Our current economic, ecological, and social tensions attest to the urgency of fundamentally transitioning the way in which we organize economic activity and its relationship to society. Through a variety of initiatives in many different sectors of activity—work integration, social finance, short supply chains, recycling, personal services, collaborative economy, culture, and many others—citizens, private sector actors, and public officials are discovering new opportunities to promote societal goals. But these initiatives not only open up new activities that create jobs; through their values, they inspire trust among citizens and public authorities, contribute to the institutional plurality of our economic systems, and open the door to citizen involvement, participation, and empowerment. And although the social and ecological transition we need cannot fully take place without deep systemic transformations at the macro level, initiatives like these contribute to the evolution of production processes and consumption patterns.

In Europe, these initiatives fall under the broad umbrella of “the social economy.” With the preparation of a European Action Plan for the Social Economy under way, the “social economy field” is gaining momentum at the EU policy level. The challenge is therefore to take the full measure of its contribution and broaden its influence.

Research has a major role to play in helping us better understand the strengths and weaknesses of these multiple forms of entrepreneurship, in their own contexts and in their respective fields of activity, and it is important to train the young generation rigorously to the challenges of social entrepreneurship. But these research and teaching themes are still not very present—nor legitimized—within the universities where the future generations of entrepreneurs are trained.

Read the full article about social economy ecosystems by Rocío Nogales-Muriel and Marthe Nyssens at Stanford Social Innovation Review.