The concept of social economy is very wide, but most times it refers to all the types of economic and social activities which take place under many legal forms within the private and public sectors. Social economy is commonly used in continental Europe and in the institutions of the European Union (EU), while in the USA and in other countries the dominant terms tend to be those of non-profit organisation (NPO) and third sector, which is also used internationally. There are also other terms describing the social economy, such as the economy of solidarity.
Even though the term of “third sector” is much more used in the Anglo-Saxon area to describe the non-profit sector which consists largely of foundations and associations, several overlapping situations can be observed in the use of this term in relation to the social economy. The expression “third sector” was used by Levitt (1973) in the United States of America, while in Europe it has start to be used several years later to describe a sector existing between the public sector and the capitalist sector, close to the domain of social economy.
In the early 90, an international research project headed by Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, SUA) aimed to discover and quantify the size and structure of the non-profit sector, to analyse its development and impact on the society. The various stages of the project pictured the significant coordinates of the third sector in 36 countries on five continents.
Bibliography: “Social Economy in Europe” – The Expert Publishing House. 2010