The Asia Solidarity Economy Council (ASEC) hosted a workshop on “Social Solidarity Economy & SDGs, Tapping the potential” at the Asian Pacific People Forum on Sustainable development on March 26, 2018 at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand (Full programme here).

About 20 people from various CSOs from eleven Asian countries gathered at this session which was moderated by Datuk Dr Denison Jayasooria, who is the Chair of ASEC- RIPESS ASIA and who is a Malaysian with the Institute of Ethnic Studies, National University of Malaysia (UKM). In his opening address he highlighted the clear links between SSE concepts and the SDG core values (People, prosperity, planet, peace & partnerships). He noted that there would be a conceptual discussion of these as well as specific case studies addressing SDG 11 on the informal sector in cities, as well as SDG 15 on rural and forest based communities.

Dr Ben Quinones the former/past chair of ASEC dwelled on the 5 key SSE principles namely socially responsible governance, edifying ethnical values, social development and finally economic & financial sustainability. He illustrated these principles with the use of a concrete case of a community-based enterprise from the Philippines. He also dwelled on a number of constantly challenging ideas such as cooperation vs competition, respects for all vs privilege few, diversity vs uniformity and finally people vs profits.
A number of the participants wanted a clearer understanding of terms similarities & differences between social business, social enterprise, and social entrepreneurship with that of solidarity economy. Dr Ben explained that there was a similarity to the enterprise dimension of doing business it was however not for personal profits and the solidarity dimension including community direct participation in decision making and distribution was key.  He also highlighted the value chain dimension as well as the territorial aspects of SSE.

Ms. Poonsap Tulaphan (Homenet Thailand), highlighted how the informal sector in the city of Bangkok organised themselves through a membership society to enhance home based enterprises. They also worked on improving labour standard and tried to influence labour related public policies. They have 5,000 Homenet members as well as 10,000 informal workers in their society, including 500 domestic migrant workers.

Mr Mohan Lal Dangi (Prayatna Samiti, India), shared of the struggle of marginal farmers and tribal people in 120 villages with over 50,000 people involved in this project. They are working on communal lands as many are landless. They also promote the working in self-help groups with the mobilization of 3,000 women. They seek to ensure that women have a place at the village meetings as well as their voices are heard. One major hurdle they face is the money lenders and the self-help groups seek to break this socio-economic bondage. He noted positively that with the enactment of the Forest Right Act 2006, these people now have access to the forest which they were previously denied. Over 2,000 people have now secured permits to enter the forest and community forest products.

Mr Gomer Padong (Philippines Social Enterprise Network) presented the PRESENT Bill on social entrepreneurship currently being deliberated in Philippine Congress. This has provided a space for the CSOs for active participation and consolidation of the social enterprise work for economic sustainability. Public policy is a key dimension of the advocacy as well as for the government to recognise this third sector and ensure that these alternative economic ventures are well regulated and supported.

Dr. Denison Jayasooria (Malaysia) highlighted a village economy of Rungus Forest-based communities at Gumantong Hill, Kudat, Sabah, Malaysia. The forestry department handed over 590 hectares of the forest on the hill to the 13 villages at the foot of the hill as a community forestry project. The local leaders have formed a inter village committee. They now ensure conservation, prevention of poaching and theft of timber. They also undertake forest friendly social enterprises such as guided mountain climbing and study of biodiversity, bee rearing in the forest for wild honey as well as home stay eco-tourism projects. So conservation and economic generation is being undertaken by the local communities in a sustainable way.

The two hour discussion was indeed a fruitful time as the side event shifted from defining the issues and problems to now illustrating, how and what ordinary people at the bottom are doing in Asia to change their situation and destiny. The grassroots have shown great resilience and they have endured and are creating wealth at the bottom.  It is however necessary for public official to recognise that these people are not welfare and passive recipients of handouts but they are working hard to create an alternative economic arrangements which are fair, just and equitable in sharing the fruits of their labour as well as the prosperity.