Case of Seoul (UNRISD)

Category of project: 
Research and Publication

Title: Social and Solidarity Economy for the Sustainable Development Goals 'SPOTLIGHT ON THE SOCIAL ECONOMY IN SEOUL'

Year: Jul 2018

Publisher: UNRISD

This project examines the social economy (SE) in Seoul, Republic of Korea, and how it is contributing to implementing and, ultimately, achieving, the city’s “localized” SDGs. Characterized by a rapid development of proactive SE policies, dramatic growth of SE organizations and enterprises, and the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s strong commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the city’s experience offers a valuable opportunity to further enrich understanding of social and solidarity economy as a means of implementation of the SDGs. This is the first case study of a series of research projects on SSE and the SDGs which UNRISD is planning to undertake. 

The Research Issue in Context

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development emphasizes the need to “achieve sustainable development in its three dimensions—economic, social and environmental—in a balanced and integrated manner” (UNGA, 2015, para 2). This implies that business-as-usual approaches are no longer an option if the “transformative vision” of the Agenda is to be realized and the interconnected challenges facing humanity are to be addressed. A more transformative, innovative and inclusive approach to development needs to be pursued instead. 

In recent years attention has increasingly been turned towards the social and solidarity economy (SSE) and its approaches to sustainable development that incorporate social, economic and at times environmental objectives in an integrated and balanced manner. SSE has the capacity to address some of the structural underpinnings of vulnerability, exclusion and unsustainable development. Its integrated nature means it could potentially contribute to the realization of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs with their overarching principle, “leave no one behind”.

This potential relationship between SSE and the SDGs has yet to be thoroughly explored. The available knowledge is largely based on either heuristic exercises matching areas of SSE intervention with specific SDGs, or conjecture about SSE's potential in particular cases. Often ignoring the underlying political economy, institutional and cultural factors—or, indeed, the enabling environment for SSE—such matching exercises and conjecture

Research Objectives
policy makers and practitioners interested in how and to what extent SSE can contribute to the SDGs. The research on the social economy (SE) in Seoul and its contribution to implementing and, ultimately, achieving the localized SDGs offers a valuable opportunity to build the evidence base and enrich our understanding of SSE as a means of implementation for the SDGs. 

This project aims to generate evidence and analysis that will enrich our understanding of the social economy in Seoul and its role in implementing the city’s localized SDGs. In doing so it will contribute to dialogues and strategies on SSE and the SDGs more broadly. Specifically, the proposed research will deepen the understanding of:

  • characteristics of the SE in Seoul, such as: origins, capacity, competencies in the areas of productivity and demand-led growth, social capital, gender equality, working conditions, managerial and administrative practices, labour relations, democratic decision making, resilience and sustainability, and participation in policymaking;
  • the interactions between the SE in Seoul and in other regions and cities in the Republic of Korea and elsewhere;
  • the relationship of the SE with other spheres of the economy such as the public economy, the private sector, and the informal economy;
  • public policies for the SE such as laws, policies, programmes, plans and public organizations;
  • Seoul’s enabling institutional environment for the SE, in particular, Seoul Metropolitan Government’s capacity; policy coherence and multilevel governance; participation and institutionalization; and sustainability of government intervention;
  • the distinctiveness of Seoul’s enabling institutional environment for the SE in comparison with selected reference cases around the world;
  • the localized SDGs in Seoul; and
  • the pathways by which the SE in Seoul can contribute to achieving the localized SDGs.

Methodology and Approach

The project adopts a mixed approach of qualitative and quantitative methods. It will include thematic studies, in-depth research on SE case studies in Seoul, cross-case comparative analysis, and SE policy initiatives. 

Research Beneficiaries

The findings of this project will be particularly valuable to policymakers and their advisors at the local, national and international levels tasked with the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. The findings and lessons will also be of value to civil society and advocacy groups or others aiming to promote social and solidarity-based economic practices. They will also be useful to the research community in advancing their understanding of the relationship between SSE and the SDGs. 


  1. Localizing the SDGs through Social and Solidarity Economy (Research and Policy Brief 24)
  2. The Social Economy in Seoul: Assessing the Economic, Social, Environmental and Political Impacts (Research and Policy Brief 25)
  3. The Social Economy and an Integrated Approach to the Localized SDGs in Seoul: Interrogating the Evidence (Research and Policy Brief 26)