Social economy at a glance
Due to the lack of official status for social economy entities in Sweden, it is difficult to establish an exact statistical mapping of the Swedish social economy. We do know however that the social economy includes existing legal forms, which offer adapted structures for social economy driven activities.
Among the 92 000 non-profit organizations (NPOs) registered as economically active in 2016, and composing the social economy, there are:
- 55% non-profit associations,
- 12% foundations,
- 2% economic associations,
- 2% limited companies with restricted dividends.
- The rest of the NPOs often operate as religious communities or joint property associations.
In total, in 2016, these NPOs accounted for 149 560 full-time equivalent employees.
Not all organizations structured under the above-mentioned legal forms belong to the social economy defined by the EU. But among the ones that do, it is possible to encounter:
- Cooperatives or social cooperatives (mostly working under the Umbrella organisation "Coompanion"),
- Social service delivery related social enterprises (especially in the healthcare, social care, and education sectors),
- Social entrepreneurship organisations or community development enterprises.
Source: Social Enterprises and their ecosystems in Europe, Country Reports, Sweden, 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
Prior to the emergence of the welfare state, social economy in Sweden focused on initiatives to support people suffering from social disadvantages. The emergence of these charities however coincided with the development of labour movements, which emphasized equality and democratic values. The rapprochement of these two movements laid foundation to the popular mass movements (Folkrörelser).
During the 20th century, social economy entities started to develop their activities as complementary public service providers in specific sectors such as elderly care. At the beginning of the 21st century, new-public management more largely opened competition for the provision of public services, paving the way for social economy entities to become consolidated public-service providers. It is also during this period that new concepts such as social entrepreneurship and social innovation appeared and took their places in the ecosystem.
Framework conditions and social economy ecosystem
Policy and legal framework
Sweden does not have a specific legal framework covering the social economy as a whole. Entities that can be considered as part of the social economy are however regulated under a legal framework by:
- Act (2018:672) on economic associations,
- Act (1994:1220) on foundations,
- Act (2022:900) on registration of idea-driven organisations.
Since 2023, and in application of Act (2022:900), the government has been taking action to support idea-driven organisations by opening a special register. Idea-driven organisations and non-profit organisations intending to carry out publicly funded activities can be indexed in it to gain more visibility. It helps them to distinguish themselves from other actors when competing in the frame of the Swedish freedom of choice system for provision of public services. In addition, it is possible to reservice participation in public procurement for idea-driven organisations.
Policymakers in the field of the social economy
Three different policy and administrative levels intervene in the support and structuration of the social economy in Sweden.
On the national level, the government (especially the Ministry of Enterprise, the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Finance, and the Ministry of Justice) is involved in the definition of supportive measures for the social economy. National Agencies are also important players, either by granting funding (especially the Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth, and the Swedish Youth and Civil Society), or by simply resorting to social economy entities for the provision of their services (e.g.: Swedish Agency for Labour, Swedish Social Insurance Agency, Swedish Innovation Agency).
The 21 Swedish regions and county authorities also work with the social economy, given the responsibilities they hold in healthcare and regional development. They distribute financial support to non-profit associations with county-wide activities. They also finance social cooperatives and county-level social economy initiatives via operating grants, relying especially on the Coompanion organisations.
The 290 municipalities of the country have a broad responsibility for local development. Most of them provide financial grants for non-profit associations and operating grants to Coompanion as well. But they also represent major buyers of services provided by the social economy.
Networks, federation and representative entities
Organisations representing the interests of the social economy entities have developed in Sweden:
- Skoopi is a network for social cooperatives and WISES leading advocacy work to defend their activities.
- The Social Entrepreneurships Forum is a non-profit organisation that advocates for impact-driven business solutions and supports entrepreneurs developing their activities.
- Organisations representing the specific interest of social service delivery by social enterprises have also developed : Famna (Swedish Association for non-profit health and social service providers), or Forum (National Forum for Voluntary Organizations).
At county and regional level, some cross-sectoral clusters on social economy and social innovation create partnership-based projects (in Örebro County or Östergötland for example) to join forces between the public sector, civil society, the university, and social economy to address societal challenges. They provide support for the creation of social innovation projects (webinars, counselling, connections with potential partners).
To develop their business, Sweden, social economy entities can rely on business advice agencies and their regional relays such as:
- Coompanion, which is a network of independent and local based organisations promoting and supporting social entrepreneurship under the form of cooperatives.
- The Swedish Job and Society Foundation and the NyföretagarCentrums offer support to entrepreneurs starting their business, including individual consulting, e-learning, discounts on basic services (insurance, phone subscription, software acquisition, etc.)
Incubators have also been set up:
- The Centre for Social Entrepreneurship in Sweden (CSES) especially focuses its support on the transitioning of the agrifood system, circular economy and sustainable production and consumption.
When it comes to training, the social economy relies on the Folk high school system which offers formal and non-formal vocational training that can benefit both social entities' employees and their target population.
Various kinds of fundings are available for Swedish social enterprises in the forms of grants, micro-funds, donations:
- Micro-Fund offers venture capital for civil society and cooperatives,
- Allmänna Arvsfonden offers project funding for children, young people, the elderly, and people with disabilities,
- The Postcode Foundation supports projects that promote positive social development or seek long-term solutions to global challenges.
Public and European funding can also be mobilised:
- ALMI Business partners is a state funded society present in 16 Swedish regions through local subsidiaries. It offers loans and investment via its capital-risk program targeting GreenTech in particular.
- The Swedish Agency for Economic and Regional Growth and the Swedish Innovative Agency often open calls for proposals directed towards social economy.
- Regions offer informational website on EU funding to facilitate access to social economy entities:
Learn more about the social economy in Sweden
- Forum for Social Innovation Sweden is a national knowledge and collaboration platform dedicated to social innovation and social enterprise in Sweden. They collect and conduct research on the social economy. Website: https://socialinnovation.se/eng
- The Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR) is an employers' organisation and an organisation that represents and advocates local government in Sweden. SALAR has published a handbook on how to collaborate with social enterprises. Link: https://skr.se/skr/tjanster/rapporterochskrifter/publikationer/newpathwaystoinnovativewelfaresolutions.65287.html)
- NOD (National body for dialogue and consultation between the government and civil society) is a platform for cooperation between the government and the civil society. Website: https://www.nodsverige.se/english/
- Social Enterprises and their ecosystems in Europe, Country Reports, Sweden, 2019. Link: Document database - Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion - European Commission (europa.eu)
- Swedish Social Enterprise Monitor Report, Euclid Knowledge Centre, 2020-2021: https://knowledgecentre.euclidnetwork.eu/2021/05/25/swedish-social-enterprise-monitor-report/