Economic and social rationale of cooperative and social enterprises: theoretical interpretations and empirical analyses

This area includes theoretical and empirical research analysing the specificities of cooperative and social enterprises in order to contribute to a new interpretive framework of the various entrepreneurial forms existing and developing in market economies. This area is central to Euricse’s research activity, since it is both the scientific frame of reference but also a starting point that is common to all the other research areas. Its objective is therefore to investigate the specificities of cooperatives and of social enterprises, their strengths and their limitations. Research activities within this area are inspired by the more recent efforts in the scientific debate, which have questioned the excessive emphasis attributed by neoclassic economic theory to self-interest as the main motivation in decision-making.

The research projects in this area include:
1. theortical analyses aimed at developing new models that can explain the behaviour of social enterprises, identifying the conditions in which they can operate efficiently and the consequences on their stakeholders and the community at large.
2.  empirical research through direct data collection from the cooperatives themselves. This type of analysis entails both the use of existing data sources and original data collection from the field. This research seeks to measure the relevance of specific cooperative sectors (with a special focus on credit, users, and social cooperatives) and the innovations they develop in terms of both products and production processes. Going forward, the data that are gathered and organized can be made available to their researchers and research centers.
3. experimental analysis, bringing lab experiments into the work place and comparing in particular the behaviour of workers in different types of organizations.

Scientific coordinator

CARLO BORZAGA is graduate in Social Sciences and specialized in Economics. Associate professor from 1986 and full professor of Economic Policy at the University of Trento, Faculty of Economics since 2001. From 2002 to 2003 chairman of the Evaluation Committee of the University of Trento and from 2003 to 2006 Dean of the Faculty of Economics. From 1996 to 2009 chaired and coordinated the ISSAN – Istituto Studi Sviluppo Imprese Nonprofit - (Research Institute on Nonprofit Enterprises). At present he chairs Euricse – European Research Institute on Cooperative and Social Enterprises - and the master programme on Management of Social Enterprises (GIS) at the University of Trento. He is a founding member of the network EMES (The Emergence of Social Enterprise in Europe) and chairman of IRIS Network (an Italian network of italian research centres on social enterprises). He is editor of the journal Impresa Sociale and member of the scientific committees of several journals, among them Economia e Lavoro, Revue des études coopératives mutualistes et associatives, Social Enterprise Journal. He has collaborated with several national (Ministero del Lavoro, Ministero della Famiglia e della Solidarietà Sociale, ISFOL, ISTAT Fondazione per il Volontariato, Provincia Autonoma di Trento) and international (Unione Europea, OCDE, ILO) institutions.

Project List

International Study Group on Utility Cooperatives

The aim of the International Study Group on Utility Cooperatives is to compare the state and development of cooperative solutions for the provision of public utilities across countries and/or sectors from different disciplinary backgrounds and through interdisciplinary work.

The contribution of constitutional and behavioural theory for understanding cooperatives and social enterprises

The objective of the project is the creation of a new theoretical framework concerning the variety of entrepreneurial forms existing and developing in market economies. The new approach devotes particular attention to the contribution of behavioural economics in order to understand individuals’ motivations and values, organizational aims and their linkage with governance structures, and the evolution of motivations and organizations over time. The research project combines theoretical explanations with empirical analyses and experimental designs, with special interest for workers in cooperative and social enterprises.

Users’ cooperatives in public services: A comparative study

The main goal of this research project is to investigate users’ cooperatives in public service delivery in Italy, France, Germany, United Kingdom and Spain. In Italy in particular, the research focuses on users’ cooperatives supplying water, energy, waste, transportation and telecommunication services at the local level.

As for Italy, a complete database of users’ cooperatives in public service delivery did not exist at the national level. Given the lack of statistical data, various secondary sources and data have been used that are not completely comparable. These data have been integrated by empirical research through questionnaires. 

Processes of differentiation and innovation in social enterprises

This project investigates how innovation is articulated within social cooperatives, differentiating between product, process, sector and end user innovations. The data is collected by administering questionnaires and conducting interviews.