Between April 17th and May 7th, RIPESS Intercontinental organized three webinars to analyze the collective and sustainable responses that Social Solidarity Economy (SSE) is building beyond the COVID-19 crisis.

This series of webinars has started the discussion on how we arrived at this point from an SSE perspective. It has also highlighted concrete SSE solidarity responses that SSE projects are building (both in this emergency situation, and in general as a solution to the global challenges). Held in three different languages (English, French and Spanish), each webinar was attended by various speakers representing Asia, Europe, North America, Latin America and Africa.

The consequences of COVID-19 expansion, firstly framed as a health crisis, are highlighting the imminence of a much more dangerous and deeply rooted crisis: one that goes beyond health parameters and was there before this disease spread across the planet. COVID-19 has the effect of making even more visible the climate crisis, the crisis of the food system, the crisis of science and research, of governance, the political, social and cultural crisis, that of the care system and migratory movements, and a global economic crisis. All of these are interconnected and are key components of the systemic crisis that humanity is facing under the parameters of the capitalist system.

The speakers at the webinars organised by RIPESS in recent months have tried to cautiously explain the consequences of the global pandemic, but above all they have provided an opportunity to rethink and reflect on the new models of post-COVID society, in which promoting the Social Solidarity Economy (SSE) seems more urgent than ever. The key idea of the three webinars is to develop a SSE that permeates the power structures, international, national and local dynamics, and results in public policies that favour the links and relationships that sustain life, and not those that sustain the market.

As Luciane Lucas explained in the Webinar in Spanish, the market economy is built to reaffirm the value of differences (asymmetries), whereas the SSE thinks in terms of participation, self-management and mutual support, and therefore needs to rethink how to put the latter at the service of the public sector. Because returning to the normality proposed by the governing elites when productive flows are reactivated should not be an option. To this end, it is essential that SSE networks continue to increase their presence in the territories and are present in all the circuits necessary for living (production, consumption, financing, housing sector, food etc.), and they should also strengthen their relationship with the social movements and the various initiatives that are already present in many communities.

In short, the challenge is to present the SSE as a real option for the people, until a change of paradigm leads us to develop an education towards the care of life and the planet, and allows us to abandon “the unique thinking” that currently drives our behaviour – as mentioned by Nicolás Cruz, from RIPESS LAC, in the same webinar.

This crisis opens several dangerous scenarios. On one hand, we run the risk of suffering an increase in authoritarian measures, which could lead – as Jason Nardi from RIPESS Europe explained – to an increase in the far right and to governments imposing political strategies that give priority to the economic over the social and end up deepening inequalities. Moreover, although the disease has no ideology of its own, we are seeing it affect people unequally, thus fulfilling all the elements of a pandemic marked by class, gender and race.

Both the UN and the International Labour Organization agree that the virus is taking a higher toll on women, because they are the ones who hold the key jobs to ensure survival in this pandemic, and because unfortunately, gender-based violence is breaking records around the world, as many women are locked up with their abusers.

This gender perspective has been present in all three webinars, and has led some of the speakers to make important reflections on the subject. Thus, as Eri Trinurini (ASEC, RIPESS Asia) explained, it is necessary to make feminist policies to put the emergence of diversity, women and their intersections at the centre of the agenda, and finally to understand that this pandemic is not the same for everyone.

The importance of grassroots experiences

However, it is also true that beyond the immensity of challenges that this pandemic will bring, as could be seen in the three webinars, there are many grassroots solidarity initiatives that are being developed in different places around the world: from community radios in Portugal to strengthen the meeting of groups, to the exchange of products in Chile to support rural populations, through the local production of masks in Cameroon, etc. For example, both Elise Pierrette Memong and Madani Coumare, from RAESS-RIPESS Africa, explained the important mobilisation that, despite the worrying situation, is taking place in most of the African continent, where SSE networks have always had a significant presence.

In this sense, and although experience shows the difficulty of the process, and the capacity of a system to always adapt to new circumstances in order to ensure its own survival, the speakers in the different webinars stressed that, as a society, we are also aware that we are necessary voices in the new post-Covid reality.

If the webinars make one thing clear, it is that the Social Solidarity Economy has a very important role to play in redefining coexistence. It is necessary to put on the lens of the SSE and recognise the multiple resistances that are already taking place in the different territories, which will help put pressure on governments and their public policies to promote other models of societies involved with the climate emergency and focused on the care system.

In short, for the speakers of the three webinars, it is necessary to redefine with solidarity the idea of coexistence, to rethink how we will build the community, and to face, all together, the current challenge: to connect the demands and actions that are emerging in the different territories and networks, until they are transformed into a secure future horizon.