Italian Social Enterprise: A Missed Opportunity… almost

di Filippo Addarii

The Italian government is reviewing the law on social enterprise. The new legislation introduced in 2006 after a long gestation has produced just little more than 700 new enterprises without any noticeable difference to the country.

It’s a failure admitted by all stakeholders and several attempts to change the law have been made in the last two years but without progress.

This time all the circumstances are favorable. The financial crisis of the public sector is forcing the third sector – the main interested party – to look for new solutions. The new government headed by the youngest ever PM is looking  for good news. Finally the attempt to grow a market for public services led by both the EU and G8 is providing the international pressure for the Italians to do their homework.

However it will turn into a trivial exercise if the problem is not properly considered. Not only the agenda of the third sector should define the solution or it will be a missed opportunity for the Italians.

The debate on social enterprise is all but ancillary. It touches the core of the question over the human nature and founding principles of our society: Can we reconcile our instinctive selfishness and competition between individuals with the benefits of collaboration and need for cooperation in complex society?

The Greek tragedy is based on this insoluble conflict. Sophocles called it the root of human terrible nature. The Biologist and evolutionist Edward O. Wilson defines it the chimera of human nature but is confident in the coexistence of the opposite forces.

The Western growth model has prioritized one side building its social and economic theory on economic rationality: we as human beings pursue the maximization of our individual interest. But it presumed that the production of material prosperity a infinite scale would have solved the problem. The conflict could be contained by producing enough to buy all the parties into the system.

It worked for 50 years at least but we have reached the ecological capacity of the earth, or soon we will as citizens of emerging economies aspire to meet the same life standards we have enjoyed in the West.

Environmental sustainability and universal social justice in our global hyper-connected society require a switch to a new conception of prosperity: from material to social affluence (relational and immaterial).

Easier said than done. At least two set of questions follow. What are the goods that people are not ready to forsake and society requires for its sustainability?

What are the institution which can help us steer the transition and sustain it over the years?

This is the kind of debate I would like to see in Italy as in Brussels to make this legislative effort a significant step toward a better future.

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