Opportunities for social economy enterprises in new emerging sectors and digitalization

As a social coop enterprise working in the technology sector, we had the opportunity to participate in a Peer Review Session of the Social Economy Network in Madrid, 16 & 17 October.

During those two days, we discussed about how current enterprises can benefit from digitalization and also how the social economy can grow into new emerging sectors, such as the creative industries, health care and various other. New technologies that will impact the future of sectors, such as IoT, blockchain, automation and big data, were mentioned and should be explored to see which opportunities these can offer for the social economy.

Another sector, which we believe can have a huge impact and can be an area of growth for social economy, is the local micro manufacturing. FabLabs, makerspaces, hackerspaces and even small scale manufacturing facilities, that will be versatile and based on digital manufacturing tools, can make customized production at a local level.

Apart from the emerging sectors, our input was focused on free software and open hardware and its shared values of cooperation and social innovation with the social economy. We suggested that free software tools should be preferred where possible and advocated by the social economy actors and we mentioned some of the benefits. Currently, a lot of free software tools are mature enough to be used in SME, enterprises and organizations; what is lacking is training and support at local level.

It was clearly identified that the advantage of many social economy enterprises is that they are close to the local communities, making them able to identify needs and find solutions more easily. In this area, social enterprises working with free software and open technologies can innovate faster and develop custom solutions. These are often not provided by other enterprises, either due to lack of knowledge, or due to big initial costs of developing with proprietary software, or even due to outdated business models.

This creates a huge opportunity for the social economy to create possibly thousands of jobs around open technologies that will support SMEs and organizations to free them from expensive vendor lock-in solutions and transition them to free software solutions, grow the adoption of free software and hopefully grow the communities of free software and contribute to its development.

We received largely positive feedback, firstly regarding our presentation of the CommonsLab but more importantly regarding our input about the opportunities of free software and open technologies as drivers for the growth of social economy in emerging sectors and digitalization.

Please leave us your comments about the discussion around social economy and open technologies and help us in that direction.