Social welfare for all: The potential of a Social Solidarity Economy

August 17, 2016

ICSW Global Cooperation Newsletter, January 20162016 is the first year of the ambitious United Nations plan to achieve sustainable development by 2030. What is striking is the close link of many, if not most, of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals to issues related to social welfare, social justice, human rights, health and education, housing, food and nutrition, in other words to all aspects of human life that are at the core of the International Council on Social Welfare‘s (ICSW) work.

These issues are also at the core of a Social Solidarity Economy (SSE)—a framework that explores forms of production and exchange that aim to satisfy human needs, build resilience and expand human capabilities through social relations based on varying degrees of cooperation, interaction and solidarity. All over the world, organisations promoting such economic organization are strengthening their efforts in areas such as cooperative housing and community land trusts, local foods systems, health services, financial services, and so on. SSE has many similarities with the historic social economy (cooperatives and mutuals). For the SSE movement, the sense is that this is not enough, and there is a need for a more global approach leading to deeper changes in society, addressing inequality, promoting community participation and solidarity with society at large and not only for the members of the coops and mutuals.

Over the past 20 years in particular, the SSE approach has grown in many countries, both developed and developing. In good part, these initiatives are the result of grassroots initiatives by people joining their efforts and getting together to satisfy existing needs that neither the State alone nor the market-driven economy can provide for. In the wake of the 2008-2009 financial and economic crises, with their effects still felt even now, this approach has increasingly inspired strategies and activities to fill part of the unmet needs of the population. People need jobs and income to live. In many countries, people initiate SSE for that purpose. SSE has also gained visibility, given its resilience in the financial crisis and the recognition that it provides an alternative to the speculative financial economy.

Many countries have also developed programs, and in some cases passed laws, to support this approach. For example, there was already legal infrastructure, including laws and regulations, for traditional social- economy organizations, such as cooperatives, mutuals and associations. Many of the new initiatives involve other types of organizations, such as non-profit businesses, community supported agriculture, fair trade, etc. In South America, for example, Ecuador and Colombia each passed laws, and even included pertinent provisions in their Constitutions, while national secretariats on a solidarity economy were set up in Brazil and Bolivia.

In May 2013, the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) organized the largest United Nations conference on SSE ( in Geneva. Organized in collaboration with the ILO and UN-NGLS, that event led to the publication of a book “Social and Solidarity Economy: Beyond the Fringe” (Utting 2015) and the creation of the UN Inter-Agency Task Force on SSE in September 2013. The Task Force now has 19 UN Agencies as members and 5 Observers, including my organisation, the International Network for the Promotion of the Social Solidarity Economy (RIPESS). In 2014, the Task Force published a Position Paper on the Social and Solidarity Economy and the Challenge of Sustainable Development. The Position paper identifies the potential in eight areas, most of which have a social welfare component:

  1. Transitioning 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 paper provides many examples of social protection schemes and programmes, including health insurance, as well as the social benefits that derive from moving people from the informal economy to the formal economy.

Besides examples in the paper, other examples can be seen in a paper under preparation by the FAO Global Forum on Food Security and Nutrition, on the role of rural organisations in social protection. A webinar was held on November 25 and can be consulted here. The report will be published soon.

ASSEFA -ASSOCIATION FOR SARVA SEVA FARMS– Over 11 000 villages, in the states of Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh (INDIA) have set up multiple social protection schemes, with women’s self-help group (AHG) at the core.

Crop-Loss Compensation – The scheme is managed by Mutual Benefit Trusts (MBT, a federation of SHG’S) and is activated when farmers achieve lower yields than an established threshold. To reduce the risk of loss, farmers are trained and provided with agricultural inputs. The progress of the crop growth is monitored regularly and supported by the MBT. A nominal fee is collected from registered farmers accruing to the financial stock of MBTs.

Cattle-Protection Scheme – This scheme is run by the Federation of Dairy Cooperatives and compensates farmers who have lost their livestock. Farmers get credit to buy animals and pay a nominal fee (4% of the credit amount), which also pays for the insurance on the animal.

Wage-Loss Compensation – This scheme is also run by the MBTs and provides compensation for women who cannot attend their work during the last 3 months of pregnancy. MBTs organise recurring fundraising campaigns every year between September and October on the occasion of the Vinoba (a Gandhi follower) anniversary and Gandhi’s birthday. These funds are used to subsidise the scheme. An average of 2500 women benefit from wage-loss compensation: they are paid for travel to public-health clinics, and receive maternity kits and training to take care of the newborn.

One of the case studies, on ASSEFA in India, was prepared by the author of this article.

Provision of health services is another area where SSE-related initiatives have developed in recent years. In Rwanda, 90% or the population have health services covered by a mutual insurance scheme. In Mali, 1070 community health centres provide basic services, work on malaria and HIV-AIDS prevention, with priority given to children and women. In 2014, on the occasion of the International Cooperative Summit, An international survey of co-ops and mutuals at work in the health and social care sector, research led by Jean-Pierre Girard presented the situation in over 50 countries around the world. In some countries, such forms of assistance are complementary to public services, as in the case, for example, of home-care services for the elderly or people with disabilities. In other countries, SSE organisations manage part of the public service, such as hospitals in Japan (about 25