Has the Covid19 pandemic made us believe in Social Ecosystems? 

4 January 2022

An essential lesson from crises previous to the pandemic “is the importance of the social economy, which accounts for 6-8% of the GDP in the European Union countries,” said Ángel Gurría, former Secretary-General of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), at the European Social Economy Summit in May 2021.

The pandemic is still hitting the economy and triggering social crises worldwide. In these unfortunate circumstances, social economy activities become revolutionary.

These ecosystems are an evolutionary step forward from standard social enterprises: rather than focusing solely on financial gains, they add value to our purchases and impact our closest communities in need. For example, by caring about the environment in the production chain, sharing knowledge and resources between organisations or committing to social work.

“Over the past 50 years, the social economy has expanded significantly at national and local levels. It is a driver of job creation and economic activity and has a social and green impact.”

Gurría reminded the audience that “the values of solidarity, cooperation, responsibility, which are at the heart of the social economy, should be the driving force of change.”

Let’s delve into the Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) strategies and tools run by Turin in Italy and Belo Horizonte in Brazil.


Turin had become an experimented city in terms of social ecosystems. Since 2014, the municipality has developed a robust model of social innovation.

The original focus was put on young enterprises that addressed social needs in education, employment, mobility, health, or inclusion. The support provided by the city was canalised through the Turin Social Innovation set of strategies, addressed to under 40 years old entrepreneurs.

Start-ups get fundings from the council as well as business development advocacy thanks to a partnership that congregates the city and other 40 organisations.

Three years later, this public plan expanded and evolved into the Turin Social Impact Platform. The portal aggregates the activities of the partners and implements cross-cutting projects.

Another inspiring initiative initiated by the council is CasaBottega. This urban regeneration project transforms the lowered shutters of Barriera di Milano into artistic workshops. A solution for two different challenges: the lack of proper space where young artists can expose their creativity, and abandoned and closed shops in urban deprived areas.

CasaBottega allows reusing empty commercial spaces in a different perspective of urban regeneration and local eco-development, while artists feel encouraged to participate through their creativity, thus becoming a full part of the life of the neighbourhood.

Belo Horizonte

The Brazilian city has found in Social and Solidarity enterprises an alternative relief, particularly to unemployed citizens, ensuring incomes in several families. This has been possible thanks to the solidarity economy, but also advancing in actions that encourage civil society to contribute with solutions through social businesses.

As Gurría stated, these type of companies has shown exceptional resilience to previous global crises. In the present one, as we all have been forced to move to the online world, so have companies. Training in digital entrepreneurship, primarily addressed to small popular local businesses affected by the pandemic, has become the leading topic of one of Belo Horizonte’s programmes.

Entrepreneur taking the course. Image credit: Public Center for Solidarity Economy team

The course aims to bring knowledge about the virtual world and instruct in business tools to optimise the best way to keep running a business in these uncertain times.

The digital world may have become the alternative to public (and sometimes crowded) urban spaces. Nevertheless, citizens want to go back to enjoy them. To revitalise streets and buildings, Belo Horizonte launched the Creative Horizon Programme.

The plan aims to transform degraded areas, valuing important regions and taking advantage of the city’s vocation for arts, culture, entertainment, gastronomy, tourism, technology and innovation to boost the creative economy.

Image credit: Public Center for Solidarity Economy team

In Lagoinha, one of the areas where the plan has been implemented, this initiative have triggered an increase in tourism thanks to enlivening the spaces,  which strengthened the creative businesses, mainly in the fields of gastronomy and culture.

Overseas peer-learning

“We need to ensure that national, regional and local authorities support and stimulate the social economy, and they should do this by sharing good practices and solutions to common challenges,” said Gurría.

That is what nine cities from the American and European continents have been working on by participating in the ‘Respond, Rebuild, Reinvent’ project during these seven past months. Warsaw, Dublin, Montreal, Guadalajara, Bilbao, Rotterdam, San Francisco, Turin and Belo Horizonte have shared challenges and innovative ideas on the SSE ecosystems.

While this exciting project is coming to an end, cities are keen to keep working together and go even deeper in their understanding of social and solidarity economy as solutions to face COVID challenges. In the coming weeks, consortium members will gather to explore possible future pathways to promote the exchange with other cities with the aim of assisting the development of SSE ecosystems and their role in recovering, rebuilding and reinventing the places we live in.

Main image credit: Belo Horizonte Public Center for Solidarity Economy team


Marta Buces Eurocities Writer