Anna Kucinska
17 December 2014

Identity and visibility: “”, a business-oriented tool to increase the visibility of the French Work Integration Social Enterprises (WISES)

Cluster: Identity and visibility of the social economy

“”, a business-oriented tool to increase the visibility of the French Work Integration Social Enterprises (WISES)
Author and organizational affiliation

Sébastien Lévrier, project manager at AVISE

Avise is the French national organization promoting social enterprises and social innovation. It was cofounded in 2002 by the long term public investor Caisse des Dépôts and representative players from the social economy. Avise’s aim is to increase the number and performance of social enterprises which generate employment and social innovation.

1. Context and history of how the good practice has been developed

Background information about Work Integration Social Enterprises in France

In the European Union, over forty kinds of social utility organizations seek to foster professional and social integration through business activity. A specific term to describe them has emerged, namely Work Integration Social Enterprises (WISEs).

In France, there are nearly 4 000 organizations of that kind. This term combines different categories of structures:
Organizations whose aim is to provide staff to clients :
intermediate associations
temporary work integration enterprises
employers' groups for work integration and training
Organizations whose aim is to produce goods and services
integration enterprises
back-to-work activities

All those organizations must be approved through an agreement delivered by the state at the regional level. To do so, they have to submit their application in a unique file that is examined by a departmental council for work integration. After this procedure, they can obtain an agreement and a grant financial support. It is important to notice that in April 2013 a reform of the work integration social enterprises’ funding was launched. All kinds of WISEs can now offer temporary jobs financially supported by the state.
WISEs are also able, to a large extent, to obtain their resources from a mix of sources to achieve their objectives. According to the European network EMES, the sale of goods and services accounts on average for 53% of the total resources of WISEs in Europe, compared with 38% of direct and indirect subsidies.

Promoting the visibility of WISEs on their business activities is a big issue to help them consolidate their model. Due to a steady decrease of the public subsidies, it will become more and more important. For these structures, public procurement contracts are a way to access to other resources. This is precisely the object of public purchasers’ attention.

"The fact that the majority of funding for WISEs comes from the sale of goods and services shows the importance of being integrated into the market, to attain economic balance," states the French sociologist Laurent Gardin.

Background information about inclusive public policies in France

The “Grenelle de l'Insertion”, which took place in 2008, highlighted the French public debate about active inclusion. The following objective was recorded as a major trend: to get public and private employers more involved in inclusion policies.

One of the major propositions was to ensure that public organizations fulfill an exemplary role in their procurement policies. Information, best practices and tools were foreseen, in order to develop socially responsible procurement. The idea was to ensure better use of the “clause of social integration” in public procurement to contribute to the integration of people in difficulty. At the same time an administrative circular was adopted to promote the exemplarity of French state, especially in procurement contracts.

“” was created in this context to provide public organizations with tools and resources to help them implement social criteria in their purchasing process.  AVISE was indeed missioned by 4 institutions (the French inter-ministerial Mission for Purchasing, now entitled the State Purchasing Service; The General Delegation for Employment and Vocational Training; the long term public investor “Caisse des Dépôts” and the inter-ministerial Delegation for Innovation, Social Experimentation and Social Economy, now entitled General Directorate for Social Cohesion) to develop a website whose main purpose was to make public purchasers being aware of the work integration social enterprises’ activities when it comes to launching calls for tenders.

Improve WISEs’ access to public procurement is correlated with a better visibility of these organizations

WISEs can indeed be great partners in public sustainable procurement policies. Directly or indirectly, they can provide staff to implement the “inclusion hours” foreseen by a contracting authority in a tender. For example, an integration enterprise can be a direct subcontractor in a green space service. A temporary work integration enterprise can also provide staff to the enterprise to which the contract was awarded to. Furthermore, some public purchasers can also buy services whose object is to foster social and professional integration of people in difficulty. This is where back-to-work activities especially intervene.  

But how can a public authority find the WISEs which can appropriately meet their needs? One of the main things holding back the implementation of socially responsible procurement policies, pointed out both by the contracting entities and the enterprises, is the difficulty in identifying social utility suppliers. The Internet could then be a relevant solution to source the WISEs, for example with an interactive database.

Enhancing visibility of the supply of French WISEs has been therefore the main objective of the website “” since 2008. This resource center provides a national directory of WISEs as well as tools and good practices to improve the social impact of professional procurement.

New developments in the recent period

A new version of the website was developed in 2013 in order to take into account two new strategic axes:

The much-needed “localization” of the national online tool, in order to provide professional purchasers with resources which are more connected with their real needs. The choice was made to support the development of online platforms at a regional level with local directories which are more detailed than the national one.

Extension of the tool to private contracting organizations and in particular enterprises that are engaged in a social and environmental responsibility strategy.

Role of the ESF in the project

In the national operational program of the European Social Fund (ESF) 2007-2013, social entrepreneurship was supported through two axes of intervention:
The third one, entitled “Strengthening social cohesion, promoting social inclusion and fight against discrimination”
And the fourth one, entitled “Investing in human capital and networking, innovation and transnational actions”.

Some actions were in particular mentioned as relevant in that context: support for business creation, project engineering and networking, support for active inclusion.

It is important to notice that in addition to its activities as a resource and engineering center, Avise has been also a national intermediary instance for the central component of the European Social Fund (ESF) since 2004. This mission consists of financially supporting, through calls for proposals and initiatives, the creation, maintenance and development of jobs in the social economy.

For the period 2011-2013, the management of a 6 million euros budget from the European Social Fund has been entrusted to AVISE on a topic entitled “Networking and professionalization of the social inclusion stakeholders”. These funds were used to finance projects led by social economy players through various calls for proposals. These funds are also used to support projects led by Avise (like the website “”). Through this function, Avise also works to inform stakeholders and social enterprises on the possibilities of access to structural funds and to provide tools to help them manage their projects.

For the period, 4 calls for proposal were launched by AVISE:
Support the creation of social enterprises through a scheme named “Initiatives Factories”, whose aim is to identify social needs in local areas;
Support the missions of national resource centers whose aim is to professionalize local supporting structures for associations;
Support the development of social innovation;
Encourage the development of socially responsible procurement at a regional level.

This last call for proposals is very interesting in our context because it allowed the creation or consolidation of 11 web platforms offering a directory at regional level to facilitate the sourcing of social and solidarity enterprises: BOSS in Bretagne, ZIG et ZAG in Alsace and Pro-Conso-solidaires in the Rhône-Alpes region... Most of them are now part of the "socially responsible procurement network", which is coordinated by AVISE and whose aim is to facilitate the sharing of good practices and collective skill improvement.

The socially responsible procurement website in Bretagne (, Midi-Pyrénées (, and in Franche-Comté (

This call for proposals aimed to promote professionalization of WISEs and to support their business development by creating local networks of stakeholders. The major objective was to develop and strengthen employment in WISEs by helping them professionalize both their business development and partnership with professional purchasers. This is indeed a powerful lever to fight against unemployment, stimulating employment and strengthen the professional qualifications throughout the country.

2. Summary of main characteristics of good practice approach


Improve the visibility of WISEs for their business partners, in particular public organizations and enterprises;
Provide these stakeholders with tools and resources in order to foster the social impact of purchasing;
Promote the professionalism and the quality of goods and services provided by WISEs.


“” provides tools and resources for procurers to foster the incorporation of social criteria into procurement contracts. The website promotes in particular the WISEs in the context of socially responsible procurement contracts.

“” encompasses:

A national directory that targets public procurers as well as private players. They can search by geographical area, key words or by area of business (cleaning, waste management, communication, green space management, transportation and logistics…). They also can refine their searches and specify exactly which kind of structures they want to work with.  Each WISE has its own file in this directory in order to give professional purchasers information about their business activities. When it is possible, the national directory is linked with regional ones who give more detailed information about the WISEs like local customer references or labels and standards they have.

Arguments in favor of using WISEs’ services, like the quality with which the services are executed, and the added social value they represent. A specific heading highlights some good practices and defines the different WISEs stakeholders in a business-friendly way.  The major challenge is to fight against preconceived ideas (fear of the risk of unsuccessful contracts, lack of knowledge about the employees’ skills of the WISEs etc.).

Resources to implement social criteria in public procurement contracts, such as an online file with methodological tools based on feedbacks and best practices. This tool could be used at all stages of the implementation (for example, we offer key success factors in the strategic vision, the internal organization or in the partnerships). We also publish specific documentation about various technical subjects which suffer from a lack of concrete experimentation. For instance the implementation of social clauses in knowledge-based services was one of the latest issues released on “”.

Resources to develop BtoB relationships between enterprises which implement a corporate social responsibility program and WISEs. To do so, we will soon put online our new methodological file that contain a lot of concrete examples organized in purchasing families (such as industrial subcontracting, transportation and logistics, general purchasing and employee services).   

A monthly free newsletter for public and private purchasers offers news, agenda and feedbacks of enterprises and public stakeholders who are involved in business relationships with some WISEs. We also interview WISES’ directors who develop their enterprise thanks to social criteria in public or private tendering.

Financial supporters

Since 2008, the financial supports are:

The “Caisse des Dépôts” that is a public long term investor serving the public interest and economic development. “Caisse des Dépôts” manages regulated savings of French and turns it safely to fund public priorities, mainly social housing; is the banker of the public service of Justice and Social Security; manages pension and public and semi-public solidarity; contributes to regional development alongside local communities; invests in the service of the economy through a long-term horizon; contributes to the economic development through its subsidiaries.


The General Delegation for Employment and vocational training, placed under the authority of the Minister of Labour, which is responsible for proposing policy guidelines for employment and vocational training. It built the legal framework in consultation with the inter-ministerial departments and the social partners, it leads and coordinates the implementation of the programs. It ensures the inclusion of this policy in the European employment strategy and the fight against poverty and social exclusion. It manages programs supported by the European Social Fund (ESF) in France.

The General Directorate for Social Cohesion which is the direction of central government social ministries, responsible for the design, management and evaluation of public policies of solidarity, social development and the promotion of equality.

The European social fund (since 2009): over the period 2009-2010, the contribution of the ESF helped the consolidation of the economic model of WISEs, through animation, promotion and development of the site “”. Over the period 2011-2013, the challenge was to continue to support this dynamic sector and to promote its development.

The State Purchasing Service is also involved in the strategic management of our website as a technical resource for public purchasers’ needs.

Project managers at regional level

Since 2012, all the projects led by the actors who benefit from the Avise’s call for proposals belong to the network of socially responsible procurement. They were granted subsidies ranging from € 30 000 to € 100 000 (representing approximatively half of the project total budget). They are now a reference point for purchasers and socially responsible suppliers in their region. The call for proposals has allowed coupling the national dynamic generated by the site “www.socialement” with experimentations and projects at the regional scale driven by local associations, networks or Regional Chambers of the Social Economy. Thanks to ESF, we build a strong dynamic of cooperation between all the stakeholders involved in the promotion of WISEs and socially responsible procurement.


WISEs are indeed the main stakeholders of the website. It couldn’t work without their support. They can freely edit a form for the national directory, either from the regional directory or from the national one. One of the main difficulty is however to maintain both regional and national directories together updated. At the regional scale training is organized to help WISEs building a strategic business plan.

National networks of WISEs such as Coorace or CNEI are involved in the editorial contents by sharing their resources and good practices of their members.  

3. Evidence/Justification for Good Practice

3.1 hard evidence:

It is difficult to evaluate precisely the role of a website compared to other indicators such as the evolution of the training practises or the national regulation, but some key figures show that promoting good practices and providing tools to professional purchasers can help them implement more social criteria in their procurement:

  • Conducted by the General Delegation for Employment and Vocational Training (DGEFP) with support from Avise, a survey shows that all types of WISEs benefit from the public procurement. Access to public markets has increased for all structures between 2010 and 2011. Access to public procurement rate was 42% in 2011, against 39% in 2010 for all WISEs.


  • Moreover, the study about public procurement for 2012, produced by the Economic Observatory of the public procurement (OEAP) shows that social clauses are increasing slightly. The action of local public organizations, including increasingly the social objectives in their markets, explains this trend. 4.3% higher at € 90,000 HT markets integrate a social clause in 2012, against 4.1% in 2011, 2.5% in 2010 and 1.9% in 2009.

Share of higher at € 90 000 without tax public procurement contracts who implement a social clause

Newsletter subscribers increase steadily, and we are currently diversifying our target audiences toward public organizations and enterprises.

3.2 soft evidence:

More and more national institutions and enterprises contact us in order to better know resources and tools we offer (La Poste, ERDF, French National Urban Renovation Agency…).
Since January 2014 we organize events to promote social clauses in public procurement in addition to our publications. There is always a great mobilization. For example we organized in February 2014 a one-day event for project managers in the regional councils. Nearly half of them were represented.   
Some of our publications are mentioned in the specialized press about urbanism, purchasing and corporate social responsibility.

4. Outcomes (for different stakeholders)

For the public and private stakeholders:

  • It improves the knowledge of the sector of WISEs thanks to educational resources;
  • It encourages the “peer-to-peer” network thanks to events who are organized when we publish new contents on the website (for example at a regional scale) or thanks to resources and tools we put online;
  • It enhances the promotion of their best practices and help them to communicate better on their achievements     

For the project managers at regional scale who belong to the socially responsible procurement network:

  • It consolidates the regional dynamics thanks to the support of the ESF and to the articulation with “”;
  • It improves the “peer-to-peer” network: the national one-day events that we organize twice a year give them the opportunity to pool resources on the different websites and to share the expertise about how to promote WISEs.

For the WISEs

  • Improvement of their visibility as professional suppliers;
  • Improvement of their capacity to adopt a business strategic plan;
  • Improvement of the BtoB relationships with professional purchasers.

5. Strengths and Weaknesses


  • “” is now known as the French resource center for socially responsible procurement contracts with WISEs, in particular for public organizations;
  • The website is regularly updated thanks to a monthly newsletter. It is a great way to maintain a deep interest in the subject;
  • We have now strong partnerships with national institutions and public purchasers that can be very helpful for the editorial contents;
  • “” is more than a website and it is particularly important for us to sustain that momentum: it is also a tool for the peer to peer networking thanks to events that we organize.


  • Updating at a national scale a directory of 4 000 structures is a very delicate task. Partnerships with regional stakeholders can be a good way to increase the quality of the database but not all regions have a local directory to share and technical skills are often needed to build a methodological approach to share data.
  • Mobilizing WISEs to update their form in the directory happen to be relatively time-consuming (mail reminders, telephone campaigns, etc.)
  • At a national scale, we only reference in our directory the WISEs whereas some regional directories might reference all kinds of social enterprises.

6. Comparisons with other experiences (alternatives or complementary - in same territory or elsewhere)

In various countries of the EU, the internet plays a key role in promoting goods and services provided by WISEs: interactive databases, resource centers and directories have been set up by the networks and federations to provide greater visibility for these organizations. In the United Kingdom, there is for example a social e-commerce platform. "Just buy" is a website providing information on the goods and services supplied by WISEs. This directory created by Social Firms UK - the umbrella organization of work integration and sheltered workshops - includes around one hundred organizations. It targets public procurers as well as private players, who can search by geographical area or by area of business. Social Firms UK also offers a telephone helpline to deal with the complex needs of procurers and operates a market place. The Social Enterprise UK network has also launched a promotion campaign called "Do a great deal! Buy Social". Unlike them, AVISE doesn’t have a service to directly support the professional purchasers. Market places are existing at a regional scale and the so-called “facilitators” can help public purchasers to calibrate their social clauses in their public procurement. In order to study other complementary experiences in the member states of the European Union, we’ll soon publish a study about “Access by Work Integration Social Enterprises to public procurement in Europe - Context, issues and good practice”.

Furthermore, we built a partnership with the French national website HANDECO (, which references suppliers providing protected work environments for the disabled.

7. Overall assessment and transferability

  • In order to better promote WISEs, it is important to define the priority targets. Contents will not be the same if we focus on a large audience or on the BtoB partners.
  • A national dynamic should engage interaction with local ones in order to increase the visibility of social enterprises at different scales.
  • A website is not enough. Improving WISEs visibility also includes the organization of events and meetings.

The partners of the SEN project found AVISE website useful and well-designed tool with a great potential to improve the visibility of the sector, especially the work integration social enterprises. The main concerns however were raised by the issue of financing, while it might be difficult to ensure sustainable financing for such an initiative started within an ESF project. However some funding perspectives could be found in the development of services offering to public and private purchasers (like formation, tools and personalized resources). The other observation is that the platform works very well if there are well-defined social enterprises regulated by law as it is the case in France. The other issue (raised i.e. in Hungarian and Polish comment paper) is that this kind of horizontal tool (on national, regional or local level) require maturity also on the side of social enterprises, their willingness and readiness to take part in public procurement processes. According to many partners the website should be particularly developed on the regional or local level, that ensures the engagement and cooperation of the appropriate stakeholders, who know the regional/local market. However the national dynamic launched by Avise has act as a real impulsion and is still very useful for the big public and private purchasers at a more national scale. Furthermore a national website allows to coordinate the different local stakeholders in a network.


Bibliography and references:

National website (in French):

Regional websites (in French):

Access by Work Integration Social Enterprises to public procurement in Europe - Context, issues and good practice (in French): It will be available in English in September 2014.  

Work integration social enterprises in the European Union : an overview of existing models by Catherine Davister, Jacques Defourny and Olivier Grégoire  

Buy social, a guide on public calls for tender with social responsibility clauses, European Commission, 2011

CARPE Guide to responsible procurement, EUROCITIES, 2005

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