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For at least two decades, European countries have been earnestly striving to reform their social models, tailored on increasingly surpassed economic and sociodemographic structures. The consistency between programmatic ambitions and reform practice is, however, not easy to gauge. Reforms introduced at the national level, largely focused on the big programmes of social protection, do not exhaust the array of ongoing transformations. In order to capture the breadth and nature of change, we must move beyond the perimeter of the public sector, directing attention
towards developments in the market and in civil society, and especially towards those new forms of intertwinement, collaboration and synergy that have been emerging between these two spheres (and often between them and the public sector) in welfare provision. For denoting the array of non-public welfare provisions which have been expanding in the last decade, the Italian debate has recently coined a new label: secondo welfare, a notion that is very much connected with the discussion on the future of social policy at the EU level.
This paper focuses on “poorly visible” forms of social innovation and second welfare initiatives and projects, and describes some recent achievements. After setting the stage with some analytical distinctions and clarifications on the notion of secondo welfare, it illustrates some emerging trends and achievements within the European countries. The next section illustrates the debate and some emblematic initiatives within the Italian context, followed by the description of a specific experience implemented in the Region of Lombardy in Italy in the field of work-life reconciliation. The final section outlines a first balance sheet and highlights problems and prospects of such trends—related to Italy’s experience but of potential interest for other EU countries as well.