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Social Enterprise in South Korea: General Presentation of the Phenomenon

ICSEM Working papers n°6

Eric Bidet, Hyungsik EUM, 2014

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Résumé :

South Korea is probably one of the countries in the world that went the furthest in the promotion of social enterprise models. This paper is an attempt to explain the path followed by this concept in the Korean context.

Before developing our analysis, it is important to clarify what “social enterprise” means in our work and how we decided to understand this concept in our study. In South Korea, the social enterprise concept or model is often related to the 2006 Social Enterprise Promotion Act (hereafter referred to as the SEPA), enacted in December 2006. As this Act restricts the use of the title “social enterprise” to officially certified social enterprises, it may generate a too restrictive and improper understanding of what the social enterprise concept means and how it has evolved in Korea. Indeed, such a perspective would lead to neglect and consider as out of the field of the research both initiatives that appeared before the enactment of the law (although they are essential to understanding the building of social enterprise models in Korea) and initiatives that share many common features with “official” social enterprises but which are not certified by the law. In other words, a strict reference to certified social enterprises would not allow understanding the real diversity and the broad dynamics that surround the social enterprise concept.

In order to grasp this complexity, we have considered in our study the social enterprise phenomenon in a large sense, including in our analysis both “SEPA social enterprises” and initiatives with several different denominations. In such a perspective, it is arguable that South Korea is certainly one of the countries in the world where the social enterprise phenomenon has been the most developed, with well elaborated public policies and an increasing interest from all parts of society. In the last two decades, various social enterprise models have successively appeared in the country; they have been conceptualised in different ways, with several concepts related to the concept of social enterprise itself, such as self-sufficiency, social jobs, social cooperative and, more recently, social economy.