
At the same period (1980s), a new concept called "Solidarity economy" emerged as a response to the diminishing welfare state and over institutionalisation of the social economy. It mainly aimed to reinforce community based activities, citizens' involvement and social inclusion.
Since the 2000s, the two economies cooperate under a single denomination "Social and Solidarity Economy".
Framework conditions and social economy ecosystem
Policymakers in the field of the social economy
At the national level, the State Secretary for the Social and Solidarity Economy and Associative Life (under the Prime Minister) is in charge of defining and implementing policies for the development of the social and solidarity economy, it encourages solidarity-based consumption, and promotes associative networks. It works in cooperation with the French Treasury (from the Ministry of Economy, of Finance and of Industrial and Digital Sovereignty) which oversees social and solidarity finance measures.
Regions and other levels of local government (metropolitan areas, departments, and municipalities) play an important role in supporting the social economy by taking actions such as awareness raising, adoption of ‘buying social’ plans, and support to social economy entities in starting and scaling up their businesses (support to land acquisition, funding, territorial cooperation promotion, guidance, and business incubation).
Networks, federation and representative entities
Social economy entities can rely on CRESS - Regional Chamber of Social and Solidarity Economy, to be represented before the public authorities at local level. CRESS are key contact points for local administrations in the development of their measures and policies in favour of social economy. They contribute to the elaboration of the regional strategies on Social and Solidarity economy in order to guide regions in their actions.
The French SSE ecosystem is also structured by a dense network of actors representing and supporting the social economy:
- Some are generalists (such as SSE France, the France Impact Movement),
- Others focus their efforts on specific types of SSE structures (e.g., the Associative Movement, the General Confederation of Cooperatives, the National Federation of the French Mutuality, etc.),
- Or on activities (e.g., the National Federation of WISES, the National Union of Adapted Companies, for people with disabilities, etc.).
These structures support the creation of incubation and funding features for the social economy, they mobilise private and public partners, and give visibility to the social economy on the economic and political stage.
How to get involved in the social economy in France?
There are many ways to get involved in the social and solidarity economy in France:
- Volunteering: Joining an association is the most common way to get involved in the social economy. In 2022, 45% of the population in France was involved in an association.
- Civic service: Since 2010, Young people aged between 16 and 25 can realise a mission of general interest for 6 to 12 months. Many young people choose to do it in a social economy entity.
- Get training: In the face of the growing interest for social economy in France, some specialised courses and programs have emerged in universities and business schools, offering students with the possibility to consider a career in social economy.
- Find a job: Specialised job boards such as Jobs that Make Sense, have been developed in the past years to give more visibility to recruitment opportunities in the social and solidarity economy.
- Social entrepreneurship: For those who would like to create their own SSE structure, the French ecosystem is full of solutions to help them take the big step.
France offers many kinds of guidance and support to help social entrepreneurs and social innovators in the making.
AVISE (an association that has been supporting SSE actors for 20 years by providing engineering and consulting services to social economy actors), has mapped more than 200 features supported by more than 130 different players present throughout France which are gathered in its “Emergence and Acceleration Community”, including:
- Emergence and pre-incubation programmes,
- Acceleration features (e.g.: groups for encouraging exchanges of good practices between actors, programs for the co-construction of tools, networking events, coworking facilities),
France encourages several funding practices to help social economy entities develop their activities. Social economy entities can resort to traditional funding tools:
- Private donations,
- Public fundings.
But some new funding forms have developed and settled in the country, such as:
- Loans guarantees,
- Equity loans,
A mapping of the different funding solutions existing in France is offered by AVISE. France Active is a notable example of an organisation that provides financial and non-financial support to entrepreneurs committed to social, ecological, and economic development.
Learn more about the social economy in France
Here are some links that might help you learn more on the French context:
- Le labo de l’ESS (the SSE Laboratory) is a Think Tank working on the analyse of the social economy ecosystem and its evolutions.
Website: Accueil | Le Labo de l'économie sociale et solidaire (lelabo-ess.org)
- AVISE is an association that has been supporting SSE actors for 20 years by providing engineering and consulting services to social economy actors. Avise designs and implements support programs for social economy entities and runs communities of actors on the local level to encourage synergies and mutual support.
Website: Présentation | Avise.org
- HubESS is an online platform that lists all actors of support in the French social economy ecosystem.
Website: HubESS, outil national d'orientation de l'ESS
- ESS France (SSE France) is the national Chamber of social and solidarity economy. It represents and promotes the interests of social economy entities. It carries out its missions on the regional level thanks to the CRESS network.
Website: Page d'accueil | ESS France (ess-france.org)
You can also check the reports from the European Commission and its partners have done on France:
• European Commission Country Report: Document database - Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion - European Commission (europa.eu)