Italian Social Welfare Co-ops

Providing social welfare services.

Italian social co-ops - seated exercise
  • Involves: workers, clients and their families, volunteers, consortia
  • Context: Law 381 (1991) regulates social co-operatives and consortia, which enables them to generate development through spin offs, provide integrated services, and compete effectively in public procurement.  Social co-operatives benefit from a number of tax reductions.
  • Costs: ?

First organised in the early 1970s, social care co-ops were formed by care-givers and families to provide services to the disabled that were not available from the state. There are two types of social co-operatives:

  1. those specialising in offering social services, and
  2. those that provide work integration for disadvantaged people.

Social co-operatives offer a model that operates at a community scale but delivers large scale benefits. It uses the skills of both communities and workers. It adapts to tackle different issues and has been transplanted from Italy to other countries, such as Quebec and Brazil.



social co-ops in Italy


How it works

  • Social co-operatives allow paid and unpaid carers to collaborate through localised co-operative systems.
  • This model connects small scale enterprises through associations that take out back office and regulatory costs.
  • Its work on securing funding from existing co-ops is another benefit.

From Social Co-operatives, Pat Conaty for Co-operatives UK (2014):

  • Human scale guidance: maximum recommended membership of 100 for each social co-operative to aid the building of trust and social capital
  • Locality and decentralisation: social co-operatives operate in the local economy and within defined geographical areas
  • ‘Strawberry fields’ principle: in social solidarity, each successful social co-operative commits to incubating one new social co-operative.38 This has been key to the rate of proliferation and replication.
  • Co-operative Consortia unite co-operatives in specific trade sectors (280 sub-regional consortia have been developed for social co-operatives); provide legal advice, training, regulatory support, back office administration services, plus tendering and negotiating power through a federated structure of service provision to their member firms
  • Multi-stakeholder co-operatives involving care service co-producers including workers, volunteers and service user members.
  • Co-design work and co-development methods to build social solidarity between members including paid and unpaid workers and service users and families.
  • Local authority partnerships with procurement in four main operational areas: social services, health services, education and the workforce integration of excluded people.

Social cooperatives are specialised in the provision of services of general interest or in the reintegration, through work, of disadvantaged and marginalised workers (disabled, long-term unemployed, former detainees, addicts, etc.).

A large number of such cooperatives have been set up in Italy but also in other EU countries. Most of them are owned by their workers while offering the possibility or providing for the obligation (according to the national laws) to involve other types of members (users, voluntary workers, etc.).


CECOP – CICOPA Europa: the European confederation of industrial and service cooperatives