Special Issue "Sustainable Social Enterprises Governance and Management"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 31 May 2021.

Special Issue Editors

Prof. Dr. Ermanno C. Tortia
Guest Editor
Department of Economics and Management, University of Trento, 38122 Trento, Italy
Interests: institutional economics; behavioral economics; evolutionary economics; institutionalist theory of the firm; co-operative enterprises; social enterprises; non-profit organizations; third sector; social economy; environmental economics; sustainability; labor economics; human resource management; personnel economics; work practices; organizational fairness; procedural fairness; interactional fairness; worker motivations; job satisfaction; happiness economics
Special Issues and Collections in MDPI journals
Prof. Dr. Florence Degavre
Guest Editor
IACCHOS, Université Catholique de Louvain, 1348 Ottignies-Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
Interests: sustainability; sustainable transitions; gender and wellbeing; social services; social innovation
Dr. Mónica Gago García
Guest Editor
Applied Economy, University of Mondragon, 20500 Arrasate, Spain
Interests: cooperative enterprises; worker cooperatives; social capital; economic efficiency and productivity
Dr. Simone Poledrini
Guest Editor
Department of Economics, Finance and Statistics, University of Perugia, 06123 Perugia, Italy
Interests: behavioral economics; third sector research; social enterprises; social innovation; social capital

Special Issue Information

Dear colleague,

Organizational sustainability refers to the ability of the organization to meet its current financial and economic needs for growth and prosperity without hindering the ability of society and the environment to perpetuate, and possibly to improve themselves. A now long-standing theoretical and empirical tradition in the study of third sector organizations has identified social enterprises (SEs) such as associations, cooperatives, foundations and social businesses as sustainable organizations, especially in terms of their ability to contribute as key actors to society’s smooth development in the long run and be resilient to negative shocks in the short run. For example, these organizations (usually) guarantee job stability better than profit-oriented corporations (Arando, Freundlich, Gago, Jones and Kato, 2011). They also perform better gender equality and longevity and are better equipped to integrate environmental issues than their for-profit counterparts. They offer quality services for customers, common resources and positive social effects for the community, since they include in their management aspects related to social transformation (cfr., for example, the close match between social enterprises objectives and sustainable development goals of the United Nations. Online: https://sdgs.un.org/goals). In doing so, they generate social capital in the communities where they are based (Arando, Gago, Freundlich and Ugarte, 2012).

The roots of sustainability and resilience within and by SEs have been found in the ability to combine and involve different types of resources (human and nonhuman, material and immaterial) and factors in their governance mechanisms and decision-making processes (Poledrini 2015). Dedicated mechanisms and involvement processes allow SEs to factor in the different needs and objectives of different social groups and environmental issues (Poledrini, 2015: Borzaga and Tortia, 2017; Sacchetti and Borzaga, 2017; Tortia, Degavre and Poledrini, 2020; Poledrini and Tortia, 2020). Public policy mechanisms and public finance can intervene as external factors that improve the sustainability of SEs. On the other hand, we are clear about the fact that there can be obstacles to sustainability in terms of technological and institutional barriers and impasses, or scarcity of resources. In the presence of such obstacles, SEs become and remain sustainable by combining a series of mechanisms and public tools.

This Special Issue seeks to improve the understanding of the sustainable development of SEs and resilience to crisis, that is, their ability to withstand and absorb negative shocks, by focusing on the two fundamental organizational dimensions of governance and management. The rationale of our argument rests with the fact that the necessity for SEs to meet the triple bottom line of economic, social, and environmental sustainability can mould organizational processes, formal and informal coordination mechanisms, managerial competencies, training, style, and choices.

By analyzing how different governance rules and dedicated organizational processes are conducive to needs satisfaction for different stakeholder-patrons, governance structure can be related to the different dimensions of sustainability. This is especially true for enlarged multistakeholder governance, which may or may not be coupled with limited distribution of profits (a partial or total nonprofit distribution constraint).

Management, on the other hand, can be thought of as a fundamental function of the organization that needs to adapt to the changing organizational model, in terms of social objectives and innovative ways to satisfy needs. Managerial practices evolve with needs satisfaction, governance rules, and firm objectives. Third-sector organizations and especially SEs have been pioneering the implementation of new practices, which focus on involvement more than the direction of stakeholders, and the valorization of social more than extrinsic motivations.

The Special Issue welcomes both theoretical contributions and empirical analysis (both qualitative and quantitative) dealing with the enlarged governance mechanisms of and managerial approaches to SEs as key actors in social, economic, and environmental sustainability. It also welcomes contributions that show how these specific governance solutions and managerial mechanisms could contribute to sustainability transitions in different economic sectors. We seek treatment of those mechanisms and approaches, which promise or have been shown to deliver sustainable outcomes and resilience to crisis, referring also to the post-pandemic economic crisis that we are witnessing.


Arando S., Gago. G, Freundlich, F., Ugarte, L. (2012): Capital social y cooperativismo. Projectics / Proyéctica / Projectique 2/2012 (n°11‐12), 41‐54. Online: https://www.cairn.info/revue-projectique-2012-2-page-41.htm#

Arando S., Gago. G, Freundlich, F., Jones, D.C. and Kato, T. (2011). Assessing Mondragon: Stability & Managed Change in the Face of Globalization. William Davidson Institute, MI: Ann Arbor, WP 1003. Online: file:///C:/Users/ermanno.tortia/Downloads/SSRN-id1726449%20(1).pdf

Borzaga, C, Tortia, EC (2017). Co-operation as Co-ordination Mechanism: A New Approach to the Economics of Co-operative Enterprises. In J Michie, J Blasi, C Borzaga (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Mutual, Co-operative, and Coowned Business. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 55-75.

Poledrini, S. (2015). Unconditional Reciprocity and the Case of Italian Social Cooperatives. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 44(3), 457–473. https://doi.org/10.1177/0899764013518844

Poledrini, S., & Tortia, E. C. (2020). Social Enterprises: Evolution of the Organizational Model and Application to the Italian Case, Entrepreneurship Research Journal (published online ahead of print)

Sacchetti, S. & Borzaga, C. (2017), The Foundations of the “Public” Organisation: Strategic Control and the Problem of the Costs of Exclusion, Euricse Working Papers, 98|17. Online: https://www.euricse.eu/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/WP-98_17-Sacchetti-Borzaga.pdf

Tortia, E., Degavre, F., & Poledrini, S. (2020) “Why are social enterprises good candidates for social innovation? Looking for personal and institutional drivers of innovation”, Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics, Vol. 91, No. 2. DOI:10.1111/apce.12265

Prof. Dr. Ermanno C. Tortia
Prof. Dr. Florence Degavre
Dr. Mónica Gago García
Dr. Simone Poledrini
Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

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  • third-sector organizations
  • social enterprises
  • multistakeholder governance
  • triple bottom line
  • managerial practices

Published Papers

This special issue is now open for submission.
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