“Social enterprise” is a relatively new term in Poland. It was first mentined mainly in academic discussions and government documents after Poland joined the European Union and implemented projects relating to combating social and professional exclusion. Despite the gradual dissemination of the term, the issue of social enterprises does not seem to heve been properly recognised in Poland. Social enterprises, as institutional providers of public services, remain on the margins of discussions on the transformation of the contemporary socio-economic system. Meanwhile, although the socio-economic and developmental potential is lower in Poland than in Western Europe, the impact of social enterprises on the welfare state is becoming increasingly visible. This is due to systemic reforms such as decentralisation, democratisation and the withdrawal of the state from some social obligations, which has resulted in a profound institutional gap in many social services. Moreover, it can be said that roles of social enterprises as suppliers of public services will grow in coming years because of the strong public budgets’ constraints at the central and local levels and the increasing pressure of service users who try to influence social services delivery. Moreover, a system of institutional recognition of social enterprises is slowly being shaped in Poland, although it is still much less advanced compared to Western European countries.
Given the above characteristics, the paper attempts to describe the current level of institutional recognition of social enterprises in Poland. It addresses the key complexities and terminological heritage of “social enterprise” by referring to the major theoretical approaches, i.e., the “earned-income” school of thought, the “social innovation” school of thought and the definition of “social enterprise” developed by the EMES Newtork. In Poland after 1989, the institutionalisation of social enterprises is discussed in the context of historical, economic and social changes. The article refers to the typology of models of social enterprises in Poland deceloped by Ciepielewska-Kowalik et al. 2015 as a part of the ICSEM Project. The article provides ann overwiew of the most current Polish literature and public statistical data on social enterprises.