Social economy at a glance
At present, Latvia has more than 200 enterprises registered with social enterprise status. This special status has been granted to a selection of organisations which apply commercial strategies to maximise improvements in financial, social and environmental well-being throughout the country. They embrace a wide spectrum of activities including education, culture, community-based services, social centres, etc. The following is a breakdown of all organizations by numbers in Latvia for context:
- 18,528 associations and foundations,
- 440 cooperatives,
- 373 mutual societies,
- 52 institutes*,
- 138,986 registered companies.
Source: European Commission (2020) Social enterprises and their ecosystems in Europe. Comparative synthesis report. Authors: Carlo Borzaga, Giulia Galera, Barbara Franchini, Stefania Chiomento, Rocío Nogales and Chiara Carini. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.
*Institutes Introduced in the new Civil Code, "registered institutes" is an entity operating "socially or economically useful" activities. They embrace a wide spectrum of activities including education, culture, community-based services, social centres, etc.
* 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
Historically, social enterprises in Latvia operated under various legal forms from the 19th century to the present. Many of those who consider themselves as social enterprises are still operating as NGOs, associations, foundations or regular commercial enterprises. The term "social entrepreneurship" itself gained popularity in Latvia in the mid-2000s and was included in national planning documents as a means to address social issues. The establishment of the Social Entrepreneurship Association of Latvia in 2015 contributed to further development of social entrepreneurship. However, since it is relatively new in the country, there is limited public awareness regarding the role of social entrepreneurship in Latvian society, as well as a lack of understanding among social enterprises themselves on how to measure its impact. The Social Enterprise Law was implemented in Latvia on April 1, 2018, based on input from the social entrepreneurship ecosystem stakeholders, who spent years defining the sector, resulting in a legal framework exclusively for social enterprises.
Framework conditions and social economy ecosystem
Policy and legal framework
In 2018, a series of new laws were introduced to Latvia which had and continue to have a major impact on the social economy. Most notably, Latvia now has a clear definition on what is considered a social enterprise. Organisations operating throughout the country must follow a stringent set of guidelines in order to qualify as a social enterprise. View this legislation in full here.
Policymakers in the field of the social economy
On a national level, social economy entities are supported by various ministries, and policy is namely implemented by the Welfare Ministry. This body is responsible for social issues including social enterprises throughout the country It is in charge of both policy and legislation which is in turn implemented by Municipalities across the country.
At local level, Municipalities provide support and organize various activities to stimulate a healthy ecosystem. Municipalities in Latvia are not fully autonomous and must adhere to the national mandate.
However they can adopt their own strategies tailored to meet the needs of social enterprises operating in regions throughout the country. Their primary role is to enable social enterprises to thrive through incubation and exploration programmes which are run in conjunction with external partners. These can be viewed here.
Municipalities also work to inform wider society of these support plans and how citizens can get involved in social economy initiatives. They have autonomy when supporting organizations through small granting schemes and donating property to be used by social enterprises in the locality. When it comes to funding, it is worth noting that Municipalities local to one another often join forces with a larger bank to create their own grant schemes, many of which fund leadership and development initiatives in rural areas. This level of flexibility varies depending on the Municipality.
Networks, federation and representative entities
There are many ecosystem development organisations in Latvia, with most working to provide small grant schemes to social enterprises. Much of the work they do hinges on advocacy, fundraising and uniting non-governmental organizations – all of which contribute positively to the eco system. For a full overview of these entities, contact the social entrepreneurship association of Latvia.
How to get involved in the social economy in Latvia?
You are looking for a first experience / to discover the social economy?
1. Volunteer at a social enterprise: Volunteering your time and skills at a local social enterprise is an effective way to get involved in the community and contribute to Latvia’s social economy. Many social enterprises throughout the country rely on volunteers to help them with various tasks, such as marketing, event planning, or administrative work. For more on this, see here.
2. Attend or participate in social enterprise events: Events and workshops organised by social enterprises are common and mostly focus on raising awareness about their respective missions and the impact they have on the community. Attending such events to learn more about the social enterprise sector and networking with individuals who share similar interests is good way to get involved. To find out how you can get involved, see here.
3. Invest in a social enterprise: Entrepreneurs or investors looking to make a positive impact, should consider investing in a social enterprise. Social enterprises typically prioritise social or environmental goals over profits, so investing in them can be a rewarding way to do good while making a financial return. For more on investment opportunities, see here.
4. Purchase products or services from social enterprises: By supporting social enterprises, one can make a direct impact in the community. Actively seeking out social enterprises that produce products or services that align with ones values is an effective way to facilitate a healthy social economic ecosystem. Discover how you can make conscious purchases and more here.
5. Start a social enterprise: Addressing a social or environmental issue can lead to business opportunities, There are several resources available to help with this process from Municipality to national level, such as accelerators, grants, mentorship programs and training schemes. Find out how to set up your own social enterprise here.
Latvia offers a number of support schemes – both public and private - designed to help social entrepreneurs and social innovators reach their potential. The following is an overview of some key initiatives.
- The ESF programme, is a funding scheme specifically designed to support employment in Latvia and encourage the growth of social enterprises. Funds from this scheme are managed on a national level by the Welfare Ministry and go towards education and training. A new cycle of the ESF grant scheme will commence in 2024 with slight revisions expected to the mandate.
- Universities and public higher education bodies throughout Latvia are obliged to provide courses and masters degrees focusing on social entrepreneurship. These are designed with the support of the Welfare Ministry and experts. The iSEE project is one such initiative - funded by the EU – which has developed social entrepreneurship courses at Riga University in collaboration with other universities in the Baltic region.
- In recent years, Latvian banks have played a part in supporting the development of social enterprises with free training programmes and grant schemes. SEB bank for instance, Together with five counties located near Riga, operates the Augšup ("Up") grant programme aimed at promoting the development of social entrepreneurship in the Riga region. Find out more here.
- There are many private organisations designed to support social entrepreneurs, and these can be particularly helpful for networking. The social entrepreneurship association of Latvia is an information hub where members have the opportunity to build strong links with funding bodies and avail of multiple levels of support. Check them out here.
Latvia encourages several funding practices to help social economy entities develop their activities. Social economy entities can resort to traditional funding tools, such as the following:
- Private donations,
- Public funding.
- Crowd funding,
- Equity loans,
- Crowd lending.
Learn more about the social economy in Latvia
Here are some links to useful reports and websites to provide greater context to the social economy in Latvia.
- Latvia has a comprehensive and sustainable development strategy for 2030, operationalised through a national development plan and sector policy. To learn more about this development plan and how it will impact the social economy in the country, check out the European Economic and Social Committee on Latvia
- The Social Entrepreneurship Association of Latvia, or SEAL as it is known, is a member organization which promotes the development of social entrepreneurship in the country. They are an excellent source of information for everything to do with the sector. Check out the Social Entrepreneurship Association of Latvia for more.
- Labs of Latvia is a reputed source of news and information around social economy developments in Latvia, EU funding and resources for those working in the field. In this article, they highlight the success of female leaders based in Latvia who run initiatives to support the social ecosystem in their country.
- Providus center for public policy has been Latvia’s leading public policy think tank since 2002. Their mission is to promote evidence-based policy and open society values in the country. The center is a source of information for all those interested in social enterprises and they often hold talks and workshops on the subject.
- The Latvia University of Life Sciences and Technologies wrote a report on the financial support instruments for social enterprises in Latvia can be found at the following on 10.2478-plua-2021-0009-2 (sciendo.com)
Research for change has been chosen by the Latvian Ministry of Welfare as one of their partners in a large-scale cycle of social entrepreneurship activities under the name "Developing social entrepreneurship together!" financed by the European Social Fund. They provide free consultation and guidance to all those interested in establishing their own social enterprise.