Navarra Social Economy Plan: tapping the potential of the social and solidarity economy in Spain


Navarra is one of the Autonomous Communities of Spain and became the only European region in 2017 to develop a comprehensive Social Economy Plan (2017-2020) as part of its Smart Specialisation Strategy (S3) to support social economy organisations1.  Back in 2017, the social economy in Navarra represented some 1 100 social economy organisations, over 18 800 employees (around 8% of the working population in the private sector in Navarra) and more than 28 000 associates and volunteers at social economy organisations. The analysis that informed the development of the Plan identified important and specific opportunities for Navarra’s economy in promoting Navarra’s socio-economic development and its contribution to employment and social transformation.

The aim of the Plan was to expand the social economy activities through sustainable and quality employment, social innovation, business development, participatory governance, and sectoral development. The document was prepared and developed jointly with the Provincial Government (Navarra General Directorate of Economic, Business and Labour Policy) with the support of the Confederación Empresarial Española de la Economía Social (CEPES) (Spanish Social Economy Employers’ Confederation). The plan aimed to increase the number of people employed by at least 20% (3 300 jobs in absolute numbers) and to ensure that 10% of the companies created in Navarra were in the social economy, compared to the 7% they represented before the beginning of the Plan.

1 such as the associated work cooperatives; labour companies, agri-food cooperatives, insertion companies, foundations, solidarity economy entities and that are completed with special non-profit employment centres.


The S3 methodology utilises a place-based approach to innovation promoted by the European Union (EU). It promotes sustainable growth models that contribute to the 2030 Agenda of the United Nations for Sustainable Development. Over the past decade, over 120 Smart Specialisation Strategies were developed in the EU, yet few focus on social innovation (such as Flanders) or social economy promotion (such as Navarra).

The Social Economy Plan of Navarra is one of the first to address the need to build a strong economic foundation for a sustainable and inclusive economic growth building on the advantages social economy can bring. The 'social economy' in this region has an important historical background due to the presence of the agricultural sector and its industry base. The social economy in the region is relatively strong and the Plan relates to worker cooperatives, worker-owned companies, agro-food cooperatives, insertion companies, foundations and associations that carry out a business activity, as well as other solidarity economy entities, and special employment centres. This is a good example highlighting the importance of the social economy as an economic engine, aligned with the objectives of the S3, for socio-economic development of the region building on its strengths.

Key Activities

The Plan aims to addresses the recommendation of the Spanish Constitution to the public authorities to promote and disseminate the social economy. The Plan was a logical continuation of a number of policy actions, which the government had put in place previously. This includes the Law 5/2011, of March 29, which recognised the role of the social economy in state regulations and promoted the visibility and the development of the sector both within the State and at the European Union level. Another important step was the approval of the Foral (territorial) Law on Associated Work Micro-cooperatives passed in 2015, which has spurred the establishment of new small cooperatives in the Basque Country by facilitating their compliance with administrative and bureaucratic procedures.  Therefore, the creation of the Comprehensive Social Economy Plan was consequential to these developments as it aims to draw from the potential of the social economy sector in Navarra to foster employment and social transformation. 

The Plan builds around five strategic goals. They include: 1) creating and maintaining employment and improving its quality and equality; 2) promoting social innovation through collaboration; 3) enhancing the business development opportunities through growth, cooperation and improvement of the competitiveness of the social economy actors; 4) strengthening participatory governance and involving various members into social economy projects; and 5) facilitating the visibility of the social economy and the value it brings to society. Through its activities, the Plan also helped to train individuals and enterprises, improving their skills and enhancing their competencies required to improve regional competitiveness.  One important activity was the creation of the Social Innovation Unit, which is co-ordinated by the Department of Economic and Business and Labour Policy, CEPES Navarra and the ADItech Foundation. This collaborative governance helped to create a unique local ecosystem promoting social innovations, involving local businesses and applying technologies. The Unit also promotes development of social entrepreneurship, social innovation projects and co-creation of social innovation solutions through involvement of civil society actors.


The Plan has promoted the importance of the social economy at European level as an example of an economic engine aligned with the objectives of the S3. The Plan is often cited as a good practice example of the role of social economy in socio-economic development of the region. One of the success factors of the plan is the strong reinforcement by the policy makers in Navarra that created strong links with the local community.

Three months after the conclusion of the First Comprehensive Social Economy Plan 2017-2020, the set out objectives have been met. With some 1 100 social economy companies in 2017, in 2020 this number rose to over 1 250. Social economy employed around 18 800 people in 2017, while in 2020 the numbers were over 20,000. Among the jobs created in the social economy as a whole, 2 498 correspond to direct jobs in cooperatives and labour companies. The final report has also estimated the turnover of the sector growing from EUR 1 953 to EUR 2 400 million.

Since its creation, the Social Innovation Unit has become a public-private association. It is built of various entities and has become a good example of the so-called quadruple helix cooperation, where public sector, private sector, civil society and other actors work together.

Given the success of the 2017-2020 Plan, the Department of Economic and Business Development along with the CEPES prepared and developed the second Comprehensive Social Economy Plan, adopted by the Region of Navarra on 22 September 2021. The new Plan includes under priority three: “innovative entrepreneurship and social economy” the commitment to “providing greater resources to the Second Integral Social Economy Plan” in Navarra.