UN Social and Solidarity Economy Conference Yields Rich Results

May 24, 2013

On 6-8 May, UNRISD held a major international conference on Potential and Limits of Social and Solidarity Economy, co-hosted with the ILO and in partnership with UN–NGLS, Hivos, the Rosa Luxembourg Foundation and the Ville de Genève. The conference was a great success in terms of both participation and outcomes.

The opening session included political and academic figures. Paul Singer (National Secretary of Solidarity Economy in Brazil), Guy Ryder (Director-General of the ILO) and Sarah Cook (Director of UNRISD) opened the Conference to a full house in the ILO’s Governing Body room. José-Luis Coraggio from the Universidad Nacional de General Sarmiento gave the keynote address. (See the agenda for more information on the sessions.)

Some 300 people attended the conference, representing a rich mixture of academics, UN policy makers, practitioners and civil society organizations. They made good use of the opportunity the conference presented to exchange views and knowledge taken from their different perspectives in the presentations, Poster Session for PhD students and Practitioners’ Forum.

Concrete results of these exchanges are already beginning to materialize.

  • Participants in the UNRISD conference, where the need to establish intergovernmental forums on SSE was discussed, have been directly involved in building the connection between the ASEAN Leadership Forum and RIPESS. The intergovernmental ASEAN Leadership Forum, taking place in conjunction with the 5th International Meeting of RIPESS, the Intercontinental Network for the Promotion of the Social Solidarity Economy, in Manila, Philippines in October 2013. This will bring members of ASEAN governments into direct contact with SSE representatives and practitioners.
  • An initiative is under way to establish an Interagency Task Force on SSE within the United Nations. The ILO is taking the lead in bringing relevant UN agencies together for regular exchanges on their programming and policy making in the field of SSE. It will focus UN efforts related to SSE and raise the profile of the social and solidarity economy in the UN system.

Social and solidarity economy has arguably been under the intergovernmental radar, but through initiatives like the UNRISD conference this situation is changing. The first steps have been taken—the challenge now is to use the momentum generated and carry the process forward.

View the Video Newsreel of the SSE conference.

Practitioners’ Forum
Fourteen practitioners of social and solidarity economy presented their work in this forum and engaged in lively exchange with other participants. Practitioners included social enterprises and networks of social enterprises, alternative finance groups, an Internet platform, a think tank and a social entrepreneur. Minuto Cash involved visitors in their Minuto Game, a hands-on introduction to the use of an alternative currency.

For information on the participating practitioners, see the conference booklet, pages 41-43.

PhD Poster Session
PhD students working on issues relating to social and solidarity economy presented their work in the poster session and responded to the questions and comments of participants. Maria Granados from the University of Westminster in London recieved the most votes for “best poster” for hers, titled Developing Knowledge Management Capabilities in Social Enterprises. Thirteen students from as many universities participated. There were case studies from Bolivia, China, India, Italy, Tanzania and the Great Lakes Region of Africa.

For information on the topics and poster presenters, see the conference booklet, pages 23-24.

Book Presentations
Presenters included Hagen Henrÿ, who presented Guidelines for Cooperative Legislation; Claudia Sanchez Bajo, who presented Capital and the Death Trap; Bina Agarwal, who presented Gender and Green Governance; and José Luis Coraggio, who presented Dictionnaire de l’Autre Economie.

For information on the book presentations, see the conference booklet, pages 15 and 33-34.

Special Session on Alternative Finance and Complementary Currencies
This special session, organized by the United Nations Non-Governmental Liaison Service (UN-NGLS), examined the potential and limits of a range of innovative financial and monetary tools—especially community banks and complementary currencies—to scale up SSE initiatives and build more resilient, socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable territorial development strategies. It provided an opportunity to better understand the diversity and complementarity of these emerging instruments, which are still little known and understood in mainstream academic and development policy circles.


Trade Unions and Worker Cooperatives: Where Are We At?
This seminar, held by the ILO on 9 May, brought together researchers and practitioners from around the world to talk about some of the issues and experiences that cooperatives are facing today. Participants heard presentations from Argentina, Brazil, Canada (Quebec), India, Italy, Africa and the Mercosur region, and discussed ways of strengthening relations between trade unions and cooperatives. The seminar was organized by the ILO’s Bureau for Workers’ Activities and the ILO’s Cooperative Branch.


Conference Papers and Presentations
The speeches, presentations and 42 draft papers from the conference, including those from the NGLS Special Session, are available online. The conference booklet, with all details and abstracts, is also available. Podcasts of all sessions are coming soon.

Go to the list of conference papers and presentations.

Think Pieces on Social and Solidarity Economy
This series of think pieces by scholars and practitioners working on a broad range of issues within the field of SSE is one of several activities in the UNRISD inquiry on “Potential and Limits of Social and Solidarity Economy”. These contributions present in a succinct manner a variety of perspectives, including the nature and impacts of different organizational forms; and the prospects for realizing the potential of SSE in different institutional and political contexts.

Go to the list of think pieces.

Social and Solidarity Economy: A Pathway to Socially Sustainable Development?

Peter Utting

As the international community attempts to tackle a complex set of twenty-first century development challenges, attention has focused on the possibilities of more integrated models of development. Both the concept of sustainable development (centred on economic growth, and social and environmental protection) and the classic model of “embedded liberalism” are found wanting from the perspective of integrative development. In this think piece, Utting argues that, in today’s world, five key dimensions need to be addressed simultaneously: economic development, social protection, environmental protection, gender equality and sociopolitical empowerment. The field of Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) seems to have considerable potential in this regard. Can that potential be realized?


What Is Social and Solidarity Economy and Why Does It Matter?
Governments and international organizations need to be paying far more attention to SSE, and question how its developmental and emancipatory potential can be realized. They should also be asking themselves whether current priorities or biases in development policies are not missing, or indeed undermining, what could be a major new game in town.

A guest contribution by Peter Utting, Deputy Director, to the “From Poverty To Power” blog by Duncan Green, strategic advisor for Oxfam. It was also published on the World Bank’s blog, “People, Spaces, Deliberation“.

All publications downloadable from the UNRISD website are free!


United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD)

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