The European social model has always been characterized by the active role played in the production of goods and services by a variety of organizations that differ both from private corporations and public institutions. These are private organizations that, while active on the market, typically pursue goals other than profit: their main purpose is not to generate financial gains for their owners or stakeholders but to provide goods and services either to their members or to the community at large. Traditionally, these organizations have been included in the concept of “social economy”. This paper describes the role of social enterprises and social cooperatives as a type of economic, non-profit organization that is assuming an increasingly central role in Europe (as shown for example by the Social Business Initiative, recently launched by the European Commission), by contributing to its economic and social growth. More generally, the paper intends to reflect on the economic and social impacts of social enterprises and social cooperatives in local economies, while some final remarks conclude by identifying some lessons supplied by Italian social cooperatives on a broader scale.