Social economy at a glance
In Portugal, in 2016, the main types of structures considered as part of the social economy were:
- Associations with altruistic goals (66 761)
- Cooperatives (2 343)
- Foundations (619)
- Holy Houses of Mercy (“misericórdias”) (387)
- Mutual societies (97)
Portugal has a satellite account for the social economy. The project was a collaborative effort between the National Statistics Institute and the António Sérgio Cooperative for the Social Economy (CASES), established through a collaboration protocol.
The latest available results are from 2016, and a new edition covering 2019-2020 is scheduled to be published in 2023. In 2016, the Gross Value Added (GVA) of the social economy represented 3% of the GVA of the economy, having increased 14.6% in nominal terms compared to 2013. This growth was higher than that observed in the economy as a whole (8.3%) in the same period.
Compared to 2013, total remuneration and employment in the social economy increased by 8.8% and 8.5% respectively, showing greater dynamism than the total economy (7.3% and 5.8% respectively).
By groups of social economy entities, associations for altruistic purposes stood out in terms of number of entities (92.9%), GVA (60.1%), remuneration (61.9%) and remunerated employment (64.6%).
Social Economy Satellite Account (2019) – third edition
CASES – Social Economy Satellite Account
* 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 Portugal, the social economy is based on a tradition born with the Holy Houses of Mercy (“misericórdias”) and mutual societies. These entities have a longstanding tradition of supporting disadvantaged groups and playing a vital role in the social and economic spheres since the 14th and 15th centuries. Over time, the cooperative and associative movements have gained significance, particularly from the 1970s onwards, and they have now become integral to the Portuguese economy.
The Portuguese Constitution acknowledges the cooperative and social sector as the third sector of the means of production, alongside the public and private sectors. Moreover, the Constitution imposes a duty upon the State to safeguard and promote this sector. This recognition underscores the importance of the social economy in Portugal and highlights the government's commitment to supporting and fostering its growth.
Framework conditions and social economy ecosystem
Policy and legal framework
- The legal framework for the social economy in Portugal is established by Law 30/2013 of 8 May, commonly known as the Framework Law (“Lei de Bases”). This law provides the fundamental principles and regulations governing the social economy sector and lays the foundation for the creation of a satellite account dedicated to the social economy.
- According to the Framework Law, the social economy sector encompasses various entities, including cooperatives, mutual societies, Holy Houses of Mercy, foundations, associations with altruistic purposes that operate in the cultural, recreational, sports and local development fields, entities covered by the community and self-management sub-sectors, and other private social solidarity institutions (IPSS). Furthermore, the law allows for the possibility of incorporating other entities that align with the guiding principles of the social economy.
- Notably, the IPSS statute defines "non-profit legal persons, created exclusively by private initiative, with the purpose of giving organised expression to the moral duty of justice and solidarity, contributing to the realisation of citizens' social rights”. IPSSs can take different organisational forms: social solidarity associations, mutualist societies, social solidarity foundations and Holy Houses of Mercy. The statute also includes the Parish Centres of the Catholic Church (parish social centres) and Caritas.
- The current government programme in Portugal acknowledges the significant role of the social economy and commits to collaborate closely with social economy entities, building upon the existing longstanding partnership. The programme outlines a range of measures aimed at supporting and strengthening the social economy sector.
- Portugal’s commitment to promote and support the social economy is also reflected on its Portugal 2030 strategy. This programme implements a Partnership Agreement established between Portugal and the European Commission, outlining the key strategic objectives for the period from 2021 and 2027, with a total budget of 23 billion euros.
- Among other things, the strategy defines as priorities measures to improve access to employment for all jobseekers, including self-employment and the social economy, the support to capacity building of social economy agents and operators, and the support to capacity building of social economy partners of the National Council of Social Economy. Part of the actions related to training and educational offers is geared to follow the challenges of the green transition.
Policymakers in the field of the social economy
The Ministry of Employment, Solidarity and Social Security and the Ministry of Economy are the main government bodies responsible for social economy policy.
The National Council for the Social Economy (“Conselho Nacional para a Economia Social”) is a consultative, assessment and monitoring body for strategies and policy proposals on issues related to the promotion and growth of the social economy in Portugal.
Networks, federation and representative entities
The Portuguese Confederation for the Social Economy brings together the representative bodies of the different families of the social economy in Portugal. The Confederation's main objectives are to promote and defend the Social Economy, to defend the interests of its members, to represent the sector internally and externally, to be the State's interlocutor and to participate as a social partner in the definition of public policies and in the strategic guidelines for the Social Economy.
Cooperatives are represented by Confederação Cooperativa Portuguesa (CONFECOP).
Based on an effective partnership between the State and representative organisations of the social economy sector and taking the legal form of a cooperative of public interest, the António Sérgio Cooperative for the Social Economy aims to promote the strengthening of the social economy sector, deepening cooperation between the State and the organisations that integrate it. They have several initiatives in support of social entrepreneurship and social impact.
How to get involved in the social economy in Portugal?
CASES offers a comprehensive range of support programs aimed at promoting the social economy, with a particular emphasis on initiatives targeting young people. Further details regarding these programmes can be found on their website.
The Ubuntu Leaders' Academy is a non-formal education project that specifically targets young people who exhibit leadership potential and hail from challenging backgrounds or aspire to work in such environments. It aims to accompany, facilitate, enrich and consolidate the development of each participant as a leader at the service of the community, promoting human and technical skills relevant to their life path.
Several actors run incubators to support the development of social economy entities and social innovation projects. The Network of Social Innovation Incubators (Rede de Incubadoras de Inovação Social) strives to strengthen the recognition and appreciation of social innovation incubators in Portugal. It can assist individuals and organisations in identifying the most suitable incubator for their specific projects.
Social Entrepreneurs Agency is an organisation that has the mission of creating, promoting and supporting the implementation of social entrepreneurship projects that can contribute for the sustainability at social, economical, cultural and environmental level towards a sustained development within a community. One of its initiatives is the Entrepreneur Factory, a support space in the areas of employment, training/qualification, business creation, promotion of entrepreneurial skills, and dynamisation of community intervention projects aimed at promoting sustainable communities.
The Centre for Social Economy and Innovation, a joint Portuguese-Spanish project launched in April 2023, aims to build the capacity of social economy entities, promoting vocational training and skills recognition, and providing services and technical support.
The Institute of Support to Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises and Innovation (IAPMEI) is the main instrument of economic policies aimed at to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises in the industrial, commercial, services and construction sectors.
Furthermore, Portugal Inovação Social operates through four complementary funding instruments, which accompany the life cycle of social innovation and social entrepreneurship initiatives. More information can be found here.
The Portuguese Development Bank also provides financing for social economy entities, supporting the implementation of new projects, the upgrading of social facilities, and the costs of the green transition.
CASES manages Social Invest, a programme designed to provide support to the social economy sector through a dedicated credit line.
Learn more about the social economy in Portugal
- The eSocial portal is a space for information, sharing, dissemination and interaction of the social economy. It includes the Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship Map, which aims to identify and recognise high potential social innovation and entrepreneurship initiatives in Portugal. This is a research project that covers all initiatives that fit the definition of innovation and social entrepreneurship, by mapping them using a proximity methodology with local communities.
- The publication ‘Practical Guide to the Social Economy’ aims to promotes the social economy sector, highlighting the diversity of the entities that constitute it and the activities they develop, bringing together useful information about its ecosystem, its specificities, as well as about the procedures for the constitution and recognition of social economy entities.
- The IES Social Business School offers a knowledge hub on research publications, IES books, impact research projects and stories of impact. It can be accessed here.