Looking for Social Enterprise Models in Poland: Institutional and Historical Context

Co-authors of the paper: Bartosz Pieliński, Institute of Social Policy, University of Warsaw, Marzena Starnawska, Department of Entrepreneurship and Business Law, Faculty of Management and Economics, Gadańsk Univesrity of Technology, Aleksandra Szymańska, Department of Applied Economics, Faculty of Economic and Social Sciences and Solvay Business School, Vrije Universiteit Brussel

This paper is a part of a series of Working Papers produced under the International Comparative Social Enterprise Models (ICSEM) Project.

The aim of this paper is to investigate the main models of Polish social enterprise against of their historical and institutional context.


A common definition of social enterprise in Poland has not, to date, been established. Moreover, despite the gradual development of social enterprises and their growing legal recognition in Poland, no unanimity or agreed understanding of this notion has yet been reached.

The term “social enterprise” has recently been regarded in Poland as a particularly vague notion. Two major reasons account for this situation. First, “social enterprise” is a relatively new term in Poland. The term has been explicitly used by academics, government officials, professionals, and third sector organisations only in the years following Poland’s integration into the European Union in 2004. The term was introduced in tandem with the discussions concerning the nature of social enterprise that have been taking place in Western Europe. Therefore, part of the ambiguity of the term was introduced from outside. Another reason is the link with the long history of social enterprises in Poland. Long before the introduction of the term, there were a considerable number of organisations possessing features of social enterprise in Poland, and there is no settled agreement as to which of those organisations should be called social enterprises.

However, there are some projects of legal acts under construction, which may lead to the clarification of the notion of social enterprise in the near future. Of these, the most important is the project of Act on Social Enterprise and Support for the Social Economy, which was passed to the interdepartmental governmental agreements in 2013. The second important project is the governmental project of the National Program on Social Economy Development (in Polish, KPRES), which is still undergoing public consultation. We shall refer to these two documents later in the paper (part C).

The aim of this paper is to investigate the main models of Polish social enterprise against the background of their historical and institutional contexts. To do this, the authors have decided to divide the content into three parts. The first part (part A) presents the concept of social enterprise in Poland. It consists of an introduction and short overview of the history of social enterprises in Poland. We consider that this historical part can assist in understanding the complexities of the institutionalisation of Polish social enterprises that have taken place since Poland’s entry into the EU in 2004. The historical part is followed by an examination of the main concepts of social enterprise in Poland. The second part (part B) identifies the main models of Polish social enterprises, namely cooperatives, entrepreneurial non-profit organisations, and work and social integration social enterprises. The final part of the paper (part C) investigates the institutional trajectories of the SE models presented in part B.

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