CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

1 The adoption of a universal definition of the social and solidarity economy (SSE) at the 110th Session of the International Labour Conference was a breakthrough in the recognition of this economic model. With this definition now being followed by the OECD, with the UN likely to follow suit, the SSE is emerging from the margins of the capitalist model to establish itself as a relevant alternative in order to meet the challenges of various transitions.

2 This recognition marks a major turning point. On the one hand, it seeks to group together a diverse set of businesses and organizations according to criteria other than legal stipulations and statistical measures. On the other hand, it aims to promote values and principles as a guide for pursuing decent working conditions and respect for individuals, communities, and the planet. This issue no. 365 takes a look at this ambition, while complementing the approach through various research studies.

3 Let us consider the historical background to the official recognition by the ILO. The international growth of the SSE made it necessary to move away from the strictly statutory approaches that were initially adopted. In 2003, the European Union put in place regulations that made it possible to set up European Cooperative Societies (SCEs), a counterpart to European Societies (SEs). The move produced poor results, and there are no more than 100 SCEs in existence today. By comparison, in 2010, the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA) went further, creating common regulations for cooperatives that replaced the legislation of its seventeen member states. Alongside these moves, there has been an increase in international encounters that have gone beyond the traditional exchanges within the cooperative movement. For the past twenty years, several regional international organizations have contributed to this development, the European Union in particular, but universal organizations have participated too, in particular the United Nations’ Task Force, which prepared the way and remains a force today. It is the ILO, however, that has made the most progress, as Eva Cantele reports in the “Main News” section of this issue, although other international organizations are following a similar path. Michel Abhervé and Benjamin Roger’s report on the European social economy forum, “Social Economy: The Future of Europe,” describes the movement at work at the European level. This institutional recognition is also expressed at the national level through legislative action, but this obviously varies from continent to continent and state to state, either because they have different legal systems, or because the cultural and political contexts differ.

4 Thus, conceptual and geographical borders are both shifting. The social and solidarity economy’s claim to provide the framework for a common narrative will only be credible if its identity is more clearly defined. At the same time, it must be flexible enough to stimulate imaginations and embrace new forms of commitment and economic activity, as it has already done for social enterprises and philanthropy.

5 Although the SSE has gained an increasing degree of international recognition, it is still necessary to identify, measure, and evaluate what it really represents. Grasping the precise nature of the social economy (SE) remains a major challenge for institutions, researchers, and actors, who need to define and count the entities that belong to it and evaluate their contribution to the economy. As Marie Bouchard and Rafael Chaves demonstrate in this issue, statistics offer a way of counting, not only to measure their weight, but also to establish the identity of the companies and organizations around the world that belong to the SE. However, statistics in different countries are exceptionally heterogeneous. A common denominator is the claim to values and principles such as voluntary association, autonomy and independence from the state, the primacy of people and labor over capital, democratic governance, and prohibitions or limitations on distributing surpluses. Beyond specific or more general legislation on the matter, the specificity or identity of SE organizations is very diverse at the international level. While the outlines vary, the concepts used to characterize them are more stable. The challenge is therefore to understand them without setting them in stone or normalizing them altogether. However, could institutional recognition bring greater visibility to the SSE?

6 All the recent international definitions of the social and solidarity economy highlight its transformative function. From that perspective, the place and role of the SSE can no longer be the same. Of course, the social and solidarity economy will not take over the entire economy, but that is not the issue. The aim is to provide a business model that responds to contemporary needs. Institutional recognition, despite undeniably supporting the social and solidarity economy and providing an indicator of its development, must be set against empirical realities and broader policies that may be heading in the opposite direction.

7 In France, for example, as Céline Bourbousson demonstrates, the process of institutionalization of a public value-oriented policy in the field of the SSE has changed its underlying rationale. In her analysis of pôles territoriaux de coopération économique (PTCEs) (territorial clusters of economic cooperation), the author underlines the shift from the “public value” approach embodied by traditional SSE networks to a “managerial” approach that has resulted from the public authorities’ appropriation of the tool. With this legitimation, the change in approach corresponds to a potential diversion of the initial objective of social transformation in favor of a moralization of capitalism. The work carried out within the Observatory of Territoires zéro chômeur de longue durée (TZCLD) (zero long-term unemployment areas), a national experiment that challenges the logic of employment, according to which “everyone has the duty to work and the right to obtain a job,” participated in this change of rationale, as Timothée Duverger’s contribution underlines.

8 A similar point is made by Anne Le Roy, Emmanuelle Puissant, and Sylvain Vatan, who examine the deterioration of home helpers’ working conditions. This deterioration reflects the change in rationale in line with the introduction of new public management in this and other medico-social activities (child welfare, support for people with disabilities, etc.), leading to a requalification of work in terms of identity formation. Both definition and measurement are therefore at the heart of this contribution. Here again, the shift toward a standard managerial approach focusing on efficiency is at odds with SSE practices, which are person-centered.

9 At a time when there is increasing anger in French engineering schools, with some students calling on their peers to steer clear of destructive jobs, Alexandrine Lapoutte and Laetitia Planas take a look at Coopératives Jeunesse de Services (CJS), cooperatives for young people that help them meet their aspirations and support them in their path toward emancipation. Imported from Quebec, CJSs endow young people with the “power to act,” helping students to become independent and to change practices, even if they may never have heard of the SSE. The authors demonstrate how, when successful, CJSs encourage entrepreneurship and popular education by drawing on three forms of “empowerment” that help young people improve their capacity for cooperation. Popular education acts as a lever for educating these young people about transitions through discussion and the co-construction of solutions.

10 Anna Cournac and Nathalie Touratier-Muller’s original article looks at corporate foundations as emerging partners within the SSE ecosystem. Although corporate foundations are non-profit organizations, established by one or more companies for a limited period of time to carry out a general interest project, they represent a new entity for the SSE, in particular through the redefinition of co-constructed partnerships and new forms of participation in the general interest. The authors identify their characteristics and study their place in the coordination and financing of actors, opening up a reflection on the role of corporate sponsorship and the governance of such arrangements.

11 Likely as a result of the major global catastrophes we have witnessed in recent years, including the 2008 financial crisis, which hit Greek banking cooperatives particularly hard, there has been a proliferation of critiques of capitalism centered around the search for another model of society. Adopting a historical perspective, Simeon Karafolas explains how the Greek cooperative credit system has evolved following the 2008 crisis, with cooperatives joining forces in order to provide greater stability.

12 This issue continues to focus on what makes the SSE unique and how it differs from the capitalist model, while also highlighting its fragilities. How can we meet today’s challenges without diluting the SSE model and without commodifying society (see, for example, Bruno Valat’s book on the health market)? What kind of transformation is necessary, and where does this transformative power come from? A historical perspective is therefore essential for understanding current movements, in France as well as internationally. Olivier Chaïbi’s contribution analyzes the series of seminars available on the Cedias website on the history of the social economy in Europe. Jérôme Saddier’s work on the economy of reconciliation and François Kerfour and Régis Tillay’s discussion of democracy in worker cooperatives seek to provide relevant alternatives in order to meet the challenges of transitions. And we must sharpen our critical sense and extend the SSE’s borders in order to re-enchant our democracy. These suggestions will provide some good summer reading.

13 Lastly, issue 365 launches the debate on ways of doing business differently. The RIUESS conference in Bordeaux on the theme “The SSE, an Actor of Transitions?” is discussed in the “Main News” section, presenting the richness of research on and for the SSE and fomenting frank exchanges between researchers and practitioners. Other international conferences such as those of Ciriec in Valencia, the ICA in Athens, and the International Forum in October, or indeed national conferences such as the RIODD conference in Paris, all attest to the vitality of the SSE as a means of providing a response to climate, social, economic, and societal emergencies. The SSE world is buzzing! Will the dialogue at these conferences live up to expectations and provide a response to the major challenges facing our societies? International recognition of the SSE leads us to believe so, but greater commitment is still needed.

14 We hope you enjoy this issue!

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