The cooperative is an enterprise whose roots are buried in social inclusion.
The first cooperatives in both Europe and Italy were firmly focused on mutual exchanges between members. People sharing the same needs (work, housing and consumption) came together in cooperatives to meet those needs. The social repercussions of this move were considerable but they were always regarded as secondary to the cooperative’s founding goal.

In the second half of the  twentieth century, western society underwent so many changes that new attitudes to new needs began to develop in a world where communities had become industrial and urban instead of agricultural and rural and where families had become smaller and were no longer ruled solely by the father as women were going out to work too, instead of just being mothers.

In the 1970s many cooperatives sprang up offering educational and welfare services that were essential in helping working parents in these new families to cope with children of different ages and with different needs. They also provided aid to elderly citizens with increased life expectancy as a result of  medical progress and to the disabled who had finally begun to enjoy a more dignified existence thanks to customized support programmes.

The contribution of these cooperatives had such an impact on welfare in Italy that the Italian authorities felt the need to legally acknowledge and define the socio-welfare, education and integration activities of these “social cooperatives”.
With a law that was not unique, but certainly one of the most specific rulings in Europe and the world, these organisations were recognised and defined as a special kind of cooperative enterprise based on the principle of solidarity and operating with a wider range of interests than those of mere mutual exchange between members.
In fact, article 1 of law 381 passed in 1991 defines social cooperatives as member-based enterprises that seek to pursue the general interests of the community in terms of human advancement and the social integration of citizens.
This mission of solidarity exists over and above the principle of mutual exchange that a cooperative operates with its members. So a working cooperative can also be a social cooperative, but it cannot be only social unless it  includes one of the pre-defined mutual exchanges stipulated in article 2512 of the Italian Civil Code.

Social cooperatives fall into two different categories, as they can either provide welfare services directly or pursue their social mission by giving employment in “traditional” sectors to those who would otherwise find it difficult to get a job.

“Type A” cooperatives operate in the socio-health and education service sector. In short, they offer care and assistance to children, the elderly and the disabled, both at home or in assisted living facilities, protected houses and nurseries.

“Type B” cooperatives aim to bring disadvantaged persons into the job market through production activities or the provision of services in any sector with organisational formulas designed to suit the needs of the individuals these activities are seeking to help.

The idea is that the disadvantaged person, with the support of  specifically trained workers and managers, can be employed and operate in a production context that is not simulated but organised according to entrepreneurial criteria. So working in a cooperative therefore becomes an opportunity for education, socializing and learning job skills.
As defined  in the 1991 legislation mentioned previously, the term, disadvantaged persons refers to persons affected by a physical, mental or sensory disability, former psychiatric patients, persons being treated for psychiatric problems, drug addicts, alcoholics, minors of an employable age with family difficulties, and condemned persons with alternative jail sentences. The condition of the disadvantaged person must be documented by the relevant authorities, unless prohibited by privacy laws.

So any kind of cooperative, whether it is based on agriculture, fishing or if it operates in the widest range of sectors can also be a type B social cooperative. The disadvantaged persons must become members of the cooperative and they must constitute at least 30% of its member base. "In exchange", in addition to the pleasure of giving a first or second opportunity of employment to those who have been denied it as a result of lingering prejudice or because they have had various problems, the cooperative can also take advantage of numerous tax reductions and incentives.


For more information regarding the possibility of opening a cooperative, even a B type cooperative, please contact your local branch (see top of main menu) because each local Legacoop branch office has a manager who deals specifically with this kind of cooperative.