Italian social cooperatives have been experiencing a leading developing process within country’s social economy during the last two decades (Thomas, 2004).
Coming from an history of small and medium scale activity scope, intensely shared values and recognized identity (Barbetta, 1993; Pezzini, 1997), these organizations display now significant economic features (Borzaga and Defourny, 2001) and – after a long period of public preferential purchasing and other external advantages which have been playing a key role in their growth (Rossi, 1996) – they now operates in more and more open markets where competition and other managerial skills are definitely needed (Borzaga and Tortia, 2006). In order to respond to the vast rise in demand for their services, social cooperatives have then become more entrepreneurial and better businesses but, at the same time, a lessening in importance of their identity stance is beginning to be discovered (Nyssens, 2006), along with a decreasing in their role as providers of community social capital.
In this paper the authors will examine the case studies of 36 Italian social cooperatives operating in all of the country regions in order to confirm or disconfirm:
• the existence (and, in case, the nature and the intensity) of a correlation between the level of competition and the pattern of identity evolution of social cooperatives that operates in a certain market space;
• the existence (and, in case, the nature and the intensity) of an attempt of social cooperatives to preserve their original organizational identity while facing competition turbulences;
• the existence (and, in case, the nature and the intensity) of a correlation between the transformation and/or preservation processes of social cooperatives and their economic performances.
The case studies that will be analyzed in this paper come from a research project of Legacoop called “Responsabilità e rendicontazione sociale” (social responsibility and social accountability) aimed at the analysis of identitarian and organizational pattern of Legacoop-member social cooperatives. As of economic performance data, the main source of information will be the Bureau Van Dijck AIDA data-base, which collects digital balance sheets of a large number of Italian firms and cooperatives organizations.
Although this analysis specifically focuses on Italian social cooperatives, its main findings may be of general interest for social economy research scholars and practitioners. The issue of values and identity transformation, in fact, is a cross-country theme and lessons can be learnt from the local to the global level (Kerlin, 2006).
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Borzaga C., Defourny J. (2001), The Emergence of Social Enterprise, Routledge, London and New York.
Borzaga C., Tortia E. (2006), “Worker Motivations, Job Satisfaction, and Loyalty in Public and Nonprofit Social Services”, Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 35 (2): 225-248
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Nyssens M. (2006) Social Enterprises, at the Crossroads of Market, Public Policies and Civil Society, Routledge, London.
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