Cities and the Social Solidarity Economy (SSE) have a decisive role to play in promoting local economic development. This is particularly important in African countries, as noted during the “Second GSEF Africa Policy Dialogue” which took place from April 25th to 26th in Bamako (Mali) and where the Malian SSE Network (RENAPESS) and the African SSE Network (RAESS – RIPESS Africa) were key partners in its organization.

Written by Gabriel Boichat, RIPESS Intercontinental

The “Second GSEF Africa Policy Dialogue: SSE for a controlled and inclusive urbanization of African cities” meeting made it possible to raise awareness of the importance and scope of SSE in African countries. SSE is seen as one of the best alternatives for the access of economically vulnerable people to basic social and community services and facilities. Thus, thanks to the inclusive practices of the SSE, people are breaking the vicious circle of poverty and can improve their lifestyles in a sustainable way.

From the point of view of establishing sustainable development in the region, the meeting’s objectives were to facilitate the construction of a platform, thus enabling the regular exchange of experiences and good practices in the co-construction of public policies between local authorities and civil society actors; to give more visibility and recognition to the local government’s experiences in the field of SSE; and to support local governments in the region with the co-construction of public policies that meet the citizens’ needs and demands, among other objectives.

For Madani Koumaré, President of the National Network to Support the Social and Solidarity Economy of Mali (RENAPESS) and member of RIPESS intercontinental Board of Directors, “the main challenge of the meeting was to convince local authorities that they have a key role in anchoring SSE and a responsibility in the social development of SSE”. In Africa, “SSE is mainly made up of youth and women who are on the margins of traditional opportunities for access to credit or employment. SSE provides an answer to this thanks to the pooling of strengths and opportunities, in addition to the tools it provides,” added Koumaré.

For example, SSE provides financal solutions through solidarity finance. This is where the city of Bamako comes in to set up funds and support projects to make companies viable.

Finally, for Madani Koumaré, the other challenge of the meeting was that as Bamako, currently holds the GSEF vice-presidency which promotes SSE throughout the world, the Malian city has a responsibility to engage African communities through cities: “we must mobilize African cities, put them on the front line and ensure a dialogue between them to promote SSE,” he said.

Thus, the meeting promoted an interface between civil society and local governments to influence debates from the local to the national level, and to accelerate the approval of national SSE public policies as well as to extend the political influence of the GSEF and other entities that have worked there for a long time. According to Madani Koumaré, “RIPESS must be at the center of activities to promote global SSE. RIPESS is the structure closest to the real SSE actors, a reality that must be promoted, through RAESS in countries in partnership with the GSEF.

In this sense, Madani Koumaré believes that this dialogue on SSE between African cities first needs to analyze the regional problems as well as the needs. They then should define what cities can propose through an action plan where the roles and responsibilities of each actor are clearly established. “For the cities, this dialogue is a vehicle for cooperation and partnership that is established and enables them to act. Cities are on the ground, an essential condition for local development. This is where Bamako can act with financial support and work toward a partnership that promotes the dynamics of dialogue”.

The example of Bamako and Mali

Mali’s capital, Bamako, has been a reference in the promotion of SSE and the co-construction of public policies in Africa for several years. Bamako is currently the city that represents Africa on GSEF Board of Directors and hosts the headquarters of RENAPESS, which is a reference network for public policies. On the other hand, Mali is the only African country that has a national SSE promotion policy with an action plan and is the headquarters of an SSE network, which marks the working context of the city of Bamako in SSE.

But how did Bamako become an example in the co-construction of SSE public policies? Madani Koumaré explains that they work with actors from all sectors: “We work in a territory where communities and citizens are involved. So first of all, we work to identify and then we organize SSE structures that become grouped together in various forms of social organizations (cooperatives, groups of economic interest, mutual societies, associations…), if they have the opportunity, they are then able to undertake collective economic and professional activities that allow them to live in dignity.

“It was therefore necessary to establish a common strategy to support SSE actors and informal actors in their transition to the SSE economy. All the problems of urbanization can be solved through SSE and informal work: sanitation, public transport, markets and food supplies, construction materials, as well as education. This is why there is a great interest in approaching local authorities in order to be able to structure joint strategies with all the actors”, stated Madani Koumaré. And he added: “It’s a win – win situation because Bamako doesn’t have the solution, it’s the SSE actors who have the know-how and the solutions”.

Finally, it is important to note that Mali has had a national network of SSE parliamentarians since 2014. This makes it possible to articulate the dialogue between SSE actors and to promote the involvement of parliamentarians in SSE. This positive experience is an important instrument that can be adopted in other countries of the region to strengthen the presence of SSE in the political debate. 

The Bamako Declaration

At the end of this “Second Africa Policy Dialogue of GSEF”, local elected officials and representatives of local authorities and SSE network organizations from 8 West and Central African countries signed the Bamako Declaration which states that “an inclusive and comprehensive approach to promoting SSE that includes all stakeholders is necessary for the territories’ sustainable development”.

The declaration contains several commitments from central governments, local authorities and SSE actors that explain that SSE is not only an alternative, but it must become the rule. The declaration will therefore allow all cities to work on this model with local authorities and SSE networks to make proposals to governments that allow countries to fully develop.

In particular, the signatories of the Bamako Declaration undertake to draw up an action plan to pursue efforts to inform, communicate, raise awareness and promote SSE for its appropriation in the territories; to build and lead a framework for multi-stakeholder partnership as a forum for exchange, sharing good practices among peers, and building strategies; or to develop and mobilize without delay strategic partnerships with international SSE networks and United Nations bodies promoting SSE (GSEF, OIF, RIPESS, UN Inter-Agency Task Force on Social and Solidarity Economy, GPIESS.) in order to increase synergies, among other measures to support the promotion of SSE in Africa.

The full text of the Bamako Declaration can be found here.

A network of elected officials and a network of African ministers for SSE

The “Second GSEF Africa Policy Dialogue” not only increased the credibility of SSE actors, but also brought in other national networks to draw on existing experiences and start working in tandem with communities to ensure that SSE is part of everyone’s work at the national level.

This meeting also made it possible to speak the same language, to agree on strategies to develop SSE so that it can be fully used to eradicate poverty, to integrate women and youth into the economy, as well as for the appropriation of territorial economic development.

The Bamako meeting launched a new development idea based on the principles and values of SSE with grassroots actors, SSE organizations and other actors such as researchers, public administration officials and local elected officials.

Finally, the meeting and declaration include the creation of an African network of local elected officials which was announced during the international conference Pact for Impact conference in Paris. The Mayor of Bamako called on his peers with the objective of promoting a co-construction of SSE public policies at state level. It also calls for the mobilization of the Malian Minister for SSE Development as the first step towards the creation of a network of African SSE Ministers.