Yvon Poirier has been active in various capacities in RIPESS since 2004. He is a member of several organizations in Quebec and Canada, including the Canadian Community Economic Development Network (CCEDNet), a founding member of RIPESS in 2002.
Note. This article is a translation from the original French text published in I’économie solidaire en mouvement, Editions Érès, 2022, pages 165-168
At the origin of the Intercontinental Network for the Promotion of the Social Solidarity Economy (RIPESS), a first international meeting in Lima, Peru from 1 to 4 July 1997.
For at least twenty years, almost everywhere on the planet, faced with the ravages of galloping neoliberal globalization, accentuated after the fall of the Soviet Union, either out of necessity or conviction, populations have mobilized. The devastation was great. The relocation of production to low-wage countries led to the disappearance of tens of millions of jobs in so-called developed countries while a very large number of developing countries were subject to the World Bank’s Structural Adjustment Plans (SAPs), eliminating large parts of the public sector, including state-owned enterprises established after independence (African countries). Thus, the wealth gap between and within countries has greatly widened.
It is in this context that more than 325 people from Latin America, Europe Africa and North America gathered in Lima to strengthen both resistance to neoliberalism and to promote a different approach to the economy.
The Lima Declaration testifies to the will to create a movement to tackle the impacts of neoliberalism and to put forward a different approach, the solidarity economy. Here is a very significant excerpt, still as topical.
We, citizens, and members of popular, peasant and indigenous organizations, women, youth, trade unions, entrepreneurs, cooperatives, working communities, micro-enterprises, church groups, non-governmental organizations, ecological and technological groups, development networks, groups of social economy initiatives and coalitions, from thirty-two (32) countries and gathered in Lima, Peru, from 1 to 4 July 1997, declare that:
- We consider ourselves to be subject to the hegemony of a development model which, both in the South and in the North, demonstrates its limits, destroys the planet and produces poverty, social and political exclusion, marginalisation of the many and unemployment. We consider that this model does not recognize a set of human activities indispensable for society and that it threatens the future of humanity.
That is why, in reaction to this situation, we have embarked on a process of solidarity-based development that challenges the reductive and deterministic conception that the response to humanity’s needs depends on wild competition in the market and its so-called “natural laws”. The solidarity economy is based on cooperation, sharing and collective action. It places the human person at the centre of economic and social development.
It is important to note that the social economy sees itself as one of the actors of the solidarity economy, along with a set of other civil society organizations, in the construction of this alternative. In the conclusion of the Declaration, the commitment was made to build networks in each of our countries and to disseminate the results of this meeting of Globalization of Solidarity.
The stages of the construction of RIPESS
In the following decade the construction of a global network, essential to achieve this vision, had become a key issue. Thus, at a second meeting held in Quebec City in October 2001, the decision was made to perpetuate this approach by deciding to organize a third meeting, in Dakar, Senegal, in 2005.
During the preparatory meeting in 2002 in Dakar, participants agreed that the time was right for a network, the Intercontinental Network for the Promotion of the Social Solidarity Economy (RIPESS). The choice of intercontinental instead of international was a deliberate choice. On the one hand, it is a firm desire to display equality, solidarity, between the so-called networks of the North and the South. Through this decentralization, RIPESS shows its willingness to link up with actors and organizations in the field.
The other major aspect is the expression social solidarity economy. At the December 2002 meeting, Francophone participants proposed social and solidarity economy, an expression that had developed in France in the previous decade and had been widely used at the Quebec City meeting. The Latin American delegates proposed to remove the “and” to emphasize that for RIPESS, the economy must be both social (collective enterprises) and solidarity, in the sense adopted in Lima. Thus, for RIPESS, the meaning given to ESS is very close to the meaning of the solidarity economy of Lima.
Subsequently, after the success of the Dakar meeting, a4th meeting was held in Luxembourg in April 2009 and a 5th, and last, continental meeting in Manila in October 2013. During this period, the continental networks were formalized: North America in 2004, RIPESS LAC (Latin America and the Caribbean) in 2005, the African SSE Network in 2010, RIPESS Europe and ASEC (Asia network) in 2011. For the purposes of RIPESS governance, there is also Oceania.
Throughout this period, RIPESS participated in the World Social Forums (WSF) from Mumbai 2004 to Montreal in 2016, as well as in thematic forums such as the Transformative Economy Forum (WSFTE) organized by RIPESS Europe in Barcelona in 2019 and 2020. These Forums were an opportunity to collaborate with other civil society movements such as peasant organizations such as La Via Campesina, trade unions, feminist organizations, indigenous organizations, etc.
RIPESS in its advocacy role with international governance bodies
In accordance with its mission to promote SSE, RIPESS has made sure to seize opportunities to advocate internationally in favour of SSE.
Although some interactions with international institutions were possible from the early years of RIPESS, it was the economic and social crisis of 2008/2009 that created the opportunity to demonstrate that the SSE was an approach to the economy that made it possible to create jobs, to move from the informal economy to the formal economy, to meet needs not met by the market or the state, while creating more opportunities for women and youth.
In 2009, RIPESS was invited to meetings of the International Labour Organization (ILO), including the johannesburg meeting in October 2009 under the theme “The Social Economy: The African Response to the Global Crisis”. One of the concrete results was the creation of the ILO SSE Academy. The first meeting of the Academy was held in Turin in 2010. Since then, eleven other editions have been held, including the last one in Portugal in December 2021. RIPESS participated, in various ways, in these meetings. In most cases, it is the ministries of labour that host these meetings. Thus, many officials, researchers, ILO members, and SSE actors from the respective countries have appropriated the basic concepts.
The growing interest in SSE, particularly on the part of international development bodies, was consolidated by the conference Potential and limits of the social and solidarity economy held from 6 to 8 May 2013 in Geneva. During this conference, organized by the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) in collaboration with the International Labour Office (ILO), researchers, practitioners, including members of RIPESS, exchanged with a view to reducing the impact of crises caused by unequal global development.
This conference launched the creation of the United Nations Inter-Agency Working Group on the Social and Solidarity Economy (UNTFSSE) on 30 September 2013. This group is composed of 18 international institutions as well as observers from SSE organizations. RIPESS has been a member since the beginning and has participated assiduously during all these years. Untfsse, its members, observers and researchers have contributed to the production of the many reference papers, case studies, as well as many discussion papers, which reinforce SSE as a fundamental approach to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
At the RIO+20 meeting in June 2012, RIPESS decided to make the future SDGs its priority of work for the coming years. Already on this occasion, at the People’s Summit, RIPESS presented concrete proposals. As RIPESS often collaborates with many civil society structures, it has actively participated in the consultations organized by the United Nations with global civil society organizations. Thus, in the report of the consultations with 120 CSOs, the SSE was retained as one of the axes of development. On the presentation of this report, RIPESS was invited to speak at a meeting held at United Nations Headquarters. Again in 2014, RIPESS was invited to the UN as spokesperson for the NGO Group to present their views. Also on this occasion, RIPESS presented its recommendations for the future SDGs. Significantly, more than 500 organizations endorsed the RIPESS recommendations in less than ten days. In 2015, on the General Assembly that adopted the SDGs, a RIPESS spokesperson was selected as one of the 20 representatives of civil society for dialogue sessions with States. In the following years, RIPESS has made it a point to participate in the annual meetings of the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) which meets at the UN to assess the implementation of the SDGs.
Since 2016, RIPESS has been promoting the project of getting the UN to adopt a resolution recognizing SSE, to achieve the SDGs. The UNTFSSE has been carrying the project since 2017 and has produced various documents, including a draft resolution, an argument, etc. The pandemic has affected the progress of this project for almost two years. But in recent months, several states have indicated their willingness to take charge of the project, for 2022, if not 2023. The interest is even greater than a few years ago because with the pandemic, the world has moved even further away from achieving the SDGs
The decision of the International Labour Organization (ILO) to choose decent work and the social and solidarity economy as the theme for the 2022 International Labour Conference is another very significant step in the international recognition of SSE.
Since Lima in 1997, RIPESS has not deviated from its fundamental mission as elaborated 25 years ago. Since that time, networks have been created, in all continents, based on networks and organizations in the countries. Thus, RIPESS has members in more than 70 countries.
Every opportunity has been taken to work towards the recognition of this essential alternative to build a world that meets the needs of people and the planet and not capital. We must persist because there is a real urgency.