The solidarity economy is a growing international movement dedicated to creation of new economic structures and organisations based on principles of cooperation, solidarity, social responsibility and mutual aid. It lacks any coherent programme or standard definition, and varies widely in nature from place to place around the world. It strongly overlaps with interests and action in areas of business, economics and livelihood in community-led movements such as permaculture, Transition and ecovillages.
Most writers on the solidarity economy concur in identifying it as consisting of deliberate attempts to create self-organised alternatives to dominant economic structures, in ways that emphasise values of cooperation, inclusion and mutual support and make explicit the political dimensions of economic interchange by drawing attention to the nature of the social relationships implicated in economic life. Ould Ahmed notes that it is less a fixed concept than a paradigm for practice, characterised by six main features:
- Recognition of the importance of factors typically excluded from conventional economic analysis (environmental, social etc.)
- Emphasis on cooperative and associative rather than competitive and individualistic logics
- Promotion of worker self-management, often in cooperatives and associations
- Integration of marginal and subaltern people and groups, especially the poor and unemployed
- Political as well as economic equality
- Democratic autonomy on the part of individuals, in other words solidarity through voluntary association based on individual free will
These six characteristics in turn derive from two interdependent principles: reciprocity and democratic action. The combination of these principles brings economic interactions and decisions about their governance into the sphere of public debate in ways that ensure accountability, visibility and inclusion.
Diversity of the Solidarity Economy
The solidarity economy is not a uniform phenomenon, but encompasses a range of autonomous local responses to experienced deficiencies in dominant economic structures and processes enacated by governments, often guided by International Financial Institutions. According to a review by Ould Ahmed, the movement first arose as separate developments in France and Latin America during the 1980s, later spreading to the UK, North America, Asia and Africa following the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in 2001. The movement has identifiable predeecessors and influences going back up to at least the 19th century in the form of grassroots responses to economic precarity among marginalised groups in Latin America and cooperativism and other forms of organised labour in Europe.
Local, national and international solidarity economies and associated enterprises are highly varied in form, reflecting the diversity of economic and political conditions experienced around the world and the priorities that motivate local action. In the Global South, particularly Latin America, these responses have tended to be survival strategies on the part of those excluded from the formal economy under authoritian regimes and/or those dedicated to market-led models of national development. In Europe and other industrialised settings they have tended to be reactions against systemic patterns of social marginalisation and commoditisation of care. What they have in common in an explicit repoliticisation of the economic sphere in ways that emphasise values of sharing, mutual support, inclusion and democracy and attention to the qualities of interrelationship that support these. They thus represent a joint call for democratisation of both economics and politics to reflect collectively articulated notions of the common good.
The solidarity economy can be seen to have emerged from a number of distinct strands or currents. These include worker self-management initiatives across the industrialised world; popular economy and landless movements in Latin America; proximity services seeking to address common social problems in many Western European countries; the fair trade movement in its 'south-south' and 'north-north' as well as 'south-north' forms; and various initiatives in solidarity finance, community currencies and ethical banking. Their strength, and transformational potential lies in their insistence on viewing economic activity as a means to strengthening democractic participation and social solidarity, in the service of humanitarian and, in some cases, ecological goals rather than fiscal or other quantitative goals. Various proximity services initiatives have been supported by national and EU financial and administrative support, including through the LEADER programme and certain job creation schemes. Such support has often been at the costs of reproducing the very systemic and cultural structures the initiatives seek to challenge, demonstrating the inseparability of their social goals from the requirement for political and economic transformation.
Social and Solidarity Economy
According to a thinkpiece for UNRISD (the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development) by Emily Kowana, the solidarity economy overlaps with the more radical end of the social economy. Part of the social economy fulfils a stabilising role for capitalism by delivering vital functions in care and social provision not catered for by profit-led enterprise, thus reducing exclusion and minimising possibilities for social unrest. The other seeks fundamental reform of the economic system in order to prioritise social over fiscal goals and environmental and social ethics over market logic, in line with the more transformative agenda underlying solidarity economics. The term 'Social and Solidarity Economy' encompasses this area of overlap, and refers to the combination of the solidarity economy and that part of the social economy that seeks to be transformative rather than conservative of the existing economic system.
The Réseau intercontinental de promotion de l’économie sociale solidaire (RIPESS) promotes, undertakes and coordinates action, advocacy and scholarship in support of the social and solidarity economy. The RIPESS charter states a number of key values: humanism; solidarity, mutualism, cooperation and reciprocity; social, political and economic democracy; universal equity and justice for all, including in relation to gender, race, ethnicity, class, age and sexuality; sustainable development; pluralism, inclusivity, diversity and creativity; and localism or subsidiarity, meaning decision-making and management on as local a level as makes sense.
Solidarity Economy and Resilience
- Ould Ahmed, P., 2015. What does ‘solidarity economy’ mean? Contours and feasibility of a theoretical and political project. Business Ethics: A European Review 24, 425–435.
- Dacheux, E., Goujon, D., 2011. The solidarity economy: an alternative development strategy? International Social Science Journal 62, 205–215.
- Laville, J.-L., 2010. The Solidarity Economy: An International Movement. RCCS Annual Review.
- Kawano, E., 2013. Social Solidarity Economy: Toward Convergence across Continental Divides. UNRISD thinkpiece.
- RIPESS, 2015. Global Vision for a Social Solidarity Economy: Convergences and Differences in Concepts, Definitions and Frameworks. RIPESS working paper.