‘Junior Cooperativas’ – promoting employability of university students in the Basque Country

junior_cooperativasLegislation has been passed in 2013 in the Basque Country in Spain allowing students to form workers’ cooperatives called ‘Junior Cooperativas‘. The aim is that these can be a real and practical instrument for students to learn how to manage a cooperative, work with real clients and gain entrepreneurial skills during their courses.
The objective of these cooperatives is to create jobs for their members, i.e. the students, who develop their entrepreneurial skills by producing goods and services to real clients. The members can work full-time or part-time. In this way students will be ‘user members’ while they develop a project and ‘collaborating members’ when they are not developing a project.
Their goal is to be a real and practical instrument so its members can learn to manage a cooperative. A junior cooperativa is a cooperative society with a clear social objective: the practical implementation of the skills and knowledge acquired by the student, the ‘user partners.’
Tell us about how your university is promoting social enterprise and the social economy. Our aim is to give the field greater visibility, in all its successes and challenges,  to an international audience. Please get in touch socialeconomy@yorksj.ac.uk Twitter: @YSJSocialEcon;

“I feel passionately about consulting people with dementia. Still things are done for and to people with dementia, and I find that highly irritating”

Former nurse starts social enterprise to enable people with dementia to live a good life.

One of the chapters in the forthcoming handbook about teaching and practice of social economy in higher education will address social responsibility and transformation. The following case study is about the work done by Emily Abbott, founder and director of a UK social enterprise called Here:Now Dementia Ltd, a not-for-profit company limited by guarantee. Emily works alongside people who have dementia and public organisations to make modest changes to their buildings in ways that can be transformational for the well-being of those living with dementia.


Emily Abbott started Here:Now in 2013, having worked previously as a freelance. She explains the driving force behind her work:

“I want to change the way dementia is perceived, understood. You know, a couple of decades ago, people still would whisper ‘cancer’ rather than speak the word directly. There was a big stigma, it was very hush-hush. And that’s completely changed. But dementia’s in that position. And I’d love to see a really dramatic change – a more positive understanding of what dementia is”.

She points out that there is a very strong dementia carers’ lobby, but that this is not the same as hearing from the people who have dementia themselves. “Carers don’t have the same needs and thoughts and understanding as people with dementia. No matter how good they are, carers are not the same. And so I want to get people to understand that”.

As she explains, you would never have a cancer conference where most speakers are carers and then a couple of token people with cancer might get to speak. But that’s what happens with dementia at the moment. “There will be a few people with dementia, but it still feels quite tokenistic, and then you’ll have lots of representation from carers”.

Part of the work that she has been contracted to do is to help organisations find ways to hear the voices of people living with dementia. She works with York Minster, which has over 500 volunteers, some of whom will almost certainly have dementia. She is helping them think about actively recruiting people with dementia and supporting – openly saying ‘You are welcome’.

Emily is adamant that the changes needed to make buildings dementia-friendly are often small. She believes that these modest changes can be good for everybody, not just those living with dementia. As the room everybody has a strong interest in, she starts with toilets! She explains, “It’s about making little changes – it’s not difficult or dramatic. There’s no special secret. It’s about access.

“It’s about giving plenty of visual clues so things are easy to understand. Also, lighting and use of colour are very important. People with dementia often have problems distinguishing colour and that becomes harder as it progresses. Depth perception is also a big problem for lots of people with dementia. So if you have two completely different floor coverings that meet, that is often interpreted as a barrier, or a step perhaps. And that can lead to falls, or sometimes people just won’t walk further. And things need to look, you know… a tap needs to look like a tap. Or a toilet – if the flush is really obscure or hidden, that becomes very difficult. And it’s not just about being able to see it – it’s about it being very clearly a toilet seat. So if you have a white-walled toilet and you’ve got a white basin, and you can’t afford to completely redecorate it, you could paint a block of colour behind sink and behind the taps so they stand out more. It’s little things that. It’s not fancy. Also, really the most important thing is that very often, as the illness progresses people have incontinence problems. And so for an awful lot of people, they don’t go out because they’re anxious about being able to find the toilet. So good signage is important. Or, if somebody has a carer with them and they need to go into the toilet together, they need to be able to do that without being made to feel embarrassed about it. So often, lots of couples that I know, talk about… so their plan, places they go, they will go because they know ‘Oh, that café has a toilet where nobody notices if we both go in together’. You know, somehow it feels a bit more discreet”.

Reflecting on her training to become a nurse, Emily commented that “you just never were given that message that you can do something different.” This is currently being addressed in a professional development course for nurses at York University where Emily will be collaborating in teaching and assisting with feedback on students’ project for social innovation in community health. She believes it’s important that student nurses see their training opens up all sorts of possibilities for serving the public.

In terms of aspirations for the future, Emily has one simple one: to have a desk to work from away from her house. “The computer I use is the family computer, the desk that it is on I share with four other people”. She would also like to have a bank of reliable volunteers, trained by her and with the same understanding of helping people with dementia live a good life. She is interested in doing more teaching or training. In the long term she would like to have a base for people with dementia to “come and just be”.

Emily will be sharing some of her challenges and triumphs as a start-up social entrepreneur on this blog.

Reflections on the ‘social’ economy from Cusco, Peru

By Edwar Reynaldo Arenas Rocha

Edwar Reynaldo Arenas Rocha is Peruvian anthropologist who graduated in the University San Antonio Abad del Cusco (UNSAAC) in Peru. He is a member of the team working on the project  ‘Enhancing study and practice of the social economy in higher education’ at UNSAAC [1]. He has written this article for the project blog.

When discussing the social economy it is necessary to explain one’s position. The theoretical field is clearly under construction and the concept has many names, such as the ‘third sector’.

The theoretical models used to define the social economy are economic-political models: based on Keynesian and monetarist capitalism; and on socialism with centrally planned provision. But is the social economy an economic or a political model? Theoretically it is a concept that has many meanings; in practice it consists of collective and individual experiences, traditionally called cooperatives, mutual societies and associations.

José Luis Monzón (1998) argues that the social economy is not a replacement of the liberal capitalist system of the economy and is not a by-product of the cyclical evolution of capitalism, and I give him credit for this. However, he says that it emerges as an additional institution of the economic system [one asks, ‘which economic system?’], different from the public sector and the capitalist sector, and it is structured as these are.

I think that the social economy is not one more institution of the capitalist economic system as argued by Monzón. Rather, the economy has always been social, but this feature of being social has been lost over time. This current loss of the ‘social’ aspect manifests itself in what is called individualism, or the service of the few: corporations, for example.

So the ‘social economy’ aims to recover this characteristic of sociability of the economy, with which it was born, i.e. one at the service of society. I would argue that it is the economy itself that needs to be recovered, with its fundamental nature of sociability, rather than the creation of another sector within the system (mainly capitalist), as I believe Monzón was referring to.

However, the capitalist economic model has a public sector and a private sector. Let us take an illustrative example; each nation has a Magna Carta or constitution called a social contract. The constitution in Peru changed in 1993. Since then, this Constitution clearly stipulates; “… private initiative is free. It is exercised in a social economy of the market [2]. Under this regime, the State guides the development of the country and acts mainly in the areas of promotion of employment, health, education, security, public services and infrastructure [3]”

I have commented that the economic-capitalist political model has two variants: Keynesian and monetarist. The type introduced in Peru is monetarism, and this regulates all economic activities in the market.

A major deficiency in the analysis of the social economy is that it is not known exactly what the principles governing these two variants of capitalism are and what the principles governing the economic planning of socialism are. We do know that each economic model has political and economic principles. One of the principles governing the capitalist model is the private ownership of the means of production; and in socialist economic model planning it is the public ownership of the means of production.

There is a difficulty if in a nation’s constitution it is stipulated which economic model is accepted and therefore legitimised. Knowing that the monetarist variant is stipulated in the Peruvian Constitution we can state that it is the market that regulates all economic activity. It is a mistake to assert that the State should offer solutions to any failure of economic activity, when the State only guarantees actions as set forth in the Constitution. We would be falling into an interpretative error, since that would be demanding the intervention of the State, i.e. the Keynesian variant.

The monetarist variant of capitalism includes public and private activity, which is very different to affirming the principles stated previously regarding means of production.

Now the questions are: What principles was the economy born with?  If the economy was always social, why is it being considered as a third sector and not as an economic model? If the economy was always social, what are we therefore talking about? Are we not trying to return to the principles of the social character of the economy? We are therefore conscious that this has been lost.

But we are adding principles: reciprocity, solidarity and primacy of persons, self-management and internal democracy. The social economy is based on different principles to the two economic models above. Empirical evidence shows that the social economy works with different socio-economic principles from the two models referred to. So are we not talking about a new economic model?

If so, wouldn’t there be a paradox within this new economic model that it interacts within the market and accepts a national currency which is heavily tied to the international currency market.

Or that some empirical evidence is demonstrating that some organisations considered part of the social economy do not guarantee that they operate under its principles. In Peru, there are or there may be many “social institutions” that have nothing associative, mutual or cooperative about them other than their name, which serves only as a facade for activities involving profit and advantage.

[1] Peruano. Egresado de la Carrera Profesional de Antropología por la Universidad Nacional de San Antonio Abad del Cusco. Miembro del proyecto “Economía Social y Aplicaciones en la Educación Superior” de la UNSAAC-Cusco.

[2] The emphasis is personal.

[3] Art. 58 Constitución Política del Perú de 1993.

500 responses to social economy survey .. and counting

Thank you to everyone who has completed our survey. So far we have responses from:  Argentina, Colombia, East Timor, Guinea Bissau, Ireland, Mexico, Peru, Portugal, San Tome, Spain, United Kingdom!

and they include: cooperatives dedicated to food production, health, education and food retail;Survey_En

mutual financial associations owned by their members;

informal groups dedicated to producing crafts;

social enterprises seeking to promote employability of young people;

associations for local development;

and many more.

If you belong to an association which exists for the good of the community, a cooperative which works to provide fair working conditions to its members or to the public, if you work in a social enterprise which is aiming to address a social/environmental issue in your community, we would love you to be part of this. Your experience will help to inform universities as they teach human-centred and sustainable ways of doing business. It will only take 10 minutes.

See more about the social economy in higher education project

Complete the survey                              Complete the survey (UK version)

The survey is also available in Portuguese and Spanish:

Complete the survey in Portuguese

Complete the survey in Spanish (Latin America)

Complete the survey in Spanish (Spain)


Women entrepreneurs in Nairobi showing the way

The Social Economy in Higher Education project handbook will have a chapter on the importance of social capital to the social/solidarity economy. This article describes a women’s group in Kenya which is drawing on the bonds between a group of women to manage micro-finance in order to provide sustainable incomes to support their families and provide employment. This post is written by Mike Calvert, York St John University, UK, collaborator with the Social Economy in Higher Education project. 

Readers of the blog may have read an earlier post (Dec ’13) in which I described the work of four women entrepreneurs in Nairobi. Recently, I had the good fortune to meet them again in Nairobi and visit two of the enterprises. It is clear that they are going from strength to strength. Having paid back all the money they were lent in June 2013 with interest by November, they decided to take out KES30,000 each and step up their investment. A further injection of capital enabled them to increase the size of their loans. They had requested a longer period to return the money (December – August) and this had been agreed.

In the earlier post, the women described the impact the micro-finance had had on their lives:

Susan Wangui

Susan needed the money to expand her boutique. She sells clothes and cosmetics. She started by selling goods from home. As her customer base increased she needed the capital to expand. She had identified an opportunity but her limited finance was a brake on expansion. She regarded the funding and the funder as a ‘tyre jack’ (piga jecki in Swahili). She had found it easier to pay back the money than she had anticipated. She now employs one person to run the shop which frees her up for other tasks.

She had increased in business confidence as a result. Her aim was to register modest profits. She concentrated on customer care and customers speak well of her business. The principal challenge was the balance of what to take as salary and what to re-invest. This was seen as a delicate balance.

Jacinta Waceke

Jacinta was a housewife before meeting Mary. She earned her living by going to people’s houses cleaning clothes – an arduous and poorly remunerated task. She had acquired a kiosk but there was no produce to sell. The capital had enabled her to establish a greengrocery business. The intention was to have the kiosk divided into three sections to host a ‘hotel’ meaning a canteen and a shop. She intends to employ someone else to work with her.

Alice Muthoni

Alice used the money to expand her egg business. The issue for Alice was cash flow as it takes four and a half months to rear the chickens until they produce eggs and the cost of food, upkeep and electricity means that there are considerable outgoings but no income until the eggs are laid. She described herself as ‘almost stuck’. The income will enable her to have continuity rearing another batch of chicks whilst the others are laying eggs. She is now selling 16 trays a day (thirty per tray) and making KES1000 profit per day. The market demand is high for eggs. She is also selling the manure from the chickens adding to her income.

Eunice Mama Magiri

Eunice had been in the tailoring trade since 1986. She moved to her current place and had increased responsibilities for school fees and the house. She had visited Susan to request money when she learned of the project and requested the loan of KES20,000. She was not new to the market but needed the funding when she received an order that she could not source for lack of funds. This enabled her to supply clothes to Eldoret. She now had many orders and was keen to get more funding to allow her to expand.

Update: what have they been up to?

Susan and Milka outside Susan’s clothes shop

Susan and Milka outside Susan’s clothes shop

All four women have benefitted from the investments they have made. Eunice Mama has been able to control her cash flow. She is able to source materials more confidently and gives work to her previous employees who carry out piece work. Susan has diversified from selling women’s clothes to selling men’s and children’s clothes, shoes and cosmetics. Her business is flourishing. Jacinta wanted to diversify in terms of what she could offer at her kiosk. As a result of the second injection of money she has been able to provide samosas, chapattis, chips and tea and, most importantly, she is employing her husband full-time. Previously, he was doing odd job work digging gardens, etc. She is now talking about buying a cow which is an ambitious aim but with a cow yielding 30 litres a day, she could sell a great deal of milk apart from putting it in the tea – Kenyans tend to put tea in their milk and sugar rather than the other way around as in the UK! Jacinta is much more confident and can now feed her children well. Alice, who is breeding chickens, has been able to buy a second brood of 600 chickens and when the current hens are no longer laying eggs, will have a new source of eggs. She is currently using a wholesaler to sell her eggs. She is also selling more chicken manure (14 bags up from 10).

What then are the next steps?

With a further injection of capital, the group can currently draw on at least KES50,000 from the new capital in addition to the money they are paying back as it becomes available. They have decided amongst themselves that they are going to save KES 1,000 (£7) per month in addition to making their monthly payment. This is an important shift in their thinking as they plan to save for the future. A further investor is possible.

They have decided also to open an M-pesa account. M-pesa is a way of transferring money electronically via the mobile phone. This is highly developed in Kenya and can even be used by Kenyans without a bank account. This will mean that they can make payments or receive new monies via the phone rather than face-to-face.

Jacinta and Steve’s boys (Jeff, Ian and Michael) outside her shop/café

Jacinta and Steve’s boys (Jeff, Ian and Michael) outside her shop/café

Finally, they also talked about allowing the money to be used like an overdraft facility for those who needed cash in the short term and would pay it all off in a month (at 5% interest). It is interesting to note that they have gone from first time investors to behaving like social bankers. They are certainly sharpening their business acumen.

Entrepreneurial caution

A crucial decision is the extent to which they open the scheme up to others. They have now decided to offer a loan to another member of their core group (of 11 women) and to mentor that individual. This pilot will help them to understand the challenges of opening this up to a wider audience. There was reference in a previous blog to the issue of how much to draw as income and how much to invest. Their issue now is whether they should open a bank account and what interest their money would attract compared with what they can gain in terms of their own value-added work. They have decided to open an account that needs several signatories for withdrawal but they would rather re-invest money rather than see it sitting in a bank.

The group collectively want to move slowly but also have tasted the transformational impact of the investments to date and may be impatient. Our discussion touched on risk management and the need to ensure that they did not overreach themselves.

All four women and their mentor are showing that with a relatively modest level of help and close support and encouragement, they can produce impressive changes in their lives and businesses. It is early days but there are grounds for optimism and it is hoped that this model, however small, can benefit others.

Our next meeting will be in June 2014 when we will be able to visit the businesses and see for ourselves what is happening on the ground. Watch this space!

In the Cracks of Capitalism, Time Banks are on the Rise in U.S.

Following the 2008 economic crash, the need for innovative approaches to the economy has only grown larger. One such answer to that problem has been a strong resurgence in the use of “time banks,” a service for service exchange that skips the middle man of financial currency while building community in the process, according to a special report published by Al Jazeera America.

What is a timebank? From Rushey Green members' handbook

What is a timebank? From Rushey Green members’ handbook


Time banks are organizations where individuals come together to offer services, traditionally within their immediate community. In return for providing a service, individuals earn “time credits” based on hours donated, which can be redeemed from any other service provider in the system. The exchange of money is avoided all together and each service is treated equally.

Since the crash, over 300 time banks have popped up around the United States alone, “located everywhere from Appalachia to Oakland and run by institutions ranging from art galleries to retirement centers to hospitals,” Al Jazeera reports.

See article from CommonDreams.org

See the article on timebanks on the social economy in higher education project website. The project aims to gain an in-depth understanding of the social economy system, such as social enterprise, not-for-profit business, credit unions, cooperatives, etc. in order to enhance the study and practice of this field in higher education.


Guan Permaculture Centre – Solidarity economy in Colombia (pt 5)

In this final article written by university students from Colombia, Diana Meza writes about the values and practices of the local Permaculture movement. The social/solidarity economy in higher education project handbook will begin with a chapter on the values and beliefs systems of people working in the social economy, arguing that these underpin any work which has community and environmental concerns as part of its ‘DNA’

Article in Spanish by Diana Meza, student of social communication at Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, Colombia

Translated into English by Charles Hanks, UK, collaborator in the social economy in higher education project

Permacultura1Bucaramanga is a city where, paradoxically, over-construction is evident and yet there are more and more housing projects leaving fewer and fewer green spaces. Luckily for the inhabitants, however, there is a small group of people fighting to preserve the environment and for ecological education: Guan Permaculture Centre is an organisation which, without being officially part of the social economy, fully supports its aims.

Permaculture is a word few people know and a fewer still practise. It essentially consists of a sustainable system integrating housing and the natural landscape, saving materials extracted from the earth and, as a result, generating less waste.

The organisation stemmed from a concern about the constant harm humans inflict on the earth with toxins, chemicals, rubbish and other types of contamination that form part of our daily lives. One day, a group of friends decided, without ceremony, to live an eco-friendly life and to incorporate make that culture a habitual part of the people of Santander’s lives: one step at a time they formed the permaculture centre. The specific role that Guan plays in the region is to generate knowledge around bioconstruction so that people are aware of an economical, ecological and sustainable alternative living arrangement.



The people behind Guan have already been putting this into practice for two years, sharing their experience with others through workshops, run either by themselves or by international experts. The participants work together in a bioconstruction project and some of them end up joining the organisation as volunteers. It is important to note that there is no hierarchy at Guan: all the members take part collectively in decision-making and make up a network of sharing, be it materials or labour – they are in many ways more like a family than an organisation.

In a city where it seems titles and ownership are all-important and social inequality is evident, it is interesting to see such groups emerging, with ideas and projects that leave status and economic values to one side to make way for collective benefit which, though few of us acknowledge the fact, we all have a responsibility to achieve. It seems to me that this innovative bioconstruction project contributes to ecological development: the organisation is breaking with modern conventions and rediscovering a healthy lifestyle based on environmental conscience, that which our Guane ancestors themselves practised*; it is breaking with the consensus that in order to make a pizza or some biscuits you need a cooker or a sophisticated oven, reminding us that a clay oven performs the same function.


Permacultura11Guan Permaculture Centre exists to provide ecological education, convey messages about the responsible care we must take of the planet, nurture environmental conscience, and through this generate social impact in the sector. It is a non-profit organisation which, with a great deal of effort and love, is kept going by selling artisanal goods made from recycled materials, and various foods such as ready-to-bake dough, pesto, sauces, organic bread, as well as seeds, fertiliser and plants. There is a small fee for workshops which is used to pay the workshop leaders and to cover the students’ meals during their stay at the Centre.

*The Guanes were a South American people that lived mainly in the area of Santander and north of Boyacá, both modern departments of Colombia. They were farmers cultivating cotton, pineapple and other crops, and skilled artisans working in cotton textiles

Little visibility for big actions – solidarity economy in Colombia (pt 4)

This is the fourth article written by students of social communication from Bucaramanga, Colombia, as part of their collaboration with the social/solidarity economy in higher education project. The project aims to make the social economy more visible in the courses, research and practice of universities. In this article Paola Andrea Cogollo writes about Hypatia, an organisation which works for equality, peace and the rights of women through projects around, for example, education, art, ICT and sustainable tourism.

Hypatia: Corporation for equity, democracy and good living

Hypatia: Corporation for equity, democracy and good living


Article in Spanish by Paola Andrea Cogollo, student of social communication, Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, Colombia

Translated into English by Charles Hanks, UK, collaborator in the social economy in higher education project


What would happen if a more people were to contribute to the quality of other people’s lives, to unite to achieve something impossible for others?


corpohypatiaThis is how the Hypatia Corporation came into being, created by a group of women deciding to work collectively for their own interests and those of their families. In keeping with its name, Hypatia was formed by women who are today bringing their knowledge to the group and seeking a modern vision of the role of women in society, just as Hypatia of Alexandria did in the 4th century.

By developing different activities with marginalised groups and families, the Corporation tries to reconstruct and repair damage caused by both conflict and social discrimination, promoting the defence of human rights, especially those of women and ethnic groups.

Succeeding in this goal has been complicated for Hypatia, however, since much of their work goes unseen, due to a lack of support from other organisations.

The training, workshops, and other assistance and activities carried out by the Corporation have provided communities with a more complete support programme, not only a training space but what has become a space for mutual growth.

And Hypatia has managed to demonstrate its work by constantly making use of ICT, through its website and social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, which have made the public aware of their development and the results of their experiences within different communities; this is a vital communication tool as it helps the group financially and gives them more visibility in the public sphere.

The group of people behind the whole process must not be forgotten: 13 people who fight daily for a fairer, more humanitarian country, people with a broad social conscience who dedicate a large part of their lives and a great deal of their time to a corporation that pays them, yes, but also rewards them with smiles, hugs and satisfaction from those who receive their help.

It is, for me, gratifying to know that in a country where there is so much violence, big actions like these exist – however small some people may consider them – making this a simpler world for the thousands of families which benefit from the programmes offered by the Corporation. Evidence once again that to be happy, we don’t have to change the whole world.

UK social enterprises – please take our survey and help influence higher education
















If you work in a UK-based social enterprise (such as a social business, a community enterprise company, a cooperative, etc), could you spend 10 minutes completing a survey from York St John University? Click here for the survey.

Answers will inform a handbook about teaching and practice of social enterprise in higher education. It is part of an international project  which seeks to understand models of business for social purpose by learning from the people who make it happen.

At the end of the survey, there is an opportunity to put yourself forward for an in-depth interview or collaborate with the project in other ways.


If you are a non-UK social enterprise, we will launch a separate survey (which doesn’t have UK-specific aspects) shortly.

Thank you.

Corambiente backs farmland and the farmer – Solidarity economy in Colombia (pt 3)

This is the third article in a series of five from students of social communication from Bucaramanga, Colombia. The students found local organisations operating in the social economy (known as the solidarity economy in Latin America), visited them and wrote a report about them. In this article Laura Pradilla writes about an organisation in which people work to produce food for the community in sustainable ways and to lobby for a policy environment which supports this.

As part of the social economy in higher education project we are seeking to understand where social economy organisations, who they are and what they do (Chapter of handbook: Identity and profile of organisations)

Article in Spanish by Laura Pradilla, student at Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, Colombia.

Translated into English by Charles Hanks, Collaborator in the Social Economy in Higher Education project

How happy farmers would be if only they knew they were happy!” Virgil

Photo: foodresourcebank.org

Photo: foodresourcebank.org

For healthy land, a decent job and a better future: the Corporación Buen Ambiente (Good Environment Corporation, ‘Corambiente’) is backing the development of the Santander region’s farmers and carrying out food security proposals, starting with the recovery and improvement of organisational processes in farming communities, especially those displaced because of the armed conflict.

Corambiente carries out its work in different areas such as: farming for personal consumption; generating income; improving access to drinking water; supporting the creation and strengthening of community organisations, principally those for women and farm producers; and political lobbying to ensure that food remains a topic at the heart of local, regional and national politics.


Photo: foodresourcebank.org

Photo: foodresourcebank.org

Corambiente has been working for around nine years with the farmers of Santander, for which it has gained recognition in the promotion of good environmental practice, educational processes and the commercialisation of organic products offered directly onto the market by farming communities. For its work helping the rural population, Corambiente has in its turn received support from national and international bodies such as the Norwegian Refugee Council, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and the International Organisation for Migration.

Finally, Corambiente continues to implement its work and development expertise through participatory processes characteristic of the assistance it offers to rural communities, and as such the organisation is helping to secure a prosperous life for present and future generations.

More information about Corambiente

Solidarity economy in Colombia (pt 2) – 74 years of tradition

This is the second in our series of articles researched and written by students of social communication at the Bolivariana Pontificia University, Colombia, in which students research organisations working in the social/solidarity economy in Bucaramanga region of Columbia and write an article about them. This article looks at the Coopanales Cooperative. See previous article here. If other universities would like to involve their students in the social economy project in this way, please email socialeconomy@yorksj.ac.uk or tweet @ysjsocialecon

Article in Spanish by Paula Andrea Serrano Gélvez, student of Social Communication, Universidad Pontifícia Bolivariana, Columbia

Translated into English by Charles Hanks, collaborator in the social economy project


Cultivating sugar cane

The sugar cane (Saccharum officinarum L) “is a giant tropical grass, related to the sorghum and to maize, in the stem of which forms a liquid rich in sucrose, the compound which when extracted and crystallised in the sugar factory is turned into sugar. Sucrose is created by the cane thanks to the energy taken from the sun during photosynthesis”[1]. Although it is not originally a Colombian plant (it comes from South East Asia) the sugar cane has been one of the most important economic sources for this country for many years.

Various activities have developed around the farming of this plant, for example the artisanal production of panela, a type of brown sugar, which is “obtained through the extraction and evaporation of sugar cane juices, and manufactured in what are called panelero sugar mills”[2]. This trade is traditional in various parts of the country, such as Piedecuesta (Santander), where the majority of the work of the Coopanelas cooperative takes place. Part of the third economic sector, the organisation is dedicated to the commercialisation of its members’ products, all produced from sugar cane cultivation, such as panela.


Wrapped sugar cane

Since 28th November 1939, Coopanelas has helped its members, the majority of them land-owners and farmers, to sell their products at a fair price, as well as offering advice, assistance with crop-growing and sometimes even credits to enhance their economic activity.

Throughout this time the cooperative has not only offered support in the ways mentioned above, but has also educated others on topics such as the cooperative movement, inspiring its members with its key values: solidarity, comradeship and above all a respect for the rules.

According to Luis Enrique Figueroa, Coopanelas “was born, like all good things, of ambition and anxiety. Tax on panela was valued at very little – a laughable price in fact – which forced worried farmers to seek union and solidarity, credo of the cooperative movement, so as to get out of their predicament. And it has continued like this for so many years, bringing together individualist temperaments and unfriendly personal desires – a common trait of farmers by the way – and achieving the miracle, so to speak, of becoming an ‘interpreter’ for the land-owner, the harvester, even the rural worker who amidst the smoke of the sugar mill, dreams of a fairer future”[3].

Main oven

Principal oven worker

Sugar cane – cooling down

Despite so many years in operation, the outlook for Coopanelas does not look too encouraging; much of the farmland has been urbanised and as a result production has reduced considerably.

For this reason, among others, the cooperative has considered seeking other fields of action, for example tourism, whereby people can witness the transformation of the sugar cane as well as enjoying a night of tranquility in one of the farm houses. The aim of all this is to preserve the work of the cooperative and perhaps establish themselves as a heritage site for the region, where the work of many generations comes together around the sugar cane.








[1] PERAFÁN, Felipe. La caña de azúcar [on line] < http://www.perafan.com/azucar/ea02cana.html> [cited 11th November 2013, translation C. Hanks]

[2] PAVA CAPACHO, Germán. PIEDECUESTA PROYECCIÓN Y POTENCIAL TURÍSTICO [on line].   <http://coopanelas.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/proyeccion_turistica1.pdf> [cited 27th October2013, translation C. Hanks]

[3] COOPANELAS. Historia [on line] <http://coopanelas.com/?page_id=133> [cited 11th November 2013, translation C. Hanks]


Social economy project celebrates being ‘Highly Commended’ in prestigious awards

In November the Erasmus Mundus social economy project, led by York St John University, UK, was highly commended the UK Times Higher Education International Collaboration of the Year 2013 an award that ‘recognises exceptional projects carried out jointly between a UK institution and one or more international partners’.


Certificate for Highly Commended in International Collaboration of the Year


The project is international in its scope (see partners and associate partners/supporters) and aims to gain insight into the values and belief systems that people working in the social economy have in different regions of the world, and the way in which this motivation is turned into action with a social purpose. It aims to make this knowledge accessible and practical within higher education. It has international collaboration, the value of learning from each other and of creating knowledge together, as its lifeblood.

Over 30 Universities and NGOs worldwide have become Associate Partners of the project and over 600 people have signed up as friends of the project across the globe. Looking ahead, we want to attract more universities worldwide to study social enterprise in their regions to gain a better understanding of how the social economy impacts on people’s lives and communities. We are also seeking to understand how universities teach social enterprise and promote it on campus.

The most inspiring thing about being part of this project is the contact with people from all over the world who are motivated by the its aims and have been prepared to put many hours and days of work in to help move things forward, who have written pieces (see this blog), sent interesting articles and who have given a word of encouragement when it’s been most welcome.

University celebrates ‘Highly Commended’ Project achievement in Times Higher Education Awards

Getting this far has been a truly collaborative effort.