Social economy at a glance
In Poland (2018), the Social Economy encompasses various entities with different legal forms, including:
1600 social cooperatives,
27 600 entrepreneurial non-profit organisations (ENPOs)
226 non-profit companies
109 professional activity establishments (ZAZs)
They employ 428 700 persons.
More extensively, the polish social economy constellation includes:
Other reintegration entities (occupational therapy workshops (WTZs), social integration clubs (KISs), cooperatives of blind and disabled persons, and work cooperatives.
Non-profit organisations and entities equated with non-profit, related to public benefit activities and volunteer work),
Since 2022, a new framework law on the social economy enables these entities to acquire a status of social enterprise based on their activities and missions. They must serve local development and be aimed at the social and professional reintegration of people at risk of exclusion, or at the implementation of social services.
So far, Poland has recorded 270 entities under the social enterprises status.
Social enterprises and their ecosystems in Europe, Poland Country report, European Commission, 2019
Statutory register of Social Welfare Units, Government of Poland
* 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
Before WWII, social economy in Poland was formed by non-profit organisations (foundations and associations) and cooperatives. Their activities, oriented towards the support of vulnerable groups and local development were interrupted during the communist area when only newly implanted state-sponsored social organisations operated. The revival of grassroots initiatives in the 1970s-80s was consolidated after 1989. From then on, associations started again to settle, and new forms of social economy entities emerged such as CISs, ZAZs, or social cooperatives.
The social economy has become a growing topic in Poland. In the past decade, a number of strategic documents have been issued, defining operational directions for the development of the social economy:
National Programme for the Development of Social Economy until 2030. The Economy of Social Solidarity (download here).
Social Services Development Strategy. Public policy until 2030.
National Programme for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion. Update 2021-2027, public policy with a perspective until 2030.
Action Plan for Inclusion and Social Inclusion 2021-2027 (download here).
They paved the way to a stronger political affirmation of the social economy through a legal act issued in March 2022.
Framework conditions and social economy ecosystem
Policy and legal framework
Poland has recently set a up a basic legal act defining the framework conditions of the social economy and supporting its development. The Social Economy Act of 5 August 2022 introduces the status of social enterprise, which is granted and renewed based on certain criteria (employment, social goals, prohibition of profit privatisation and democratic management). It also defines instruments and principles of public management that enables support of the social economy, especially social entrepreneurship. Finally, it extends the number of support instruments available, such as tax exemptions, subsidised salaries, or facilitated public procurement.
When it comes to specific regulations for each legal form falling under the social economy entity category, they all exist separately (ex: 1982 Cooperative act, 2003 act on social employment, 1984 act on foundations, 2006 social cooperatives act, etc.). In addition, the social economy sector is also covered by legal provisions in the field of social policy, labour market or public procurement law.
Policymakers in the field of the social economy
At national level, the development of the social economy is undertaken by the Ministry of Family and Social Policy. It anchors its actions under “The National Programme for the Development of Social Economy till 2023 - Social Solidarity Economy”. The Ministry coordinates activities at the national level and controls the quality of support services for social economy entities. It also contributes to the dissemination of knowledge and promotion of the social economy.
Social economy development policy is financed from various public sources including national funds (Labour Fund, State Fund for Rehabilitation of Disabled People, Solidarity Fund, as well as funds from the state budget and budgets of local government units), as well as European funds (ESF+ and RRF).The local government plays a key role in coordinating policies for the development of the social economy at the regional level. The 16 polish regions operate under 16 regional programs of the social economy. They ensure the construction of long-lasting partnerships and joint ventures between social economy entities in order to increase the potential of their social services. They are also responsible for providing support services for social economy entities.
The policy-making process is based on dialogue and participation. The Ministry and regional authorities are supported by social economy development committees. Their members are primarily representatives of social economy entities, social partners, as well as academic institutions and public authorities.
Networks, federation and representative entities
An important element of the social economy support system are the social economy support centers (OWES). OWES offer comprehensive support services, as well as direct financial aid to social enterprises. OWES are funded by the local government on the regional level, but in order to apply for public funds they must be accredited by the Minister of Family and Social Policy. There are a number of organisations in Poland dedicated to helping specific types of social economy entities (e.g. National Auditing Union of Social Cooperatives (OZRSS), Working Community of Social Organizations (WRZOS), NGO support Network (SPLOT), National Auditing Union of Cooperatives (NAUWC)). More recently the Polish Federation for the Development of Social Economy (OFRES) was established. These structures aim to represent the interests of their members. But they also develop actions to train and professionalise them and ease their access to funding. They cooperate with local governments to facilitate the delivery of social services via their members.
Also the Microfinance Centre, a social finance network that promotes fairness, inclusion, equality and responsible service, is based in Poland. MFC has over 100 organisations across 36 countries of Europe, Central Asia, who deliver responsible microfinance services to almost 2,000,000 low-income clients in total.
The Polish government has developed some targeted measures and programs to support social economy entities, such as:
- Training for representatives of SE entities on public procurement,
- Support to the creation of social economy clusters, social franchise systems and other business networks,
- Settling of a system of certification with quality marks for social economy entities,
- Support for self-organization of social enterprises,
- Improving the competencies of managers of social enterprises,
- Granting bonuses to local government units which commission social economy entities to deliver social services.
At regional level, social economy entities can also find support, thanks to the social economy support centres (OWES). They especially offer:
- Incubation and acceleration services, including, individual counselling and coaching for social entrepreneurs on various domains (business plan, cooperation strategies, day-to-day management, legal aspects)
- Vocational, industry and specialist training,
- Funding solutions (via loans and European funding),
- Support in public procurement procedures,
- Animation of local social economy networks,
- Promotion of the principles of the social economy and its grassroot initiatives, and support to cross-sectoral and local partnership for the social economy
- Organisation of promotional events to display social economy entities locally.
OWES may also grant funds to social enterprises to create and maintain jobs for people at risk of social exclusion.
Social economy entities can benefit from public funding through:
- Subsidies: Social economy entities can benefit from national funding for the employment of people at risk of social exclusion (especially people with disabilities and the unemployed). Support is financed by the Labor Fund or the State Fund for Rehabilitation of Disabled People,
- Subsidies and comprehensive support services are also provided by OWES,
- European funds: financed by NextGenerationEU, the Resilience and development of the social economy and social entrepreneurship (2022-2025) supports business development of social services and social integration programs in social economy entities,
- Loans: Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego - the state development bank of Poland (BGK) manages the National Social Entrepreneurship Fund, offering preferential loans to social economy entities,
Some other financing instruments, directed strictly to the social economy sector are also being launched:
- The Social and Economic Investment Association provides loans as an intermediary for EU funding.
- The Polish Foundation of Economic Development Support Centres (OIC Poland) grants interest-bearing loans in the different regions.
- The Polish Entrepreneurship Foundation gives micro, small and medium enterprises access to loan guarantee programs, training and advisory programmes, regional and subregional loan funds.
Learn more about the social economy in Poland
- The pages of the Social Economy Department of the Ministry of Family and Social Policy offers an overview of the national program and strategies of the Polish government on the social economy. It also provides access to national databases on social enterprises and OWES in the country: Home :: Ministry of Family and Social Policy - Department of Social Economy (ekonomiaspoleczna.gov.pl).
- The Poland Social Economy Portal is an information and educational portal on social economy. It provides news about social economy initiatives and organisations across the country: Home - Social Economy.pl (ekonomiaspoleczna.pl)
- The Register of Social Welfare Units is a platform to centre information on social services and support measures accessible to citizens and entities in Poland: https://rjps.mpips.gov.pl/
- KLON is the portal for non-governmental organisations offering a directory and research on non-profit in Poland. It also provides provide a tool for collecting donations online: https://www.klon.org.pl/