social economy

Research Friday: Transforming the mindset from charitable giving to the social economy


posted by
Patsy Kraeger, Ph.D.

Welcome to Research Friday! As part of a continuing series, we invite a nonprofit scholar, student, or professional to highlight current research reports or studies and discuss how they can inform and improve day-to-day nonprofit practice.

“The impact of new technologies is invariably misjudged because we measure the future with yardsticks from the past.” - Stephen Baker, a technology journalist in a recent NY Times Blog.

Last year I wrote a Research Friday blog post that considered the impact of civic engagement on the economy. I discussed research that found a correlation between civic engagement and the unemployment rate. Although the findings were not conclusive, in states where civic engagement did not decline, employment rates were more resilient and stable.

The term social economy is used more in Canada, Europe and Latin America. The term captures economic growth as inclusive of both commercial and non-commercial activities, including paid and unpaid work. Increasingly, policy and social change has been studied through the lens of the social economy, and there is now a developed scholarly literature in this field (much of it through the European Research Network).

But what is the social economy in the American context? Who is discussing the social economy outside of academic networks? Is the social economy just another buzzword or a new paradigm?

Dr. Lucy Bernholz, in a report coproduced by Grantcraft, Stanford PACS and the Stanford Social Innovation Review, titled Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint for 2013 (hereafter, “the Blueprint”) challenges readers to think about a new paradigm which looks at all “private resources for public good” (p.2), instead of just private charitable gifts to nonprofit organizations. This is an important step in developing a new language and dialogue that shifts away from the “philanthropic-nonprofit” paradigm (p.2). This is exciting!

Staying on the leading edge: The several economies of the social sector

posted by Pat Lewis,
Senior Professional
in Residence
ASU Lodestar Center

What is the nonprofit sector’s contribution to society’s economics? This is a question often asked — but responding in true economic terms has been more difficult. Although the ‘double bottom line’ — profit and social value — have long been recognized, there are now new ways of looking at this question, encompassed in new terms: social, core, and monetary economies.

Dr. Laurie Mook, a professor at Arizona State University, defines the term social economy as:

A bridging concept for organizations that have social objectives central to their mission and their practice, and either have explicit economic objectives or generate some economic value through the services they provide and purchases they undertake. The term social economy puts up front the economic value of social organizations — that they produce and market services, employ people, may own valuable assets, and generate social value.1

Another perspective on the concept of social economy is that of Edgar Cahn, who suggests we have created two systems that are inter-related: the monetary economyand the core economy. He explains that the monetary economy is what we measure. It encompasses the income sources that drive our society: profit, government, philanthropy, earned income. The core economy, although supported by money, is not driven by it. It is “primarily powered by our minds, our spirits, our hearts.”2 It can be described as “family, neighborhood, community and civil society.”3 It is often invisible, overlooked, or unacknowledged. A dilemma is how to bring it to the fore and measure it for its overwhelming value. One way this can be accomplished is through “time banking,” which will be addressed in Edgar Cahn’s keynote address at the ASU Lodestar Center’s 20th Annual Conference on Sustainability Strategies, Oct. 18 & 19.