Event Details

25 November 2014
Plataforma del Tercer Sector
Paseo del Molino 13

Event Description

TSI researchers Rafael Chaves and José Luis Monzon held the first TSI meeting with third sector stakeholders in Spain together with the National Platform for the Third Sector. Plataforma del Tercer Sector is an advocacy platform bringing together several important umbrella organizations with a special interest in regular collaboration with Third Sector Impact. Together they discussed the concept of the third sector in Spain and identified the challenges, barriers and opportunities it faces at European, national and regional levels.

The Spanish National Platform for the Third Sector: a unitarian voice for third sector advocacy and identity

Spain is perhaps one of the few European countries that has a national Platform for the Third Sector (PTS). This Platform was created in 2011, just the same year that the Spanish Law on Social Economy (the other very established conception of the Third sector in a large sense existing in this country) was approved. The Report ‘Anuario del Tercer Sector de Acción Social’ (Report of the Spanish Social Third Sector, Fundación Luis Vives, 2010) shows the following data for 2010: 29.790 social entities that involved more than 500.000 staffs. It represented 2,5 % of the total Spanish employment and 1,7 % of the GDP.

The PTS Platform was created by four national platforms: the NGO Social Action Platform, The EAPN – European Network against poverty and exclusion-, the CERMI – National organization for disabled people – and the National Platform for Volunteering, and the three social macro-entities existing in the country: ONCE – National organization for blind people-, Cruz Roja Española -Spanish Red Cross- and Caritas Española. ONCE was also member of the CEPES – National Spanish Organization of the Social Economy, and leads the collaboration between both National Platforms (PTE-CEPES). Additionally, in the last three years, new platforms have been built at regional level (Basque Country, Catalonia, Andalucía, Asturias, C.Valenciana, Rioja, Aragón, Murcia).

Institutionalizing unitary advocacy and identity of the Third sector in Spain has historically been an objective to have significant impact on political decision-making processes. The first major step was to sign a large Agreement on the Identity of the Social Third Sector, including the values, principles and objectives. The second step was to sign a Common Strategic Plan and a Programmatic Plan, taking into account the specific features and identities of the different kinds of units that the new Platform brings together (stakeholders participants emphasized the word ‘Unitary’ and not a ‘unique voice’). A major success was also to build trust and a collaborative environment between the partners of the PTE.

Third sector conception in Spain

First of all, participants stated that a legal definition of the third sector exists in Spain since 2006 with the National Law on Social Services named “Ley 39/2006, de 14 de diciembre, de Promoción de la Autonomía Personal y Atención a las personas en situación de dependencia”. Article 2.8. of Law, section of definitions,states: “Tercer sector: organizaciones de carácter privado surgidas de la iniciativa ciudadana o social, bajo diferentes modalidades que responden a criterios de solidaridad, con fines de interés general y ausencia de ánimo de lucro, que impulsan el reconocimiento y el ejercicio de los derechos sociales.”(“Third sector: private organizations created by social or civil initiatives that operate following rules of solidarity and non-profit criteria and have general interest purposes, whose objectives are the recognition and practice of social rights”).

In general, practitioners and experts that participated in the stakeholder meeting pointed out that there is a difference between a large conception of the third sector, as in the Johns Hopkins sense, and the conception of the Social Action Third Sector (Tercer Sector de Acción Social). In the large conception, environmental, human rights, consumers NGOs and other fields are considered, but they are not included in the conception of the Social Action Third Sector. The latter is the scope of the PTE. They also questioned the inclusion of certain entities in the JH conception, e.g. the Spanish Association of Banks. However, participants understand that an European conception of the third sector is needed to be used internationally.

A continuum of organizational forms was pointed out, from volunteering to social economy, with the third sector in the middle. From a participant’s point of view, the third sector does not recognize itself as part of the social economy, despite common values, principles and societal objectives. The major frontier between both concepts is the distribution of profit. Within the third sector there is an absolute non-distribution constraint whereas in the social economy distribution is possible even if it is with non-capitalistic criteria.

Participants agreed on major features of the third sector: they are formal, institutionalized entities; they have a purpose based on social needs; and they have a strict non-distribution constraint. But for some participants, this last feature is progressively less relevant, such as the boundarybetween the market and the non-market.

Institutional and social changes also affect the concept of the third sector in Spain. Continuous changes in the national and regional regulation of the NGO-government relations, public procurements, subsides, etc. have impact on the practical legal concept of the third sector, i.e. the new regulation on subsides or the new regulation on volunteering. On the other hand, social changes also change the fabric of the third sector. Currently, social movements that are traditionally moving outside the third sector are changing ways. New volunteering, new social participation and advocacy are looking for new ways of expression.

A discussion emerged about a specific kind of social enterprise that was copied in other European countries, the ‘Centro Especial de Empleo’ (CEE) concept (Labour Special Centers for disabled people). It is conceived as an instrumental or subsidiary entity and not a primary entity. What must be considered is not the CEE itself but this primary entity, which is located in the third sector. Thus, participants proposed, the CEE is also part of it. In Spain there are 1066 CEEs, 300 of them have an association as primary entity, the others are cooperatives or traditional for-profit businesses. CEEs employ more than 50.000 workers, most of them disabled people.

Barriers in the development of the third sector in Spain

The second discussion of the TSI stakeholder meeting focused on the barriers in the development of the third sector in Spain.

The first group of identified barriers is related to governments at different levels: at the European level, at the state level and at the regional level. Participants pointed out that Spain is a very decentralized country where the welfare state is mainly built at regional level. But the other two levels, European and state, are also very important. That is why they consider the institutionalization of advocacy bodies at these different levels as very important, it is the leitmotiv for the creation of the PTS- Plataforma del Tercer Sector.

At the European level, there is an increasing rivalry among social platforms and entities to be the partners of public bodies. This shows an atomized image of the social sector, it renders an articulated answer from this social sector impossible, and facilitates some trends in European institutions to work against the social sector. One of these major trends are the double discourse and actions of the European institutions towards the social sector: on the one hand, some European bodies value social and civil participation; on the other hand, other European bodies, without relation with the other ones, emphasize the delivery of social services in an economic, private and professional way. It is difficult for social sector organizations to be compatible with both dimensions. One dimension tends to be dominant in a specific entity.

Participants argued also that Spain has a complex institutional and legal structure. An inflation of laws and regulations is a key feature. The usefulness of some lawsis questionable and contested while other laws are real obstacles for the development of the third sector. Ambulance services for instance cannot be delivered by third sector organizations because the regulation of this sector only considers private for-profit businesses. One field of advocacy work for the Third Sector Platform is to monitor new regulations that governments are discussing.New regulations on subsidies and on foundations were successfully stopped due to the predictable very negative effects on the social sector. This is also a problem of the public-private co-construction of public policies, where the social sector is not considered as a partner but as a recipient of policies.

The partnership between the public sector (state and regional governments) and social platforms needs to be improved.In spite of the stable civil dialogue built during the last years between the Ministry of Social Affairs and the PTE, progress needs to be made. The same is true for the regional level. Here, another obstacle has emerged: the difficulty to obtain information on the social sector and the field of social services, a problem added to the complexity of having 17 regional governments.

Participants also referredto financial obstacles. But more than emphasizing the reduction of funds, logical in a context of economic crisis that has deeply affected Spanish society and welfare state, they point out the financial model or relation between government and social sector. The general trend is to be financed by annual subsidies that fund activities rather than stable financial agreements. This is a major obstacle to the independent development of the third sector. Another dimension pointed out is the need of public assessment of the social impact of third sector activities, rather than purely focusing on the economic-financial dimensions, which dominates the public – third sector relationship and undervalues the worth of the third sector.

A specific focus of discussion for the development of the third sector was the social field in terms ofnew forms of volunteering, social participation and social movements. Participants observed a transformation of volunteerism and the emergence of new movements in Spain. In both fields, traditional third sector organizations are not well positioned. There is a high risk of new social trends and needs being channeled by other social forms instead of the classical social NGO linked to the Plataforma del Tercer Sector. These other social forms of volunteering and social participation, as digital volunteering, the solidarity and reciprocity economy or the Spanish 15M movement are mostly outside the third sector. New volunteering is more ‘independent’ and with less commitment to the traditional NGO. An interesting recent study shows that in territories with high presence of traditional third sector organizations, levels of social participation and participation in social movements are low. Perhaps it is the result of the apolitical discourse of the traditional social sector.

A last risk standing out is the emergence of new competitors like social enterprises or corporate volunteering and social responsibility firms.

Evaluation of the impact of the third sector

Participants agreed on the fact that evaluation of third sector impact is an essential dimension to be addressed in this European project. Very little work has been done in this field in Spain and in consequence the financial-economic dimension is the main dimension that has been used in public discourse.

Participants pointed to two levels in the evaluation: first, the identification of evaluation indicators and second, the data sources to obtain the information to build the indicators. In Spain, a lot of work needs to be done in this field.

The TSI-team suggests to send participants a list of indicators/themes on the basis of the ‘synthesis report of stakeholders’ and the Work Package 3 report on ‘Impact’ that will be prepared under the leadership of Ruth Simsa. It includes 5 – 10 items for each of the 5 domains of evaluation (civic engagement, Innovation, Citizen well-being, Economic development, Human Development). Participants agreed with this proposition. It will be sent in few weeks.


The Spanish National Stakeholder Meeting provided a good environment to work closely and regularly the experts of the Plataforma del Tercer Sector as well as interesting insights into the debate on third sector development in Spain.




Rafael De Lorenzo (ONCE – National Organization of Blind People and Plataforma del Tercer Sector);

Maria Luisa Gómez (Plataforma de Organizaciones de Acción Social);

Carlos Ussías (EAPN-ES – Network against exclusion and poverty);

Isabel Allende (EAPN-ES, Network against exclusion and poverty);

Guillermo Fernandez (Caritas España);

Fernando Pindado (ONCE – National Organization of BlindPeople),

Lorena Moro (ONCE – National Organization of BlindPeople),

Juan Jesús Donoso (Cruz Roja – Spanish Red Cross);

Leopoldo Pérez (Cruz Roja – Spanish Red Cross);

Vicente Baeza (Plataforma del Voluntariado de España);

Mar Amate (Plataforma del Voluntariado de España);

Elena Rodríguez (Plataforma del Tercer Sector)



Rafael Chaves (IUDESCOOP, University of Valencia);

Jose Luis Monzon (IUDESCOOP, University of Valencia);

Ruth Simsa (University of Viena);

Renzo Razzano (SPES – Italy).


Plataforma del Tercer Sector = National Spanish Platform of Third Sector

EAPN-ES = Spanish National Network against exclusion and poverty

Plataforma del Voluntariado de España = Spanish Nacional Platform for Volunteering

Plataforma de Organizaciones de Acción Social = Spanish Platform for Social Action ONG

Cruz Roja = Red Cross

Caritas = Caritas

ONCE = National Organization of Blind People