ELEXIES project

ELEXIES project

Full title: “L’entreprise sociale : lutte contre l’exclusion par l’insertion économique et sociale”
Acronym: ELEXIES
Duration: 2002 – 2003

This project is run jointly by the European Network of Social Integration Enterprises (ENSIE), the European Confederation of Workers’ Co-operatives, Social Co-operatives and Participative Enterprises (CECOP) and the EMES European Research Network.

The ELEXIES project is financed by the European Commission (DG Employment and Social Affairs) in the framework of the “Preparatory Action to Combat and Prevent Social Exclusion”.

Co-ordinated by Eric BIDET (Centre d’Economie Sociale, University of Liège, Belgium) and Roger SPEAR (Co-ops Research Unit, Open University, Milton Keynes, UK).

This project is specifically concerned with the different types of social enterprise for integration, also known as work integration social enterprise (WISE) in 12 EU countries. Its aim is to identify and describe their main characteristics as social enterprises, the type of work integration they provide, their numbers, and how they have developed and are supported. The ultimate goal of the project is to build a database accessible on internet.

The study is conducted using the EMES Network definition of social enterprise as a common reference point and guideline for determining the social enterprises to be included in the study. The EMES definition distinguishes, on the one hand, between criteria that are more economic and, on the other hand, indicators that are predominantly social.

Four factors have been applied to corroborate the economic and entrepreneurial nature of the initiatives:

  1. A continuous activity producing goods and/or selling services
    Social enterprises, unlike the traditional non-profit organisations, are normally not engaged in advisory activities as a major goal or in the redistribution of financial flows (as, for example, grant-giving foundations). Instead they are directly involved in the production of goods and the provision of services to people on a continuous basis. The provision of services represents, therefore, the reason, or one of the main reasons, for the existence of social enterprises.
  2. A high degree of autonomy
    Social enterprises are voluntarily created by a group of people and are governed by them in the framework of an autonomous project. Although they may depend on public subsidies, public authorities or other organisations (federations, private firms, etc.) do not manage them, directly or indirectly. They also have the right of participation and to terminate the project.
  3. A significant level of economic risk
    Those who establish a social enterprise assume totally or partly the risk of the initiative. Unlike most public institutions, their financial viability depends on the efforts of their members and workers to secure adequate resources.
  4. A minimum amount of paid work
    As in the case of most traditional non-profit associations, social enterprises may also combine monetary and non-monetary resources, voluntary and paid workers. However, the activity carried out in social enterprises requires a minimum level of paid workers.

To encapsulate the social dimensions of the initiative, five indicators have been selected:

  • An initiative launched by a group of citizens
    Social enterprises are the result of collective dynamics involving people belonging to a community or to a group that shares a certain need or aim. They must maintain this dimension in one form or another.
  • A decision-making power not based on capital ownership
    This generally means the principle of “one member, one vote” or at least a voting power not distributed according to capital shares on the governing body which has the ultimate decision-making rights. The owners of the capital are obviously important, but the decision-making rights are shared with the other stakeholders.
  • A participatory nature, which involves the persons affected by the activity
    Representation and participation of customers, stakeholder orientation and a democratic management style are important characteristics of social enterprises. In many cases, one of the aims of social enterprises is to further democracy at local level through economic activity.
  • Limited profit distribution
    Social enterprises not only include organisations that are characterised by a total non-distribution constraint, but also organisations like co-operatives in some countries, which may distribute profits only to a limited extent, thus avoiding a profit-maximising behaviour.
  • An explicit aim to benefit the community
    One of the principal aims of social enterprises is to serve the community or a specific group of people. To the same end, a feature of social enterprises is their desire to promote a sense of responsibility at local level.


The database of work integration social enterprise has been produced for each country. Due to different circumstances in each country (especially legislative frameworks) there have been slightly varied approaches to mapping the sector. Researchers have generally made a great effort to ensure that the most interesting and progressive initiatives are represented. There are certain types of social enterprise which have their own legislative framework, and which are exclusively concerned with work integration.

The second type, concerns those social enterprise which are exclusively engaged in work integration, but though they are recognisable as a distinctive type, they do not enjoy a complete and specific legal recognition, and thus generally operate under a range of different legal forms also used by organisations out of the field of work integration.

Other types of social enterprise do not have their own specific legislation, and only a proportion of that type will be engaged with work integration. Researchers have made particularly strong efforts to ensure that the first two categories are included, but lack of data has meant that some of the latter category may be missing.


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