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Catalyzing worker co-ops & the solidarity economy

A Rainforest in Quebec

June 12, 2014
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When I try to explain what solidarity (or social or social-solidarity) economics is all about to someone who has never heard of it, I often ask them to imagine a rainforest, those awsome ecosystems that are often called such things as "incubators of life" and "lungs of the planet."  I quote from Wikipedia to help them make their picture:

It has been estimated that there may be many millions of species of plants, insects and microorganisms still undiscovered in tropical rainforests. Tropical rainforests have been called the "jewels of the Earth" and the "world's largest pharmacy", because over one quarter of natural medicines have been discovered there. Rainforests are also responsible for 28% of the world's oxygen turnover, sometimes misnamed oxygen production, processing it through photosynthesis from carbon dioxide and consuming it through respiration.

Then I ask them to imagine NYC or any region in the country they are familiar with that has businesses and services and customers that would resemble a rainforest. Usually an interesting converstion follows, but it doesn't really come down to earth.

Now I can almost bring them down to the ground. The Social Economy Reference Guide - Quebec tells the story of what Chantier de l’économie sociale has built in the Canadian province of Quebec. In the intro they describe this short (32 pages) publication as a

...reference tool on the social economy. It was designed for people developing educational activities on the social economy to provide them with reference materials and tools that will help them master the concepts they will be presenting.

It is that, but it is also a wonderfully lucid, striaght-forward, and well-designed presentation of a social and economic jewel. Here's how the first chapter begins:

The term social economy comprises two sometimes opposing terms:

– refers to the production of goods and services, contributing to a net increase in the collective wealth.

– refers to the social benefits or viability of these activities, not just their economic profitability. These benefits are assessed in terms of their contribution to democratic development, support for civic involvement, and the promotion of values and initiatives that foster individual and collective empowerment. In other words, social viability is the improvement of the community’s quality of life and well-being, especially through the delivery of more services. As is true of the traditional public and private sectors, social viability can also be measured through the job creation rate.

To simplify: the social economy is developed by enterprises that, rather than aiming for profits at any cost, are primarily interested in fulfilling a social mission while remaining economically viable. These enterprises are managed democratically and, as you will see in section VI, the range of social missions they fulfill is diverse.

Social economy enterprises are present in some 20 sectors.

Principles and operating rules of a social economy enterprise
Beyond their legal status, these enterprises are primarily guided by their principles and related operating rules. The five principles or operating rules of a social economy enterprise:

I invite you to read and even download the whole thing at

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