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Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) as a means of implementing sustainable development: First meeting of the International Leading Group on SSE

arton4560The first meeting of the International Leading Group on Social and Solidarity Economy took place at UNHQ in New York on 22 September and marked strong recognition of this type of economy as a means of implementing sustainable development by a growing number of Member States and international organizations. The meeting was organized by the Permanent Mission of France to the UN and the Mont-Blanc Meetings (MBM), in collaboration with UN-NGLS.

Social and solidarity economy (SSE) refers to the production of goods and services by a broad range of organizations and enterprises that have explicit social and often environmental objectives, and are guided by principles and practices of cooperation, solidarity, ethics and democratic self-management. The field of SSE includes cooperatives and other forms of social enterprise, self-help groups, community-based organizations, associations of informal economy workers, service-provisioning NGOs and solidarity finance schemes, amongst others.

The International Leading Group on SSE was established in November 2013 and is currently composed of five Member States (France, Ecuador, Colombia, Morocco, Luxemburg, as well as Quebec as an observer), the UN Inter-Agency Task Force on SSE (UNTFSSE) and a number of international civil society and local authorities organizations and networks working on SSE. The objectives of the Leading Group are to promote SSE worldwide, including by encouraging the adoption of public policies in favour of this type of economy. Several additional countries, including Senegal, Mali and Togo, have declared their interest in joining the Leading Group in the near future.

In her opening remarks, Annick Girardin, French Minister of State for Development and Francophony, emphasized that SSE is supported at the highest political level in France, notably with the adoption of a new law to help structure and support SSE initiatives. “Together, we must write a new page in the history of development,” she said. She noted that, while there had been progress in the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, the prevailing economic model is not sustainable. “SSE is a vital issue for us because it pushes us to do things differently; it takes a different approach, because respect for people and ecosystems is its raison-d’être and its driver. It is about sustainable economic development that is also democratic through its mode of governance.” Ms. Girardin added that “SSE is an incomparable method for helping local economies – local governments were in fact the first to understand this.” SSE is an opportunity “to reconcile social, economic and environmental needs within the new framework of the sustainable development agenda being created,” she concluded.

Speaking on behalf of Ecuador, Carlos Andrés Emmanuele Ortiz, Advisor to the Minister of Social Development, said many countries in Latin America are seeking different development models, which involve structural transformation toward a more diversified economy, “but at the same time, the establishment of a more inclusive and equitable society.” In the quest for a new economic paradigm, he said that “the market must serve individuals and not the other way around.” In the case of Ecuador, “this change of paradigm has allowed us to recognize and embrace SSE as the focal point in the creation of a new development model.” He noted that the new constitution in Ecuador recognizes SSE [referred to in Ecuador as the “popular and solidarity economy”] as a distinct economic sector, and has led to adoption of several legislative, institutional and financial support measures for SSE-type economic entities, which he said represents a large segment of the working population. “Our superintendence on SSE has registered 20,000 informal units that represent this type of economy in Ecuador. This figure speaks volumes on the importance that SSE has in our country.” Mr. Ortiz gave the example of public procurement policies to promote SSE, notably in the area of small family farming and the production of school uniforms, which have so far generated some 30,000 jobs. “Knowledgeable that political will has increased and has been the motor behind the progress at the institutional and policy level, we still need to strengthen our capacities to design and implement comprehensive policies to support this economy, under the construction of a pending and necessary post-oil horizon,” he stressed.

Speaking on behalf of Luxemburg, Consul General Jean-Claude Knebeler said that his government is actively promoting SSE as a means to combat rising unemployment, especially among young people and persistent social exclusion, notably among migrants. He noted that many young people do not have money as their primary motive and this has contributed to a significant growth of social enterprises in his country. Luxemburg, he said, has also integrated SSE promotion in its official development assistance (ODA), notably through support to SSE micro-entrepreneurs in developing countries.

Speaking on behalf of Colombia, Luis Eduardo Coronado, National Director of the Special Administrative Unit of Solidarity Organizations, said that his entity has a constitutional duty to promote and strengthen Colombia’s “solidarity sector,” composed of over 215,000 enterprises where more than 5 million individuals are directly involved. Public policies include awareness-raising of the importance of SSE among youth as well as leaders in government and the economy. These policies have combined sectoral development with what he described as “transversality” to ensure complementarity between different economic activities. They have also included the promotion of public-private partnerships with the SSE sector, including through the provision of capital and technical assistance. He said that one challenge was to ensure quality products, but by now there is high number of people with SSE skills “capable of generating decent and dignified jobs,” he concluded.

Presenting perspectives from the Canadian province of Quebec, Stéphane Falleker, Director of Economic Affairs of the Quebec Government in New York, said that provincial ministries have a legal obligation to integrate SSE in their sectoral initiatives. Data from 2002 had already showed that the SSE sector was a significant source of job creation and the survival rate of social enterprises was twice as high as companies with stock, he noted.

Various UN agencies took the floor on behalf of the UNTFSSE. Vinicius Pinheiro, Deputy Director of the New-York Office of the International Labour Organization (ILO), said that SSE has not received due attention in the post-2015 development agenda so far. “This is a major issue that the International Leading Group can address in the near future.” Mr. Pinheiro said that it is essential to emphasize the transformative potential of SSE, which should not be neglected in the future development agenda. He noted that the proposed goal related to decent work has many good targets, but says little on how to deliver on these commitments. “Here is where SSE comes in, as a means of implementation to connect inclusive growth and the creation of decent jobs, with respect of the environment.”

Peter Poschen, Director of Job Creation and Enterprise Development at the ILO, remarked that his organization is interested in SSE because “it deals with the gap that we see where large portions of the population in both developing and developed countries neither have their needs served by conventional markets, nor can they easily or effectively be reached by governments.” He said that many lessons can be learned from the work undertaken by the ILO’s Academy on SSE. It is an opportunity for South-South and Triangular Cooperation, whereby countries can learn from each other and “not have to reinvent the wheel.” This was especially the case for public policy innovation, training and capacity-building, as well as alliance building between SSE actors, the trade union movement and civil society. “It would be very useful if SSE was recognized in the Sustainable Development Goals as a means of implementation…. There has been a lot of emphasis on the private sector, but SSE is a different part that delivers goods and services that the conventional private sector does not deliver.”

Wenyan Yang, Chief of the Social Perspective on Development Branch of the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UN-DESA), presented the joint position paper of the UNTFSSE, which showcases the value of SSE as a means of achieving many dimensions of sustainable development.

The position paper responds to the concern that the process of crafting a post-2015 development agenda has paid insufficient attention to the role of SSE. It focuses on eight selected issue areas which the UNTFSSE believes are central to the challenge of socially sustainable development in the early 21st century.

These are:

1. The transition from informal economy to decent work

2. Greening the economy and society

3. Local economic development

4. Sustainable cities and human settlements

5. Women’s well-being and empowerment

6. Food security and smallholder empowerment

7. Universal health coverage

8. Transformative finance

The position paper stresses that it is important that governments recognize not only the potential of SSE but also that “the organizations and initiatives involved often operate in a disabling policy and legal environment and on an unlevel playing field vis-à-vis private enterprise. Trends associated with solidarity and cooperation at the level of SSE organizations need to be matched by solidarity and redistribution through the State via social, fiscal, credit, investment, procurement, industrial, training and other policies at different levels of government,” the paper argues.

During the discussion period, several speakers noted that in view of the fact that several governments have adopted significant legal, policy and institutional reforms aimed at enabling SSE, much can be gained from inter-governmental and multi-stakeholder learning and dialogue about such initiatives. Many encouraged other governments to join the Leading Group on SSE as an essential vehicle to both share knowledge and build political support for SSE worldwide.

The archived broadcast of the first meeting of the International Leading Group on SSE can be accessed here.

More information on the International Leading Group on SSE can be found here.

The UNTFSSE position paper “Social and Solidarity Economy and the Challenge of Sustainable Development” is available in English, Spanish, Portuguese and French (available soon).

The UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS) is an inter-agency programme of the United Nations mandated to develop constructive relations between the UN and civil society organizations.

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