Growing a social and solidarity economy to regenerate neighborhoods in Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona, Spain

The city of Barcelona has implemented a social and solidarity economy (SSE) approach to tackle the growing inequalities among the cities different districts.

The city of Barcelona has applied a social and solidary economy (SSE) to tackle the growing income gap between the city’s 10 districts. The city council launched a comprehensive programme to promote SEE and allocated 24.6 million euros for the period 2015-2019.  The aim is to let citizens lead the project and provide the necessary support until a sufficient level of self-management is reached. This concept is a bottom-up approach that ensures community-based and cooperative management. Moreover, the co-production of policies guarantees citizen control over public policies, community based actions, and cooperation through the networks built during the process.

This case study was contributed from the UCLG Learning Team (


City information

Size and population development
2011: 5,570,000; 1990: 4,101,000; 2025: 6,511,000; 2010-2015: +1.42% / year

Population composition
13,9 % non-natives, the majority come from (in order) Ecuador, Peru, Morocco, Colombia, Argentina, Pakistan and China

Main functions
regional Capital City, harbour city, industrial city

Main industries / business
tourism, transport, energy, chemicals and metallurgy

Sources for city budget
15 % of Spain’s GDP is created in Barcelona; 14 % of all Spanish companies are registered in Barcelona.

Political structure
The city is governed by a City Council which is elected on a four-year term.

Administrative structure
Barcelona consists of 10 districts.

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Background and objectives

Over the last decade the inequalities around household disposable income (HDI) between Barcelona’s districts have been steady and in some cases increased.  Since 2007 the HDI in the districts of El Eixample, Les Corts, Sarrià-Sant Gervasi and Gràcia has increased, and has fallen in all other districts, except the Ciutat Vella. In 2007 the HDI of Sarrià-Sant Gervasi wasdouble the HDI of Nous Barris. This inequality increased until 2014 so that the HDI in Sarrià-Sant Gervasi was 3.5 times higher than in Nous Barris.  This demonstrates the increasing income gap between the 10 districts of the city. The inequalities become even more visible if certain areas of the districts are compared with each other. The HDI of Tres Torres neighborhood (Sarrià-Sant Gervasi) was over 6 times higher than HDI in the Trinitat Nova neighborhood (Nou Barris). These statistics presented a challenge for the city of Barcelona to reduce the gaps between the districts.


In 2015, Barcelona City Council established the Commission for Cooperative, Social and Solidarity Economy and Consumption. In the same year, the Impetus Plan for the social and solidarity economy (a roadmap for the promotion of the SSE in the city for the period 2016-2019) was developed by the local SSE sector and the Barcelona City Council.  SEE has been utilized in two other plans, the neighborhood action plan, which addresses 16 neighborhoods that have the worst socio economic indicators and in the Economic Development Plan, that addresses the 6 districts with the lowest household disposable income in the city.

The implementation of SEE was driven by the community. The role of the city council was to encourage and promote SEE by providing economical, technical, logistical and administrative resources for the self-management of activities organized by citizens. The first concrete action took place in 5 neighborhoods that wanted to harness the SSE to change and revitalize their communities. These actions were then rolled out to the remaining districts. Various supporting measures for community-based, social processes and socio-economic projects have been taken according to the characteristics and the context of each neighborhood, such as the level of already existing SSE or the cohesion of the community. A central aim of all these measures was to use bottom-up approaches. For neighborhoods where the SSE has been less developed, the “wheelbarrow” was implemented. This is a process of research, diagnosis, mobilization and connection relating to existing and potential socioeconomic initiatives. In the neighborhoods where SSE initiatives are already emerging and only need reinforcement, the “watering” strategy has been approved. It consists of facilitation, training and assessment of social entities or potential socioeconomic projects under development. In areas where SSE already has a strong presence, the “Toolbox” has been chosen as a strategy to promote and create a stronger social market. However, so far only the Sants-Montjuic district meets this condition within the city.

Additionally, Barcelona’s local development and business agency, has decided to include SSE as an essential and transversal tool in all its actions in different neighborhoods and facilities across the city. This is a strong commitment from an important local player in the field of entrepreneurialism, innovation and plural economy.

Furthermore, all the Development Plans in the 6 districts with the worst socioeconomic indicators included specific, transversal actions relating to SEE. This is a direct response to the increasing inequalities within the city. Moreover, a training space for the municipal staff and SSE entities from different districts was built to allow them to exchange knowledge and experiences from their own practices.

Financing and resources

The budgeted sum is the result of 16 million for running costs over the 5 years and 8.5 million of investments.  These numbers show committment of the city council to foster SEE. The initiative was also supported by agencies such as Barcelona Activa.

Results and impacts

The efforts of the city of Barcelona to foster SEE as a strategy to fight inequalities are already showing results. In 2016 SEE in the city consists of 2,400 third sector organizations, 197 worker-owned enterprises, 861 cooperatives and 260 community-economic initiatives. In total, 53,000 people are employed in SEE and another 100,000 volunteers are engaged. Furthermore, over 500,000 citizens are members of a consumer cooperative. The 861 cooperatives in the city are active in diverse fields and represent 20% of all cooperatives in Catalonia. The worker cooperatives account for 77% of the total in Barcelona and present this biggest group within the field. However, the city is also home to 31 consumer and user cooperatives, which operate in a very wide range of sectors, including food, paper, energy, and health. Since 1993, the city’s main housing cooperatives have built 2,093 homes, and today a new model is emerging, known as housing cooperatives with assignment of use rights. There are 19 education cooperatives active in the city.

Barriers and challenges

The process of establishing SSE needs to be driven by the citizens as their involvement ensures its long-term success. However, it needs external support from the city government to get this process started. The intensity and the duration of support from the city, its agencies and other players is difficult to define. The gradual handover of the lead and the responsibility to the citizens presents a major challenge for the SSE initiative in Barcelona.

Lessons learned and transferability

Barcelona’s SSE policy reveals how important it is for citizens to drive the process. However, until a certain level of self-management of projects by citizens is reached, time, patience and constant support are required. It is also important to take local social and economic conditions into account. The social economy is the ideal field in which to experiment with new forms of public, community-based and cooperative management, in order to democratize the production and distribution of the city’s common goods.


Vital Neighborhoods in Metropolitan Cities, Power of Urban Transformation through Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE), UCLG peer learning Note, Montreal, June 2017

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