This absence is chiefly explained by the difficulty for all the different actors involved to agree on a definition of social entrepreneurship, and the lack of an adequate system of statistics in use at Insee, the National Institute of Statistics and Economic Studies.
The only data available today is that concerning the social and solidarity economy (SSE), produced by Insee, the Observatoire national de l’ESS of CNCRES. These statistics reveal the growing importance of this alternative economy.
SSE in fact represents nearly 10% of jobs in France (2.3 million salaried workers) and is growing rapidly; jobs in this sector have increased by 23% between 2000 and 2010, whilst the private sector grew only by 7% during the same period.
These statistics cannot, however, provide a clear picture of the reality of social entrepreneurship in France. In fact, some organisations using the legal status of SSE (associations, mutual companies, cooperatives and foundations) are not social enterprises (whether football clubs or cooperative groups in the banking sector) and, on the contrary, some organisations with a social purpose have adopted classic business statuses (SA, SARL, SAS…) which fall outside the remit of the social and solidarity economy.
It is a huge challenge these days to measure the size of the social entrepreneurship sector, the characteristics of the involved organisations, their impact on work, growth and society. The data should provide us with a better knowledge of the sector, increase its visibility and legitimacy, and facilitate the set up of relevant public policy.
In response to this need, Convergences 2015 has, since 2011, been assembling a network of key actors in social entrepreneurship with Ashoka, Avise, CNCRES, ESSECIIES, France Active, Mouves, Réseau Entreprendre, as well as Insee – with the objective of producing together, by 2013, the first statistics on social entrepreneurship in France.
In 2012, the European Commission echoed these concerns by launching a call for proposals with the aim of producing and collecting statistics on social entrepreneurship in the different countries of the European Union, under the Initiative for Social Entrepreneurship. The absence of reliable data on the subject is not, it would seem, a French exception.
A study was carried out by Convergences 2015 in July 2012. At the global level, Convergences 2015 has identified 63 national or international social entrepreneur networks. Definition of a network of social entrepreneurs: An organisation that brings together a number of social entrepreneurs and that develops activities with the objective of creating ties between them, in order to foster mutual support between peers.
These networks’ demographics show the constant progress of social entrepreneurship in the world since the 1980s – the time the first networks started to appear, such as Ashoka.
They also show the boom that the sector has been undergoing since the early 2000s, with an average of four to five new networks being set up every year between 2000 and 2012.