Founded in the early 1990s by Prof. Jacques Defourny, the Centre for Social Economy (Centre d’Economie Sociale - CES) pursues three major goals:

  • to develop research in the areas of social enterprise/entrepreneurship and the social economy, mainly from the perspectives of economics, management and organization theory, sociology and law;
  • to support, through its work, teaching in the area of social entrepreneurship and the social economy at the University of Liège and elsewhere, for Bachelor, Master and Doctoral students, as well as for practitioners in the area;
  • to participate in building a "social enterprise ecosystem" by training and connecting social entrepreneurs, social enterprise managers and those who support them, and to offer private and public decision-makers services based on its expertise.

Within HEC Management School, University of Liege, the Centre for Social Economy coordinates the "Social Enterprise and the Social Economy" peak of excellence. Research projects cover a wide range of conceptual (definitions), statistical (measurement) and more focused empirical work testing and building theory around social enterprise and the social economy. Using quantitative and/or qualitative methodologies, research questions are explored at the global level as well as in particular subfields of social enterprise such as culture, environment and energy, health, education, work integration, fair trade, etc. These research projects are led by 4 Professors, 12 PhD students and 4 researchers from Belgium and abroad. From 2012 to 2017, the CES coordinates a major "Inter-University Attraction Pole" (IAP) research program on social enterprise funded by the Belgian Science Policy and titled "If not for profit, for what? And how?".

Besides research, the Centre for Social Economy organizes two teaching programs. At the Master’s level, since 2010, the "Social Enterprise Management" orientation trains some twenty students per year during the two years of the Master in Management Sciences. At the practitioners level, an executive education program ("Certificat d'université") was started in 2012 for social enterprise managers, social entrepreneurs and other practitioners in the field.

Three Chairs within the CES contribute to teaching and research in management and entrepreneurship related to social enterprise and the social economy, namely the "Cera Chair in Cooperative and Social Entrepreneurship" (Prof. Sybille Mertens), the "SRIW-Sowecsom Chair in Social Enterprise Management" (Prof. Benjamin Huybrechts) and the "Baillet Latour Chair in Social Investment and Philanthropy" (Prof. Virginie Xhauflair).

In terms of services to practitioners and contribution to building a social enterprise ecosystem, the Centre has created a specific entity called the "Académie des Entrepreneurs Sociaux @HEC-ULg". The Academy gathers all the initiatives aiming to train, connect and support social entrepreneurs and social enterprise managers at HEC-ULg, including: long training programs (such as the "Certificat d'université"), focused training sessions, "co-solving workshops" aiming to collectively find solutions to problems facing social entrepreneurs, conferences and seminars, and networking events (see the calendar of events). The Académie des Entrepreneurs Sociaux is supported by the three chairs described above and by CBC Bank and Insurance. It gathers individual members and associates the main social enterprise and social economy networks and support structures in Belgium, including: Agès, Ashoka Belgium, ConcertES, Coopburo, Febecoop, Oksigen Lab, Poseco, Pour la Solidarité, SAW-B, Syneco and Unipso.

Another partner at the international level is the EMES Research Network, of which the CES was a co-founder in 1996 and has hosted the Coordination Unit since then. EMES includes 12 research centres and hundreds of individual researchers throughout the world who work in the field of social entreprise and related issues (social and solidarity economy, non-profit organisations, third sector, etc.). The EMES Network, which has been registered as a non-profit organisation under Belgian law since 2002, was chaired by Jacques Defourny until 2010. The last edition of the EMES Research Conference on Social Enterprise was organized in Liege (July 2013) in collaboration with the CES and the IAP research program.