Social enterprises are increasingly regarded as successful mechanisms for reconciling equity and efficiency with the creation of economic and social value, and they can be interpreted as concrete expressions of a growing sense of social responsibility on the part of citizens. Research conducted in various geographical contexts corroborates that social enterprises are a structural trend, which cuts across countries with diverse characteristics. Following a historical contextualization of the social enterprise, the article focuses on a conceptual analysis. Next, attention is paid to the diffusion of social enterprises in the enlarged Europe, including countries where social enterprises have been acknowledged; countries where social enterprises are increasingly regarded as a unique way whereby unmet needs can be addressed; and countries where social enterprise-like initiatives happen to emerge despite the predominance of unfavourable conditions. Finally, attention is paid to social enterprises in Italy and specifically to the key factors explaining their success.
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