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Social cooperation, the italian way to non profit enterprise - 2-

Maria Teresa COBELLI

08 / 1993


The guiding idea behind social cooperation in these years, the ideal which it continues to pursue, is that of the social enterprise: an organization that combines and reciprocally enriches the principles typical of entrepreneurship (organizational efficiency, innovation, the efficient use of resources)with those of social intervention (helping the needy, disintertedness, sharing).

Thus, according to the precepts of business science, the goals of the firm are established by the firm itself, so that it is perfectly possible for a social solidarity cooperative to operate on a non-profit basis and for the purposes of social welfare. For it to be recognized as a full-fledged firm, however, it must deliver an identifiable and useful product, one realized as efficiently as possible, through the rationale use of human and material resources and in constant search of innovations to improve its products even further.

The caracteristic feature of the social cooperative is therefore that it seeks to be a "social firm": a "firm" because it is managed on business principles and constantly innovates its products and processes; "social" because it operates in the sphere of social policies and aims to achieve results of social nature, not to maximize profit.

The use of the social solidarity in the sphere of social policies seems to be specific to Italy, since similar initiatives in other Western countries (and also, to a large extent, in Italy)are normally managed in associative form. The novel feature of social cooperation is its conviction that a business (the cooperative)rather than an associaion can more easily accomplish the following:

- real managerial democracy;

- greater administrative transparency, since the social cooperative must fulfil all the civil and fiscal obligations of a firm;

- the continuous and organized management of productive activities (whether these are social activities work activities for the occupational integration of disadvantaged people);

- the high degree of innovation in products and processes typical of a firm.

In concrete terms, the skills of a social entrepreneur consist in the ability to pursue promotional goals; that is, the ability to prevent the onset of illness and marginalization, promptly to diagnose situations of malaise, to animate and educate individuals, primary groups and local communities so that they can manage diverse situations both autonomously and jointly.

It should be stressed that the social cooperative must be both the expression of, and a stimulus to, the local community. Otherwise there is the risk that an erroneous view of social policies will arise in which the cooperatives are delegated responsibility for the socially marginalized, thereby relieving families of their solidarist duties.

A research study carried out at the end of the 1980s by Consorzio Nazionale delle Coopertaive Sociali showed that social cooperation have displayed innovative capacity in responding to old and new forms of poverty by implementation of forms of intervention never previously tried either by the public services or by the private initiatives: for instance, the schemes introduced in the area of adult marginalization (the long-term unemployed, ex-inmates of psychiatric hospitals)or drug addiction: many therapeutic communities have adopted the formula of the social solidarity cooperative.

Recent years have seen a further "process" innovation in the more traditional sectors of the social policy, such as the disabled elderly and the handicapped. For example, a large number of the home help services recently introduced in Italy are organized as social solidarity cooperatives.

Key words

social policy, cooperative, company

, Italy


This is the second part of a speech pronounced during the meeting "Well being in Europe by strengthening the third sector", held in Barcelona, 27-29 May 1993. (See part 1 and 3).


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