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SOCIAL AND SOLIDARITY ECONOMY
An international conference in collaboration with UNRISD - Geneva - 2013

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Global crises and growing concerns about the social and environmental consequences of our market-oriented development pose the question of how we might imagine alternative forms of production, finance, and consumption. In different regions all over the world, Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) is often given as the answer.

What exactly is meant by Social and Solidarity Economy? SSE refers to organizations that differ from conventional enterprises by pursuing explicitly economic and social (as well as environmental) goals. They also include co-operative, associative, and solidarity relations. If we look at macro-economic, commercial, and social-economic indicators, it is quite obvious that these models are on the rise.

Realizing the development and emancipatory potential of SSE worldwide, UNRISD (United Nations Research Institute for Social Development) launched a project called “Potential and Limits of Social and Solidarity Economy.” 500 researchers from 70 countries responded to a call for proposals, and more than 50 papers were selected to be presented at an international conference in Geneva, May 6-8, 2013. The Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung—New York Office co-sponsored this conference, which brought together researchers, policymakers, and civil society actors from all over the world.

The aim of the conference was threefold: to assess the role of SSE in inclusive and sustainable development; to raise the visibility of SSE debates within the United Nations system and beyond; and to contribute to the creation of a post-2015 development agenda.

About 300 researchers from various international organizations participated, including senior staff members from UN agencies like the ILO, FAO, UNDP, UN Women, UNCTAD, UNAIDS, and WHO; as well as representatives from the OECD, the Intercontinental Network for the Promotion of Social and Solidarity Economy (RIPESS), and the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), among others.

The conference served as a platform to bring together experiences from Western Europe and the Global South and to encourage a global dialogue on the potential of SSE. Fully half of all speakers originated from developing countries.

Conference Outcomes

SSE is often regarded as a “solution” for developed and developing countries to achieve necessary socio-economic and environmental goals, but there are also limitations and challenges that need to be addressed. The main findings of this conference were:

– There is interest in SSE within the United Nations, but it is fragmented. Since one of the goals of the UN’s work is to bring together country representatives and design development indicators, UN agencies must be better informed about SSE and it needs to become a priority in their work. This also applies to many international NGOs.

– There is no universal definition of SSE, which means that states and NGOs pursue very different approaches. It is therefore necessary to bring together these different perspectives and start a constructive dialogue on SSE. Diversity within SSE must be respected, as there will necessarily be region and country-specific concepts of SSE in place.

– The complexity of the relationship between state and SSE needs to be addressed, as the state can either enable or restrict SSE organizations.

– Given these findings, the next step is to use the momentum of this conference to expand the visibility of SSE, build a broad SSE movement, and pursue ways to put it on the UN agenda.

Please look here for a video highlighting the conference and its side events.

Along with the conference, the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung—New York Office supported a research paper by UNRISD that deals with the potentials and limitations in reaching the positive socio-economic and environmental outcomes that are often ascribed to SSE (“Social and Solidarity Economy: Is there a new economy in the making?”).

More material from the conference

Conference presentations, draft papers, podcasts and videos
Event brief
Newsreel video from the conference
Think pieces by scholars and practitioners

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