CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1As the “Main news” section of this issue of RECMA makes clear, the post-crisis of COVID-19—if the beginning of the summer of 2020 can be designated as such—has brought an issue from the early 2010s back to the fore: how to envisage the relationship between the SSE and social entrepreneurship. The terms of the debate have changed, however, for several interconnected reasons. First, people are more aware of the aggravation of the climate crisis, as demonstrated by changing eating habits and the results of the French municipal elections. Second, inequality has grown over the past decade. In 2019, poverty in the southern hemisphere grew, and in 2020, while the GDPs of countries in the Global North fell, the wealthiest individuals used the pandemic to enrich themselves. The third reason concerns the development of capitalism itself: the norms of the financial economy, which used to be restricted to a few large private firms, have spread to commercial exchanges and the public policies of Western governments.

2The fourth and final reason concerns national policy. The celebration of the centenary of France’s 1901 Law of Associations—particularly the signature of the charter of reciprocal commitments—was a cause for hope, but the government proceeded to turn its back on associations. The continued rise of public procurement in the place of subsidies, the drastic reduction in subsidized employment contracts, the general decline in public assistance, and the quasi-imposition of social-impact bonds have contributed to depriving the nonprofit sector, a central actor in the democratic life of the nation, of its capacity to act and to intervene in public debate. At the same time, the state has been actively supporting startups—including social startups—, granting them 4 billion euros in aid (through the secretary of state for digital affairs) since April 2020, as well as subcontracts for general-interest projects. By contrast, a lack of means and support has forced NGOs, whose value to society has rarely been so keenly felt as during the spring of 2020, to suspend or cut back their activities.

Resisting the commercialization of solidarity

3Although these sea changes have made solidarity an attractive market, several major actors in the SSE, as well as some new initiatives—mostly by nonprofits and cooperatives—are attempting to sidestep these changes in an effort to reduce the risk of obsolescence or isomorphism. In order to survive, the SSE has no choice but to demonstrate that its method, which is certainly original, is the most appropriate for containing the ecological crisis, reducing inequalities, and helping public collectivities function more democratically.

4Numerous nonprofit, cooperative, and mutualist initiatives are working toward this end. They are developing innovative solutions at the micro and meso levels—that is, at the enterprise and inter-enterprise levels—and often within project territories. Theorizing, however, must now take place at another level, as is made clear by the remarkable special report on mutual insurance companies in this 357th issue of RECMA, introduced by Philippe Abecassis and Nathalie Coutinet. The modern history of mutualism, from its inception to its first years on the market, and then to liberalism and the necessary adoption of new differentiation strategies, underscores the major societal issues that are directly linked to the ability to bring to life mutualist ethics and principles. Beyond their specific trajectories, the general development of mutual insurance companies speaks to the need to consider not only the participation, governance, and management of mutual insurance companies, but also the broader mutualist project in twenty-first-century society.

5It is necessary to consider not only new forms of market regulations, but also new economic proposals that will make it possible to conceive of a withdrawal from the market of certain SSE activities, such as health, culture, education, and welfare work. We are under no illusions that the SSE will have the power to bring about this kind of change in the immediate future. We instead maintain that the SSE’s field of thought needs to be broadened so that it may rise to the level of its external interfaces with the dominant economy and society as a whole, interfaces that are vaster than ever.

Creating a framework of thought

6As Jérôme Saddier, president of ESS France, has stated, “We are also going to have to do things greater than ourselves: participate in the construction of new rights, cross borders, bring with us a demand for a different relationship to production and consumption, help reduce social and territorial divisions, take a stand against the tech giants.” [1]

7To succeed, the SSE needs to be able to refer to a shared framework of thought. Clearly such a framework does not currently exist. Worker cooperatives in the early nineteenth century created one for themselves. Limited though it was, it was precise and became law. Later, users’ associations and consumers’ cooperatives created another, which was large, powerful, and controversial. In the 1970s, Claude Vienney and Henri Desroche conceived of the organization and plan, respectively, for a nascent social economy. Thought on contemporary SSE innovations—particularly in the French language thanks to the work of colleagues from Belgium, Quebec, and numerous North African and sub-Saharan African countries—is very promising. RECMA and other publications are a testament to this flurry of intellectual activity. We have reason to hope that in the coming years a framework of thought shared by SSE practitioners and theorists will emerge.

8The SSE needs this framework in order to plan, occupy new spaces where it can reinvent itself, and become the proposal for major social and economic change that it aspires to be—even if only to lead to a more fruitful debate.


  • [1]
    Jérôme Saddier, “Appel à tous ceux qui font l’économie sociale et solidaire: ‘Pour que les jours d’après soient les jours heureux!’,” ESS France, May 4, 2020.
Jean-François Draperi
Uploaded on on 26/02/2021
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