Social economy at a glance
In Spain, in 2019, the main types of structures considered as part of the social economy were:
- Non-profit social entities (27 962)
- Cooperatives (23 675)
- Foundations (9 218)
- Mutual societies (226)
The social economy in Spain comprises a total of 47 511 companies and 37 183 non-profit social entities and foundations. All of them directly employ 1.35 million people. The net turnover of the entire Spanish social economy is equivalent to 8.47% of the national GDP.
Source: CIRIEC-Spain, in collaboration with the Centre for Cooperative Studies of the University of Santiago de Compostela, published the latest available data on the social economy, contained in the report 'The Social Economy in Spain in figures' and in the new CIRIECSTAT Statistical Portal on the Social Economy: CIRIECSTAT: Portal Estadístico de la Economía Social
* 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
Spain has a long history of social economy, encompassing different types or entities such as cooperatives, voluntary bodies, foundations, and non-profit organisations. Mutual societies emerged in the 19th century and aimed to address individual needs collectively, providing services like health insurance and tackling unemployment.
Historical economic circumstances have shaped the emergence of socially oriented organisations in Spain. Agrarian cooperatives and savings banks arose in response to the economic challenges faced in the 19th and early 20th centuries, particularly in rural areas. In the 1970s, civil society organisations emerged to address the demand for social services and combat unemployment. These developments laid the groundwork for social enterprises in Spain, including work integration social enterprises.
Spain's decentralised administrative system contributes to a diverse range of public policies across different regions, impacting social and economic development and the establishment of social economy entities.
Framework conditions and social economy ecosystem
Policy and legal framework
In 2011, the Spanish Social Economy Law was passed with the aim to provide a legal framework for social economy entities and facilitate their access to funding and resources. The law represented an important milestone, as it outlined the type of organisations that can be considered as part of the social economy.
On April 11, 2023, the Council of Ministers, on the proposal of the Ministry of Labour and Social Economy, approved the Draft Comprehensive Law on Social Economy. The draft law, designed to develop the full potential of the social economy, aims to improve and update the main laws that make up the legal ecosystem of the Social Economy, such as Law 27/1999 of July 16, on Cooperatives, Law 44/2007 of December 13, regulating the regime of insertion companies, and Law 5/2011 of March 29, on Social Economy.
The draft law introduces novelties to the Law on Cooperatives, extends the definition of vulnerability and social exclusion, and clarifies the scope of the social economy, incorporating new entities such as social enterprises.
On 11 April, the Council of Ministers approved the new Spanish Social Economy Strategy 2023-2027. It has been developed with the main actors in the sector, representatives from 16 ministries and autonomous communities, as well as representative organisations from the sector, labour unions and experts, and it serves as a roadmap for the sector.
The Strategy identifies 4 priority axes and 30 lines of action that are specified in more than 112 actions:
- AXIS 1: Visibility and institutional participation of the Social Economy, with 5 lines of action materialised in more than 20 actions.
- AXIS 2: Improving competitiveness, which includes five lines of action that materialise in 30 actions.
- AXIS 3: Entrepreneurship and emerging sectors, which includes 3 lines of action that materialise in 19 actions.
- AXIS 4: Social and territorial sustainability, which contemplates 5 lines of action that materialize in more than 43 actions.
Policymakers in the field of the social economy
The Ministry of Labour and Social Economy is the ministerial department responsible for employment, social economy, and corporate social responsibility. Autonomous Communities also have their own departments dealing with the social economy and with entrepreneurial issues.
In 2023, Spain nominated a Special Commissioner for the Social Economy. Its functions include the promotion and coordination of all projects related to the Strategic Plan for Economic Recovery and Transformation for the Social Economy and Care.
Networks, federation and representative entities
The Spanish Confederation of Social Economy Enterprises (CEPES) was established in 1992 and serves as a national representative business organisation, acting as a key entity for the social economy in Spain. CEPES functions as an umbrella organisation encompassing various economic activities within the framework of the social economy. It comprises 29 organisations, including national or regional confederations and specific business groups. These entities represent the interests of cooperatives, worker-owned enterprises, mutual societies, insertion companies, special employment centres, fishing guilds, and associations within the disability sector. Additionally, there are over 200 regional support structures that represent a diverse and varied network of associations and businesses spanning all economic sectors and encompassing companies of all sizes.
Worker Cooperatives are represented by the Spanish Confederation of Worker Cooperatives (COCETA) since 1986. The organizations that make up COCETA represent close to 17,000 worker cooperatives and more than 210 000 jobs.
The Third Sector Platform is a state-wide, non-profit organisation that was created on 10 January 2012 with the intention of uniting and amplifying the voice of the third sector.
How to get involved in the social economy in Spain?
The publication 'Economic and Social Entrepreneurship in Spain - Resource Guide for Young Entrepreneurs' offers a general overview of entrepreneurship in Spain and aims to provide a first access to the wide range of information currently available from multiple public and private organisations and sources, at different levels – international, national, regional and municipal – on the opportunities, channels, supports, instruments and aid offered by various institutions and entities.
Spain has a rich ecosystem of incubation initiatives. Your local Enterprise Europe Network contact point may help you identify opportunities in your region: https://een.ec.europa.eu/local-contact-points/es
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 Strategic Plan for Economic Recovery and Transformation for the Social Economy and Care (PERTE)will deploy a public investment of more than EUR 800 million in the coming years. Information on the eligibility criteria and how to apply for funding is available here.
Emerging financing options, such as crowdfunding, are arising within the social enterprise and social economy sector. The significance of measures promoting social enterprises by private institutions are becoming increasingly important. Notable examples are La Caixa Foundation, the Creas Foundation, La Bolsa Social and the Triodos Bank.
Learn more about the social economy in Spain
The International Centre for Research and Information on the Public, Social and Co-operative Economy is an international non-governmental scientific organisation whose primary objectives revolve around promoting information research, scientific research, and the dissemination of works pertaining to sectors and activities that serve the general interest. These sectors and activities include the economic actions of public authorities, public services, public enterprises, and entities within the social economy. Their publications can be found on their official website.
Publications about the social economy in Spain include:
- Social Enterprises and their ecosystems in Europe, Country Reports, Spain, 2019
- Legal frameworks for the social economy – results report – Project pl4se (2022)
- The social economy in postgraduate university education
- Map of the situation of young people in the labour market of the social economy
- Social Economy Manifesto (2022)