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Why solidarity-based economic practices

Today, perhaps as never before, more people are becoming aware that capitalism has turned our lives and our planet into a commodity. A system that is environmentally unsustainable and socially unjust, and that it is not able to guarantee the happiness and dignified life conditions of all persons in any place on the planet. Carlos Askunze, REAS Spanish network of solidarity economy.

While the roots of Social Solidarity Economy are ancient (they can be found in most communities in different forms of mutualistic cooperation, worker’s unions, social economy, etc.), the term Solidarity Economy as a basis for today’s SSE networked movement is fairly recent.

In the last three decades, there has been an explosion of solidarity-based economic practices around the world due to a range of reasons including,:

  1. An increasing number of people throughout the world are experiencing deteriorating living conditions and deepening poverty.
  2. With the logic of capitalism, people and society become resources to be exploited. Their value in the form of labor or social relationships are reduced to their worth in maximizing profits.
  3. The deep environmental degradation, provoked by an extractive, intensive and extensive linear economic model, leading to widespread pollution and climate change.

In this context, grassroots solidarity-based economic initiatives have emerged rediscovering timeless practices and cultural traits, renewing and adapting them to the current context through the use of new technologies and other contemporary, regenerative and resilient resources.

Social Solidarity Economy includes a wide range of practices that span economic, social, environmental, political, communitarian or holistic dimensions.

Given SSE’s respect for the diversity of local experience, history, culture, and political/economic realities, there are differences in its definition. There is nevertheless a common, general vision with shared values and principles that is found worldwide. In recent years, a global SSE movement is emerging – a rapidly growing transformative, citizen-led alternative to market-driven capitalism, aimied at systemic change to build an economy and society that serves people and planet. SSE is grounded in locally rooted initiatives that are increasingly globally networked, with a broad political (but not ideological) framework based on solidarity, equity, human and Earth rights, self-determination, mutuality and cooperation.


What is Social Solidarity Economy

Definition of Social Solidarity Economy according to RIPESS members (Extract of the Global Vision for a Social Solidarity Economy: Convergences and Differences in Concepts, Definitions and Frameworkspaper released by RIPESS in 2015 as part of a process of dialogue conducted between the continental member networks since 2013):

The Social Solidarity Economy is an alternative to capitalism and other authoritarian, state- dominated economic systems. In SSE ordinary people play an active role in shaping all of the dimensions of human life: economic, social, cultural, political, and environmental. SSE exists in all sectors of the economy production, finance, distribution, exchange, consumption and governance. It also aims to transform the social and economic system that includes public, private and third sectors. SSE is not only about the poor, but strives to overcome inequalities, which includes all classes of society. SSE has the ability to take the best practices that exist in our present system (such as efficiency, use of technology and knowledge) and transform them to serve the welfare of the community based on different values and goals.

(…) SSE seeks systemic transformation that goes beyond superficial change in which the root oppressive structures and fundamental issues remain intact.

A note on RIPESS’ use of the term Social Solidarity Economy

The term “Social Solidarity Economy”  started to be used in the late 90s.  The first meeting of what would thereafter become the RIPESS network, took place in Lima, Peru on July 4th, 1997 and the participants from more than 30 countries agreed that there needed to be a strong integration between the more traditional social economy structures (collective enterprises – a sector of the solidarity economy) and the more holistic and alternative approaches of solidarity economy practices and communities. In fact, while in most francophone and hispanophone countries the expression used is “Social AND Solidarity Economy”, when the RIPESS network was formally announced in December 2002, it chose to eliminate the “AND” in its official name, in order to stress solidarity economy’s aim of transformative system change, which includes going beyond the social economy. Yet many networks continue to use the term Solidarity Economy and institutions usually refer to SSE as Social and Solidarity Economy.

Social solidarity economy and regional contexts

RIPESS understands that the political, cultural, and historical realities of different continents and countries call for a flexible approach to terminology, strategies and entry points.

  • Africa: in French speaking Africa, where RIPESS has the strongest presence, the expression that is used is social and solidarity economy. For example, in Mali, the National Policy to Support Social and Solidarity Economy (PNESS) adopted in October 2014 uses the SSE terminology.
  • Asia: the Asian Solidarity Economy Council (ASEC) takes the social enterprise as a starting point along with the need to build solidarity economy supply chains.
  • Europe: social economy and cooperativism in general are quite strongly rooted in Europe, and pre-date the transformative framework of the solidarity economy. In general, there is rising attention for social economy at the EU institutional level and increasing support at the local level, where the spreading of spontaneous solidarity economy initiatives is more and more recognized.
  • Latin America and Caribbean: RIPESS-LAC uses the solidarity economy framework. Despite some differences in definition, there is broad agreement about its systemic and transformative agenda and that it is built around a core of ethical principles.
  • North America: Quebec builds on the concept of the social economy and seeks to create a movement for transformation that is very practical and grounded at the local, territorial level. In the rest of Canada, the emphasis is on the territorial framework of local economic development. The U.S. was able to start with a fairly blank slate and the U.S. Solidarity Economy Network deliberately chose to work within the solidarity economy framework, as an unambiguously transformative movement.

Values of Social Solidarity Economy

Social solidarity economy is an ethical and values-based approach to economic development that prioritizes the welfare of people and planet, over profits and blind growth.

RIPESS re-affirms the values expressed in its Charter which includes:

[su_note note_color=”#1565AA” text_color=”#ffffff” radius=”6″]Humanisme / Démocratie / Solidarité / Inclusion / Subsidiarité / Diversité / Créativité / Développement durable / Égalité, équité et justice pour toutes et tous / Respect et intégration des pays et des peuples / Une économie plurielle et solidaire[/su_note]

For further reading on all these concepts, refer to :