In Research


Year: 2015
Published in: ICSEM Project
Cited as: Gonin, M. & Gachet, N. (2015) “Social Enterprise in Switzerland: An Overview of Existing Streams, Practices and Institutional Structures”, No. 03.


Switzerland’s specific position at the crossroad of the German, French, and Italian cultures leads to a complex and rather segmented field of social enterprises (SEs). Language and culture barriers make it often difficult for actors across the country to collaborate and institutionalize a nation-wide understanding of SE. This can be observed at various levels. First, many nation-wide umbrella structures working within or close to the SE field often struggle to defend a clear and unique line for their members or are even separated into German and Latin structures. Further, with no specific chair or institute, the academic scene is young and divided, due to diverging definitional assumptions between the German and the Latin approaches. In Western Switzerland, the French influence of the social and solidarity economy (SSE) movement gives a specific orientation to the emerging SE research, while the common good, nonprofit, and volunteering approaches dominates the German-speaking research in the country. Both approaches are however permeated by the social entrepreneurship movement.1 Finally, the confusion is maintained through specific characteristics of Swiss politics. The subsidiarity principle2 implies that all tasks fall de principio under the responsibility and authority of the various cantons unless an explicit law attributes the responsibility to the federal government.3 As a result, important domains, such as public health, are managed primarily by the cantons. In addition, Art. 5 al. 1 (“All activities of the state are based on and limited by law”) restricts the influence of public authorities to domains in which an explicit law grants the local, cantonal, or federal government a specific authority. Therefore, in the absence of a unifying legal framework for the SE, a diversity of local approaches and practices can be observed among SEs, SE networks (if any local network exists), and government support