New Official Visibility for the Global Third Sector and Social Economy: A Major Statistical Breakthrough

Capping a three-year process, the United Nations has released a new statistical guidance document for nations to use to generate solid data on the world’s third, or social economy, sector—the TSE Sector.
Unknown by most observers, this sector—embracing nonprofit institutions, public-benefit oriented cooperatives and mutuals, social enterprises, philanthropy, and volunteer work—makes up the third largest workforce of any industry in Western Europe and the U.S.
In the developing world as well, these entities, and the volunteer effort they motivate, are widely regarded as crucial to the success of the 2030 Development Agenda.
To date, however, reliable data on these institutions and volunteer activities have been missing or obscured in official international statistical systems. The just-released United Nations Satellite Account on Nonprofit and Related Institutions and Volunteer Work (UN TSE Sector Handbook) now promises to remedy this problem and bring this TSE sector into systematic empirical view by equipping statistical agencies with comprehensive methodological guidance on its measurement.
This new Handbook, produced in collaboration with the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies, revises an earlier UN Handbook on Nonprofit Institutions in the System of National Accounts and extends its coverage to all entities and activities that exhibit three key attributes:

  • They are private, i.e. not controlled by the state;
  • They are primarily oriented to public benefit purposes, rather than the pursuit of private profit; and
  • They embody a significant element of free choice.

In announcing its availability, UN Statistics Division Director Stefan Schweinfest noted:

“The compilation of a satellite account on Nonprofit and Related institutions and Volunteer work allows for the measurement of the economic impact of the TSE sector and provides an important basis for evidence-based policy-making and for efforts to improve the enabling environment for the TSE sector.”

Statistical offices around the world participated in the formulation of this new statistical Handbook. In the process, they produced a document with a number of special strengths:

  • Broader coverage of TSE sector institutions, including not only nonprofit organizations but also cooperatives, mutuals, and social enterprises;
  • Inclusion of volunteer work, both organization-based and direct;
  • Based on a bottom-up set of common definitions that guarantee comparability from country to country and over time;
  • Institutionalized in official national accounts statistical systems, ensuring regular updates by professional statisticians and the ability to make systematic comparisons to other components of national economies;
  • Includes a special chapter providing guidance on the measurement of the impact of the TSE sector.

Implementation of the new UN TSE Sector Handbook is already under way in a number of countries.
Workshops on the implementation of the new Handbook for TSE leaders and statistical officials are being organized by the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society Studies. For further information, contact Center Communications Associate Chelsea Newhouse.

~~~ Click here to download the UN TSE Sector Handbook ~~~



Center Director Lester Salamon will be discussing the new UN Satellite Account on Nonprofit and Related Institutions and Volunteer Work and the Johns Hopkins Nonprofit Economic Data Project during a colloquium session at the upcoming Upswell LA Conference hosted by Independent Sector. The session, “The Pros and Cons of Benchmarking Change,” will take place on Thursday, November 15th from 9:30-11:00am. If you are interested in attending Upswell and have not yet registered, you can save $200 on registration by using our discount code SPPLS here.

About Upswell
Changework is complex, but we all share a common goal: strengthening our communities and improving lives. And if we’re going to meet that goal, talk isn’t enough. That’s why Upswell exists. Taking place this November 14-16 in Los Angeles, Upswell will bring together 1,500 professional changemakers to turn empathy into action. In an immersive, high-energy forum, you’ll forge new partnerships, wrestle with big ideas, exchange lessons learned, and explore leading-edge practices for accomplishing—not just advancing—your mission.


Chelsea Newhouse

View posts by Chelsea Newhouse
Chelsea Newhouse served as the Center's Communications Manager and managed the Nonprofit Economic Data and Philanthropication thru Privatization Projects. Prior to joining the Center in 2008, she worked for the Johns Hopkins University Department of Molecular Biology & Genetics, the Baltimore Sun, and as a community organizer for Clean Water Action and the Democratic National Committee. She holds a degree in Philosophy from the University of Virginia. Following the Center's closing, Chelsea now serves as Project Manager at the East-West Management Institute, where she continues to work on the Philanthropication thru Privatization Project and other civil society development initiatives around the world. Chelsea can be reached at