Rabat - I have recently had the privilege of attending discussions of alternative development models focusing on Social and Solidarity Economy (henceforth SSE). While the debate is not new, one has to admit that major theoretical advances have been made as a result of the widespread of SSE experiences throughout the world and in various socioeconomic sectors. Among the fundamental issues that underpinned the discussions, the following questions, re-formulated here in a rudimentary expression, seem to be central:
Rabat – I have recently had the privilege of attending discussions of alternative development models focusing on Social and Solidarity Economy (henceforth SSE). While the debate is not new, one has to admit that major theoretical advances have been made as a result of the widespread of SSE experiences throughout the world and in various socioeconomic sectors. Among the fundamental issues that underpinned the discussions, the following questions, re-formulated here in a rudimentary expression, seem to be central:
Can there not be ways for social and economic models that have been traditionally taken to be diverging to coexist in the same country and to serve the collective life project of the same community?
Is it necessary for economic competition to exclude social solidarity in a development model or that solidarity based economic options exclude the principles of liberal economic options?
Can there not be ways of conciliating the values of a socialistic system and those of free enterprise and personal initiative?
Can there be a situation in which these systems will be supportive of each other and not in a perpetual conflicting relationship to dominate each other? In other words, can systems currently perceived as diverging and conflicting coexist without endeavoring to dominate and exclude each other?
While these questions may not be original and that many will find them to have become tautological, they are neither self evident nor easy to address. In fact, the crucial relevance of these questions is constantly renewed, on the one hand, by the increasing awareness of the close interrelationships between the models of knowledge generation and ownership, social organization, human activity including the use of natural resources in the production processes, technological innovation and, on the other hand, by the impact of all these factors both on the environment and on human attitudes. The general feeling is that either men and women become aware of the impact of these relationships on the prognosis of their survival as a kind and behave accordingly or the disintegration of the capabilities of the planet to sustain life will accelerate at paces they will be unable to keep up with. Furthermore, the diagnosis of the current situation is that top down political decision processes dominate other approaches, environmental management approaches are abusive, many categories of key stakeholders are excluded from the negotiation of the options available, claims from nature are disrespectful of its balances and consumption behaviors restrain its capacity to renew itself and to regenerate its resources.
The consensus is that these collective behaviors have become more decisive than ever before in the deterioration not only of public health, the conditions necessary for social peace, economic stability and political coherence but also for the long term viability of humanity which seems to have given up on intelligence. To recover this precious faculty and rehabilitate it, Humanity will have to accept that intelligence will either be collective, inclusive, participative and comprehensive and at the service of the wellbeing of all in compliance with the objective constraints of nature or it will not be. It will have to understand that the disintegration of civilization has already started and may become completely irreversible unless actions are taken with no delay. Knowledge will either be promoted to become a collective culture shared and owned by all or its monopoly by a few will turn the mind into a factor of decay, self destruction and rot of the city.
Alternative development models: the case of social solidarity economy.
In the framework of this vein of thought, the philosophical considerations, the ideological discourse, the cooperation and aid mechanisms, the global financial chain, the critical relations between SSE and market economy, the questions of management and governance that make up the foundation of various SEE practices all need to be addressed as pre-requirements of the implementation of alternative development projects. Evaluation, responsibility and accountability issues which are integral part of any governance model are to be addressed as ongoing learning processes that feed the whole project in a cyclical and reiterative manner. The systematic continued redefinition and fine tuning of these components will be crucial for the coexistence of the various models and for their capacity not only to meet their respective objectives but to integrate them in a comprehensive approach in which their inherent contradictions can be resolved.
The conditions for SSE to anchor in a society
As SSE is being established as a solid movement engaging all human activities including political decision making, consumption models, production processes and the respect of the environment, appropriate mechanisms have to be found so as to integrate it in public policies. To be successful, this integration needs to be framed in legislative reforms that cater to the coexistence of previously conflicting models and to the financial enabling of the new ones. Actually, SSE can but be cooperative, involve all stakeholders in an active and dynamic manner and adequately resourced, otherwise it might fire back and generate new categories of forgotten populations with all the consequences that entails.
When creating a comprehensive context in which appropriate tools of social economy can operate and/or optimize their performance, planners, political decision makers and development experts especially those foreign to the culture they are planning for, need, however, to be aware that the complexity of social and economic dynamism in developing countries may have encompassed in the past several cases of social and economic solidarity prior to the creation of these tools. In a way, necessity may probably have created naturally adjustment measures which need to be taken into account and/or improved in terms of their governance and specific nature. Moreover, because these adjustment measures are native and endogenous, chances are that they will be more appropriate than any other tools developed in laboratories by experts alone for the purpose. In fact, throughout history, and especially in times of crises, populations have often developed ways for mutualizing their assets and resources in their collective effort to meet the various natural and social challenges and meet their constrained needs. Social mechanisms for transferring knowledge, agricultural know–how, water management methods, recycling waste and used commodities and attitudes towards nature and the environment in general are, for example, cases worth learning from.
Collective will, which could also be referred to as political consensus, constructed on the necessity of maintaining the sustainability of the community and its survival, however, often becomes more difficult to maintain as a result of the over-specialization and capitalization of the tasks of the process of producing the goods and the services for the community. It has been observed, however, that the values of mutualizing resources, both human and natural, that cement the various socio-professional groups of the community usually lose their compatibility simultaneously – or as a relatively immediate consequence – with the inclusion of capitalistic variables in the rules that both govern exchange of products and services and regulate social and political interrelationships.
Society has, thus, undergone changes that have affected negatively solidarity habits and traditions as well as the economic and living conditions that made them possible until a relatively recent past. The housing opportunities available in big cities, for example, have caused extended families to shatter. A person can, for example, no longer host and feed brothers and sisters and/or cousins and/or parents and grand parents because of lack of space and the change of the structures of time, working conditions and income even when the value of the latter may have increased.
Further observed constraints to the anchorage of SSE
Because social and economic solidarity development models privilege long term objectives, and therefore have long term expectations of impacts and returns, classical political players who need immediate outcomes to produce as evidence of their performance in the periodic confrontations with adversaries shun them. Classical funding organizations which need short term visibility and hard guarantees shy away from them even when the risks associated to them are reasonable. This paradoxical situation makes it difficult for holders of SSE projects to fare through the red tape and the bureaucracy in charge of social engineering, economic development and investment and through.
At the international level, and as a result of the increased integration of aid into business, the situation may even be tougher to go through the too rigid top down flow of information and of the funds that have theoretically been ear tagged for the support of SSE projects. Eligibility for the validation of projects poses serious problems to them because of deficits in management and governance capacities due to the limited literacies of their holders.
Furthermore, the competition of INGOs for the funds available for advocacy, training and actual implementation of development projects disqualifies local and national organizations which lack the capacities which the donors require.
At a more individual level, it avers that the career objectives of most young men and women exclude both private initiative and cooperative alternatives. They tend to fear the risks related to entrepreneurship and to reject the idea of creating activities for which they would be responsible and accountable. If they have no personal career projects other than jobs in the public sector, it seems that most probably it is because they have never been sensitized to nor trained in how to start and care for their own business. In fact, the culture of entrepreneurship has remained alien to the national educational system until very recently. In fact, the current situation is such that less school young men and women have attended, the more open they are to engaging in various business and professional sectors. In a way, the public school has killed initiative and the mind set that accepts the kind of risk necessary for entrepreneurship.
The training condition
Training of youth in entrepreneurship and enhancing their positive attitudes towards personal initiative is therefor critical. An important preliminary condition for any such training and awareness raising efforts is to dissipate the ambiguities and confusions in which mistrust rises and thrives. In fact, concepts are not all, and always, mutually and equally understood. Likewise, because values, which are what makes SSE a privileged option to respond to meet the increasing diversity of the needs of the populations least served by other programs are not framed in adequate legal statuses, their interpretation is undertaken according to different, possibly contradictory, references.
In fact, the ambiguities at work are essentially conceptual in nature and involve diverging interpretations of propositions and of concepts. Necessary work needs to bring together the various stakeholders – researchers, development workers, NGO managers, beneficiaries, donors, political decision makers at the national and local levels in a collective process of identifying objectives as well as of agreeing on the meanings of concepts and the procedures for credible dialogue and discussion. Short of this preliminary communication process, misunderstandings and, possibly also, conflicts, will rise and persist. To secure success conditions to this process, it has to be steered by professionals and to involve researchers, academics, field practitioners and political decision makers at various levels.
The training called for also includes capacity building in the governance of SSE enterprises which should be managed, evaluated and duly audited in compliance with existing good practices and good governance principles. This should give a transparent image of SSE projects which would, hopefully, encourage donors to support them and investors to take risks in/with them.
Ideas are great to have. Nevertheless, alone, they are not enough to make results and to achieve ambitious objectives. To transform ideas into feasible projects and to formulate them in manners accessible to decision makers of all categories, they need to comply with rigorous methodological requirements which are not naturally acquired and which are learned only through effective training. This means that the training of holders of SSE projects should include techniques of collegial identification of needs, identification of possible sources of funding, budgeting, auditing, evaluation, internal and external communication, design of technical specification documents, projects, etc. Technical support initiatives and funding mechanisms should, therefore, be made available to cover all these stages.
Because SSE is a comprehensive alternative, the sensitization effort should also include in addition to communication, management and governance, issues of responsible consumption, environment friendly production processes and living together attitudes which are all key in materializing the innovative ideas of the model.
The responsibilities of the State
The political responsibilities incumbent to the state in this domain include legislation and the creation of the legal statuses conducive to the enhancement, regulation and protection of SSE practices. SSE needs to be protected and to operate in a regulated economic environment because it is not alone in the field. SSE enterprises interact with market economy businesses which are profit driven and which may be powerful enough to drive them out of business. For this reason, the interaction between the two different economic models should be regulated in some way, or at least taken into account, when designing and implementing economic public policies and budgets and engineering business, industrial and trade environments. However, social economy policies will not take off only as a result of political decisions; civil society, academics, researchers and development national and international, organizations all have a role in the development of a socially viable culture of solidarity.
Just as the State develops policies and strategies to promote specific sectors worldwide as is the case with the tourism industry and the export of industrial and agricultural products, it should also strive to ensure an international visibility and support of SSE and its products.
SSE is not about social assistance or providing charity to the needy. It is, rather, a comprehensive, global and dynamic alternative economic and social model for the survival of the planet and the viability of civilization. It is an opportunity for the promotion of quality, equity, transparency and bottom up and horizontal governance approaches that create credibility and trust in public policies, and therefore voluntary and willful adherence to urgent integrated development models. It is also an approach to conciliating the finite nature of the resources of the planet and their increasing exploitation for consumption purposes that have already used up its potential capability of renewing itself.
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