Social ecosystems, impact through solidarity economy

9 November 2021

Cities are using an innovative tool to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic: Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) ecosystems.

SSE environments welcome economic activities that take into consideration social impact and not only financial gains. These ecosystems are an evolutionary step forward from standard social enterprises: rather than focusing solely on promoting a social goal, they also involve collaboration and the sharing of knowledge and resources between organisations, as well as co-design and consultation with citizens and civil society organisations.

Unlike run-of-the-mill large-scale corporations, these ecosystems are often local in character and prioritise the improvement of surrounding social standards. Issues such as democracy, social rights or sustainable development can become an essential part of their (more) ethical economic activities.

Through a project called ‘Respond, Rebuild, Reinvent,’ nine cities from North America and Europe are sharing their work in fostering Social and Solidarity Economy ecosystems. Cities on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean have different models for these ecosystems, and ways of promoting them and, below, we explore how Dublin, Montreal and Warsaw understand and implement this paradigm.


The city is confident in the solidarity economy sector and its agility and readiness to answer many social challenges after the disproportionate impact of the pandemic. Not long ago, Dublin found this sector to be somewhat fragmented. and in response, the city has worked with other key stakeholders to create and develop various initiatives to support the development of the SSE and the actors within.

The initiatives are aligned with a supportive policy and legislative foundation, which most notably includes the National Social Enterprise Policy for Ireland. Through these initiatives, the city aims to encourage collaboration between social enterprises and SSE actors, encouraging them to avail of support and providing opportunities to inspire each other and raise their profile to attract support from the public and private sector.

Social Enterprises making an impact – celebrated at the Dublin City Social Enterprise Awards 2021

A body dedicated to facilitating many of the initiatives is the Dublin City Social Enterprise Committee. It was established in 2015 by Dublin City Council and is comprised of key SSE stakeholders and social enterprise representatives. The committee seeks to identify areas of need and opportunity for social enterprise development and support the scaling of social enterprises.

One of the mechanisms that the committee uses to support the scaling of social enterprises is the Dublin City Social Enterprise Awards.

These awards offer funding, mentoring, and promotion to help social enterprises start and grow in Dublin City. In addition, previous recipients can avail of mentoring to support their continued development. Each year the Social Enterprise Awardees are showcased at an awards ceremony which also serves to promote and celebrate the SSE.

The awards have been run annually for seven years. So far, 38 Dublin City Social Enterprise Awards and a total fund of €334,500 has been distributed among local social enterprises. The important issues that this years’ and previous awardees are seeking to address, include Biodiversity, Sustainability, Unemployment, Low Education Attainment, Diversity, Inclusion, Health, Mental Health, Homelessness, Accessibility and Ex-Offender Reintegration.

The awards programme was enhanced further on account of the pandemic in order to support the awardees and their work in addressing social challenges and also in addressing the impact of the pandemic on individuals and communities in Dublin.

The Dublin City Social Enterprise Awards are funded by the Department of Rural and Community Development and by Dublin City Council.  Inner City Enterprise manages the awards and work with Dublin City Council to select the award winners and to host the awards ceremony.


Montreal landscape. Image credits: the Bialons via Unsplash

On the other side of the ocean, the city of Montreal focuses on economic development for all instead of just a particular social problem. However, the team also works on how to bring more solidarity into the social systems of the city.

The Canadian city sees a clear division between ‘social economy’ and ‘social enterprise’. Social enterprises are individual organisations that have a social purpose, whereas the social economy comprises collective and cooperative non-profits.

Social Economy Enterprises integrate the community into the discussion, which contributes to co-creation and citizen participation processes to shape an efficient and dynamic neighbourhood life by innovating in areas such as mobility and access to food.

At the same time, the social economy is part of the economic development conversation, which offers well-designed recommendations. For example, the city found that enterprises seeking to foster social inclusion mainly recruit young people, and is encouraging a recent shift that has seen the recruitment of more 50-year-olds for new jobs as well.

The city can be proud of a long tradition of concertation and transversal communications in Quebec’s province, between the government and SSE organisations. Since 2020, a special interest group has gathered every two weeks in a panel discussion led by civil servants.

Montreal’s recently launched 2030 vision takes into account the ecological transition, social issues, and more citizen involvement.


Warsaw understands its current SSE ecosystem as being mainly represented by NGOs. The city is working on adding businesses to its work and combining their experience with the non-profits since these organisations are a big part of the new way of thinking about inclusion locally.

Warsaw. Image credit: Marta Buces

The Warsaw City Council adopted the Strategy for Solving Social Problems 2030 through the development of social solidarity and social economy, hence including the support of the SSE ecosystem. Non-governmental organizations, social economy entities and other local partners will be important external partners in the process of strategy implementation. Cooperation with them may have a financial form, e.g. implementation of projects in partnership with the City of Warsaw (including EU and European Economic Area funds), commissioning of social services and public tasks, and various non-financial forms.

Actors from the social entrepreneurship sector have recently gained relevance, mainly because of social clauses for public procurement.

A new approach looks for solutions by using new technologies in social welfare, tailor-made social services, and collaboration with municipal institutions and organisations. The main points of interaction with the social and solidarity economy are related to social procurement contracts and competitive funding of new innovative projects or the set-up of new organisations.

Children’s care systems are a great example of cooperation with the private sector in the performance of public tasks. The city council offered the business having a three-five years contract avoiding this way the long-term investment process, which is essential for the construction and equipping of municipal nurseries. The results of this cooperation with entrepreneurs are 469 places in private nurseries (competitions dedicated exclusively to nurseries) in 2018, and 6277 places in non-public facilities (crèches, children’s clubs, day-care centres) in 2019.

In essence, the Social and Solidarity Economy takes two existing good ideas, social enterprises and inter-organisational collaboration, and puts them together to reinforce the power of businesses to act in tandem for social good.

Main image credit: Florian Wehde via Unsplash


Marta Buces Eurocities Writer