December 2021
Welcome to the second edition of the SE4Ces European project newsletter.

A warm get-together although virtual – our SAC suggests and guides our course.

In November, almost eleven months into the SE4Ces project we had the second official meeting with the members of the Scientific Advisory Council. The Scientific Advisory Council is a group of renowned experts in the field of social economy assembled to support the consortium towards the project’s outcomes. Together we reflected on the project’s first steps.
The Advisory Council considered the work done thus far impressive, reflecting on the variety of contexts surrounding social economy and the diversity in interpretations across Europe. One take away is that we should build on this diversity, highlighting under-represented dimensions to draw balance. It is also true though that current definitions of the social economy are underlined by dominance of formalised institutional legal forms (cooperatives, social enterprises). Instead, or complementary to that, we should reflect more on existing variety, like community-based initiatives, informal structures, and practices of reciprocity that move away from formalised forms.

“We need to avoid being Euro-centric, expand to explore and address variety of other perspectives in social economy beyond the EU”

The meeting provided an excellent platform to discuss any other ideas touching upon a variety of questions. For example, education in social economy is affected by online interfaces that have now become the norm, but dominating online interfaces exclude certain cohorts of target groups and age groups with limited digital literacy or access to internet. How should we address this? How can we ensure real-life interface for actual co-learning/teaching? Where should we look for the most innovative methods in co-creation of knowledge and learning? There are plenty of examples of innovation in education but where do we find them and what is missing? How should we make the most of the living lab approach and the wiki platform to co-create our education material? How will our material differ from the plethora of other valuable education materials that are already out there?
Valuable ideas lie already on the table. Exciting times ahead for SE4Ces as do for social economy itself with the launch of the Social Economy Action Plan. May we all have an exciting year ahead of us with much creativity and freshness!


What is a Living Lab and how is it implemented in SE4Ces?

SE4Ces aims to develop a new joint international master’s programme about the social economy through a co-creation process that follows the Living Lab approach. But what are Living Labs and how will SE4Ces organise and deploy them?
Living Labs have become a well-known but not well-understood concept to solve complex societal needs. The main reason it is not well understood is that different actors use it in a variety of contexts, forms, and approaches. In literature, Living Labs have been depicted under a few dozen different descriptions. A more general understanding of a Living Lab is known as a ‘space’ either virtual or physical that allows various actors to exchange knowledge and experiences with a purpose to stimulate research and development.
The European Network of Living Labs (ENoLL) defines Living Labs as:

“user-centred, open innovation ecosystems based on systematic user co-creation approach, integrating research and innovation processes in real-life communities and settings. They operate as intermediaries among citizens, research organisations, companies, cities and regions for joint value co-creation, rapid prototyping or validation to scale up innovation and businesses”.

Despite the fact that there are differences in terms of defining, conceptualising and approaching a LL, there has been an agreement on the common purpose of LLs to create new solutions that are evaluated or validated with the support of all relevant stakeholders towards creating innovation.
The role of Living Labs in SE4Ces
The SE4Ces project borrows this concept with a social economy twist: the Social Economy Living Labs (SE Living Labs or SE LLs). They are partnerships operating based on Social Economy principles such as cooperativism, societal engagement, community development, etc. During their pilot implementation phase (WP5) in four pilot countries (UK, EL, ES, IT), the SE Living Labs will function as the main form of interaction for knowledge co-creation, collaboration building, idea generation, and collaborative teaching towards the end-product: the co-development of the master’s programme.
In the SE4Ces Living Labs we follow the conceptualisation proposed by the European Network of Living Labs as seen in the image below:

Preferably a Living Lab space is organised in a real-life local setting that allows natural discussions and real user engagement in a trusted environment. In pandemic times the SE4Ces partners will be limited by local government rules, forcing the Labs to be held in hybrid or online formats.
Moreover, the co-creation process will gather input from different stakeholders: higher education institutions (HEIs), social economy organisations and with the active contributions of students and community organisations (CSOs, citizens, social movements, etc.) through the introduction of collaborative teaching and learning methodologies. The theoretical pillars are well-grounded in the social economy philosophy and principles of “co-creation of knowledge”, “co-teaching approaches, service-learning method). This means that participatory formats such as collaborative learning, community building, brainstorming, workshops will be included in the different Living Labs to allow for productive exchanges.
Ultimately, the SE4Ces Living Labs aim to:
  • facilitate the exchange of knowledge/experiences and social interventions between HEIs, SE organisations and community stakeholders 
  • design and test innovative and socially driven methods of collaborative teaching 
  • facilitate the co-creation of academic knowledge and educational materials on SE 
  • promote stronger cooperation formats between Higher Education Institutions and on the ground actors of the social economy.
  • promote the integration of local and regional societal issues into the curricula and the application of problem-based learning opportunities (through service learning) focused on community problems.
At the same time, the Labs will empower participants with a wide range of transversal and practical skills, thus tackling skills mismatches and developing in-demand skills by offering real-work experiences within and for the community through the application of service-learning. An initial aspiration is to make these labs operate as open and flexible laboratories for generating social innovation and enabling all participants in the field of social economy to integrate real-life societal issues into curricula. 

Next steps for the Living Labs in SE4Ces?
The design and development of SE Living Labs will be displayed in a framework report. The Social Economy Living Labs framework will explain, among other, how the three building blocks of the SE Living Labs (co-creation phase of educational materials, co-teaching approaches and application of Service-Learning methodology in SE study programmes) will be implemented in all four pilot areas under a common planning designed by the consortium. In addition, it will define the necessary set of skills on which all lab participants should focus and provide a detailed definition of the main elements of the framework. Terms like “co-creation of knowledge”, “co-teaching”, “socially driven teaching approaches and application of service-learning” will be further operationalised. Additionally, the team will provide explanations about the co-creation methodology for their pilot implementation.

The organisation and implementation of the SE Living Labs are enriched by primary data that were collected through dedicated surveys which were developed and launched in all four pilot countries during autumn 2021 and were addressed to three main target groups (SE organisations, students and educators). Indicatively, the surveys’ findings offer useful insights directly from the targeted stakeholders’ perspectives regarding their role in co-creation of educational material, co-teaching approaches and their preference in the practical ways such approaches can be implemented, necessary skills and obstacles as enabling and disabling factors in a co-creation process and the potentials that a Service learning methodology can offer in SE study programmes.
The framework report is currently being drafted and expected in early 2022.

SE4Ces progress: Building on Social Economy Diversity

Following the presentation of the cross-country needs analysis to members of the Scientific Advisory Committee on the 11th of November, various interesting suggestions were made to build on existing practices in order to meet the needs of various Social Economy actors.
Firstly, we need to recognise, build upon and cater for different forms and understandings of social economy that exist both within, between and beyond the countries involved in the project. For example, beyond its well-recognised institutional forms (e.g. NGOs, cooperatives), the social economy can also take more informal forms such as community based initiatives, or practices based on reciprocity. Drawing on non-eurocentric perspectives would help recognising this diversity. And it is in drawing on this diversity that we can build the visibility, resilience and strength of the social economy. 

"it is in drawing on this diversity that we can build the visibility, resilience and strength of the social economy."

Secondly, there are already some examples of best practices in existing SE programmes, practices that promote the co-creation of educational material, service-learning, and the engagement of all stakeholders from students to social economy actors and educators. For example, some programmes ask students to set up and run their own SE organisation, in other programmes students are asked to write a collective blog on SE, to develop case studies of particular organisations, or to contribute their skills to a community-based organisation. But there are other sources of inspiration we could use to promote innovative forms of learning; for example, involving artists in the process of co-creation of knowledge, drawing on SE incubators such as those implemented in Brazil, (see guest article) or developing mobilityschemes for students, educators and SE organisations. 


Interview: rethinking social economy education with Peter North

“A lot of my students, they are entrepreneurial, and they want to be the good guys as well. They want to do something to avoid dangerous climate change and they're fed up with being told it's all about profit and efficiency and getting some capital - simple”

For the first edition of our interview series with Scientific Advisory Council (SAC) members, we spoke with Professor Peter North about his work and his involvement in SE4Ces. We explore his vision of the social economy in Europe, the role of education in progressing that, and his views from what he calls the currently benighted “Austerity-Brexit-Covid Island”.

 Read the full interview here.


Brazil’s Solidarity Economy Incubators

By Peter North

The SE4Ces project is looking to develop new models for social and solidarity economy education through some ‘Living Labs’.  In the UK at least, social economy education in universities mainly focuses on more generic business skills and fostering entrepreneurialism to, in the future, ‘do good’ rather than make money.  A different path was taken in Brazil where the social and solidarity economy aims to include those left out of conventional, capitalist market economies and to develop Solidarity Economy Ventures (SEVs) that work to different rhythms: for example, measures of ‘success’ might mean families and communities supported, useful work provided and democratic processes and self-actualisation developed rather than making a profit which is then reinvested in the community.  I first heard about them on a project comparing social and solidarity economies in Liverpool (where I am based) and Buenos Aires: we organised a seminar with partners in Latin America that brought together a range of experiences from across the continent and which might be of value elsewhere. On that basis I share these thoughts, which come as much from my friend Reinaldo Pacheco da Costa at the University of Sao Paulo as from myself.
The solidarity economy arose out of the democratisation process as Brazilians threw      off their military dictatorship in the 1980s.  Workers responded to the decimation of industry through what we now recognise as neoliberal restructuring by establishing a wave of co-operatives and recovered factories run using principles of self-management and a commitment to economic democracy.  When Paul Singer became National Secretary for the Solidarity Economy of the Ministry of Labor and Employment under the Lula and Roussef regimes Brazilian universities were encouraged to establish a network of Technological Incubators of Popular Co-operatives to work with their local communities to foster democratically-run social and solidarity economy ventures (SEVs) through incubation processes.  They have continued to do so to this day in over a hundred Brazilian universities, in a very unfavourable political environment due to the Bolsonaro government, but maintaining the energy and enchantment of working with “another possible” economy.          
The incubators work by providing a supportive and nurturing environment through which students, teachers, technicians and community members interested in developing new SEVs work together to develop their ability to manage their enterprises in democratic and inclusive ways, while ensuring that a surplus is generated (or at least the numbers add up).  The universities provide business and technological support, as well as facilitating democratic processes to ensure that processes of democracy and self-management are embedded in the work process.  Thus they are more than social enterprises – they are part of a wider struggle to democratise and humanise work, balancing the need for communities to develop their ideas at their own pace with the needs of university staff to pass on knowledge.  This is managed through a rotation process whereby the coordination of the incubation process is shared by those involved.  Community members get the support they need, while university staff are able to engage in processes of co-production of knowledge and students get credits for their studies and an income.
What can we learn from this process?  We can point to the importance of capacity building which is more than passing on business skills.  Those wishing to set up SEVs need support in identifying their needs, responses to them, and retaining democratic processes of self-management as their SEV grows.  In this there is still a gap between what is desired and what is possible. More needs to be done in marrying business skills with self-management while avoiding mission drift and isomorphism through which SEVs lose their democratic ethos over time.  Here the very real business skills demonstrated by social enterprises might be instructive, while the commitment of SEVs to self-management can keep social enterprises focused on their democratic goals.  This might be worth exploring through the Living Labs.
Further Reading:

  • Costa, R.P. (2017): Brazil’s social economic incubators, in North and Cato (Eds) Towards Just and Sustainable Economies: the social and solidarity economy North and South, Bristol, The Policy Press pp 117-134 
  • Costa, R. P. (2021     ) Perguntas e respostas sobre Incubadoras Tecnológicas de Cooperativas Populares no Brasil Ciência e Tecnologia Social. Vol 4, no 1 pp 132-142 available at    

Pete North (
Reinaldo Pacheco da Costa (


Exploring social economy education: YOUcoope

On November 16th partner Cooperatives Europe attended the final hybrid event of YOUcoope project titled “Entrepreneurial Education Through The Cooperative Lens”. The aim of the project is the implementation of successful and innovative cooperative entrepreneurial methodologies and training courses for educators from secondary schools and higher education institutions. The event focused in particular on the resources published and the MOOC platform dedicated to cooperative entrepreneurial education launched during the project.
YOUCOOPE materials will be a great inspiration for our work in SE4Ces and we look forward to collaborate will all the actors involved to progress social economy and cooperation in education curricula.


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