Like a rock thrown into a pond. Costs, benefits and poverty contrast of a local social market project
(Marco Ranuzzini e G.Gallo)
Charitable food redistribution activities have had a rising importance in last decades. Among them, social markets became source of interest under a social innovation perspective. They look like ordinary convenience stores and they have the merit to connect public, private, and third sector organizations. The idea is to cope with new forms of poverty allowing for both obtaining goods for free and feeling more socially included (Maino et al. 2015).
In the social policy literature, social innovation concerns the relationship between local municipalities and civic initiatives in approaching social needs. In a top-down approach to social innovation, the main focus is on short- term measures to reduce poverty, with an efficient allocation of resources. Other social innovation perspectives highlight the need for broader definitions of poverty and the capability of programs to change social relations (BEPA, 2010; Moulaert et al., 2005).
This paper focuses on poverty contrast and efficiency of a local social market. The first question investigates to what extent the social market affects the poverty and social exclusion conditions of its recipients. The second one wants to define the return generated by one euro invested in this type of program in terms of net social benefits in a given year.
To answer to these questions, we provide an impact evaluation of the social market on poverty and social exclusion conditions of its recipients, and we develop a social cost-benefit framework which considers benefits and costs to different actors somehow involved in the program. Indeed, under an efficient cost-benefit perspective, at least three main factors let to hypothesize that a social market project has positive net benefits to society: i) the use of distributional welfare weights which account for the economic conditions of poor households; ii) an appropriate monetary evaluation of volunteers’ work (Salamon et al., 2011); and iii) the food recovery activity of a social market which lowers the shadow cost to society of redistributed goods. As for the evaluation of the project effects on poverty and social exclusion conditions of its recipients, it relies on a counterfactual analysis in which new-entry recipients are compared with those who have been ‘treated’ for a longer time. To measure poverty and social exclusion we adopted the EU social indicators portfolio and standards proposed by the Social Protection Committee (2015). The analysis includes also qualitative considerations on social inclusion dimensions of recipients. The case study here is a social market in Modena (an Italian municipality) called Portobello. It delivered round 600.000€ of goods to more than 300 households and involved 180 volunteers in 2016. The analysis is based on budget and administrative data and two sample surveys we conducted between March and May 2017. The first survey concerned 135 out of 324 households attending Portobello in the reference period. Recipients were interviewed on a voluntary basis during the opening hours of Portobello. As for the second survey, it involved 67 out of 121 volunteers working in the social market with different tasks.
Results suggest that Portobello increases the purchasing power of its recipients of 800 euros per year, makes them feel more socially included, and encourages volunteering and trusting other people. However, its effect on both poverty incidence and intensity among recipients turns out to be not particularly effective. Moreover, a social market can cope with efficiency and equity goals generating positive net benefits from a social point of view in a given year.
In a social innovation perspective, the overall analysis, which can be extended to other social markets, arises important considerations on the nature of temporary help of these programs (top-down approach), and on active inclusion strategies implemented by these programs (multidimensional approach). Methodological issues also emerge, like the complex quantification of volunteer work.
Considering the existing literature in the field of anti-poverty programs and social innovation, the novelty of our paper consists of focusing upon evaluation tools to measure the social impact of these programs and reveal their true capability in contributing to the welfare of the recipient households and the society as a whole.