@YSJSocialEcon

Leading thinkers and practitioners in social entrepreneurship add diverse voices to conference

Leading thinkers and practitioners from universities in the field of co-operativism, business through the lense of human rights, enterprise incubators in the solidarity economy and innovation in the public sector will be presenting key notes at the international conference called ‘Universities developing social entrepreneurship through cross-sector collaboration’ 1-3 Sept, 2015 in York, UK.  The conference aims to develop and share knowledge about how private, public and social sectors can collaborate to promote entrepreneurial thinking and practice in universities for social purpose.

Dr Rory Ridley-Duff is leading new thinking around models of co-operativism and is co-founder of the Fair Shares Association. His book ‘Understanding Social Enterprise: Theory and Practice is being used by educators and practitioners in four continents.

Dr Saioa Arando is the research co-ordinator of Mondragon Innovation Knowledge, part of the Mondragon Cooperative Group, the largest cooperative in the world and based in the Basque Country in Spain. She has won an award for her work on the economics of participation.

Professor Hiroshi Ishida is working with companies in Japan on sustainability, and approaches his work from the perspective of human rights.

Dr Antonio Cruz has many years of experience in the leadership of enterprise incubators within the ‘solidarity’ economy in Brazil. He has co-ordinated the Brazilian network of university incubators. He takes a critical stance on the involvement of the private sector.

add spark is an internationally renowned author in the field of social enterprise and social innovation. His focus is on the theory and practice of community organising.

The conference also has an international advisory committee of leaders in the field from Europe and North and South America who will evaluate submitted abstracts. See more about the keynote speakers and the advisory committee.

The conference will be held at York St John University in the historic city of York, UK, 1st -3rd Sept 2015. Registration for the conference is open. Information about submitting abstracts for posters and presentations can also be found on the conference web page.

Four becomes eight – more from the Sujali Self-Help Group

By Dr Mike Calvert, York St John University, UK with help from Mary Kiguru from the Sujali Self-Help Group

To see all posts about the group and their work with microcredits, click here

Sujali6

 

Over the summer two new members, Rispa and Elizabeth, started talking out loans and two more are ready to start. They have been mentioned before and are on their first cycle. The newest members of the group, Lynette and Rosemary either have just started borrowing or are about to start.

Rosemary and her husband have a business selling second hand iron sheetings and building materials and it is doing well. She has not yet borrowed but is looking at the possibility of a second business to supplement their income.

Lynette, Susan’s daughter-in-law, opened a small hotel (read cafe) in July 2014 and it has started well. She needed money to buy a gas cooker and sufficient crockery. There are nearby stores and these provide the customer base. She employs two girls to work for her. Lynette is an ex-teacher and is always being asked for advice on cooking. As a result, she is considering offering cookery classes for those housewives who lack the knowledge. This could be an interesting sideline.

 

 

Sujali7

 

Elizabeth has increased her product range for beauty products and the number of chairs in her salon. At present, she is working alone but there are opportunities there for her to open the salon up to more stylists. She has a good-sized property and could easily accommodate up to 4 stylists.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sujali8

 

Rispa was featured in the last blog entry but it is important to say that ultimately this scheme could be life-changing. She currently works in an insurance office in Nairobi and, like many workers, faces a 2hr+ commute into the city every morning beginning early. Being able to work full-time on her greenhouse, chickens, vegetable produce, etc. would enable her to devote all her efforts and energy to her business. At present her and her husband only spend Saturdays working on their plot. She has purchased a storage tank for water which for a modest outlay (KES12,000) will provide her with 15,000 litres of water. She is harvesting the water (something Kenyans are not good at) which drains off her greenhouses. She has two young children and to be able to work on this full-time is her dream.

Current
exchange rate is approximately £1 = KES140 $1 = KES90 €1 = KES110

Sujali Self-Help Group founder members going from strength to strength

By Dr Mike Calvert, York St John University, UK with help from Mary Kiguru from the Sujali Self-Help Group

To see all posts about the group and their work with microcredits, click here

The original group of Susan, Alice, Jacinta and Eunice are into their third cycle of lending and are doing well. They are a hard act to follow.

Sujali2

 

Alice continues to diversify and grow. Her 1500 chickens have increased to over 2000 (with another thousand planned). She has a very high turnover of eggs as well as broilers and she sells the waste produce as manure and her two goats have both had twins! She pays someone to look after her chickens and is keen to diversify further.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sujali4

Sujali3

 

Eunice is seeing business pick up. She continues to provide work for her old employees and, depending on the complexity of the pattern, she can make up two or three garments a day although it has to be said that she works 14 hours per day from 7am to 9pm. She has four children, one at university and one about to go to college and two a lot younger.

 

 

 

 

 

Sujali5

 

Jacinta has built a cowshed with her loan (for Daisy who is expecting in March) and a kitchen behind the hotel (cafe). She has further plans for expansion. Steve, her husband, reports that things are much easier now and that careful expansion is the order of the day.

Susan’s shop continues to increase its stock and continues to employ Milka, a relative.

Current exchange rate is approximately £1 = KES140 $1 = KES90 €1 = KES110

Catching up with the Sujali Self-Help Group, Nairobi, Kenya

By Dr Mike Calvert, York St John University, UK with help from Mary Kiguru from the Sujali Self-Help Group

To see all posts about the group and their work with microcredits, click here

Sujali_self-help_group1I met up with the 8 members of the SSHG and Mary on a recent trip to Nairobi. This first of three blogs focuses on the group as a whole. The second, published later this week will catch up on the ‘old’ members and third on the ‘new’ members.

The lunch meeting took place in a local hotel on 24th November. There was an expectation that all would attend and, true to form, they were all there.  I can report that the group meet religiously (pun intended) on the second Sunday of the month and are fined for late or non-attendance or late payments.

The group has discussed the loans that have been in place. The loan was originally set at 1% per month for loans of 3 to 5 months. The group would like to borrow over a longer period of up to a year. Ironically, this works out at a higher rate than other low rate providers. Since the original intention was not to have an interest rate of over 3%, it was suggested that they set an annual rate at 3 or 5%. Interestingly, some of the women would rather have a 10% annual rate so that any surplus can be used for training or other expenses. The decision was that they will discuss the rate that they want to charge each other.

I was able to announce at the meeting that the money available had doubled thanks to two new contributions.  KES150,000 has become KES300,000. The other important development which was reported on briefly was that they are using the scheme as a way of saving. At present, they each save KES500 a month but this will increase to KES1000 in January.

The third development has seen the slowest uptake and that is training. So far this has not been possible but they recognise the importance of sound bookkeeping and being able to monitor costs and income.

The final point to make is that the group, as might be anticipated, is supporting each other by buying produce from each other. Jacinta is buying Alice’s eggs and Alice is buying Jacinta’s milk, for example.

I look forward to returning in 2015.

Current exchange rate is approximately £1 = KES140 $1 = KES90 €1 = KES110

 

More from the Sujali Self Help Group in Nairobi: Rispa centre stage

Post by Mike Calvert, York St John University (with photos and some of the commentary from Mary Kiguru of the Sujali Self Help Group)

Rispas grenhouseSee previous posts about the SSHG and their experiences with microfinance

The Sujali Self Help Group (SSHG) has been so successful that it was decided to double the investment in this micro-finance initiative. Further lenders have come forward. From November 2014, just 18 months since it was set up, there will be KES300,000 in the pot (just over £2000) which began as KES66,000 in June 2013.

The latest success story is that of Rispa who initially borrowed a small sum to build her greenhouse.

This has been completed and she is now planting crops that do not need a greenhouse such as paprika. There is talk of her preparing products for export!planting

The group is to meet again on November 24 when I visit Nairobi. It will be a good opportunity for the group to reflect on what they have learnt. They recently agreed that the borrowing period will be extended to one year and that the group will borrow different sums of money based on their income generated and payments throughout the year. Each of the women will submit their accounts before borrowing more money so that the figure can be decided upon by the group. As previously mentioned, the group and Mary, as co-ordinator, are on a steep learning curve and, as well as improving their own business management skills, may well hire an accountant in the future with the surplus that the lending generates.

So far, there is no news of Daisy who must be about to give birth at any time. Readers of this blog will be the first to know and photos will follow in early December.

 

Call for papers on universities fostering social entrepreneurship through cross-sector collaboration

Conference 1-3 Sept 2015, York St John University, York, UK. See conference website

As part of the York St John University-led Erasmus Mundus social economy project, the conference aims to address the following question: ‘How can higher education foster interactions between the current economic systems (public, private and social) to promote social entrepreneurship cultures for sustainable development in our communities?’

Universities have a clear and distinctive role in promoting both social entrepreneurship cultures and cross-sector partnerships. The conference will present a range of studies, research and best practices about cross-sector partnerships which create social value within communities and have a positive impact on developing social entrepreneurship within higher education.

Now more than ever cross-sector collaboration is essential, because the challenges faced by society can only be tackled successfully if value-building capabilities, resources, effort and knowledge are linked or shared by organisations. Cross-sector collaboration is at the heart of social entrepreneurship cultures which are nurtured by the quality of their relationships. Collaborations need to be based on the values embodied by social entrepreneurship, such as mutual respect, reciprocity, solidarity, common good and respect for the environment.

Submission of abstracts for 30 minute presentations and for poster presentations is now open. See key dates leading up to the conference. Registration for the conference will open later in November.

The conference will take place in the beautiful city of York, UK

 

International Seminar on Solidarity Economy in Helsinki, Finland

From collaborator in the social economy in higher education project, Laura Kumpuniemi

Live stream
You can follow the seminar Reclaiming sustainability – alternative development through solidarity economy on the 17th of November through a live stream. The videos are also available after the seminar through these links.
Part 1 at 13.00 – 15.00 (GMT +2): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3JJb0cPd8NQ
Part 2 at 15.00 – 18:00 (GMT +2): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wovJ-9DAw1E
Solidarity economy is an alternative economic model that focuses on the well-being of both people and the environment. International Solidarity Work organises an international seminar titled Reclaiming sustainability – alternative development through solidarity economy in Helsinki, Finland (Tieteiden talo, Kirkkokatu 6) on the 17 November 2014 at 13.15-18.00 (Finnish time)
In the seminar, visitors from Greece, Brazil, and Syrian Kurdistan Rojava share examples on solidarity economy from their respective countries. There will be a chance to learn about the social economy being built in Rojava’s self-administration, social technologies used to support grassroots solidarity economy initiatives in Brazil, and the solidarity economy movement that has grown in Greece as an outcome of the financial crisis.
The possibilities of solidarity economy have been in discussions in international organisations and many countries have also passed laws regarding solidarity economy. The solidarity economy movement is growing stronger all the time. Welcome to hear why solidarity economy is such an inspiration for many!

PROGRAMME

13.15-13.25 Opening words (Laura Tuominen, International Solidarity Work)
13.25-14.00 Introducing solidarity economy (Tuomo Alhojärvi, Solidarity Economy Network & Ruby Van Der Wekken, Siemenpuu Foundation)
14.00-14.45 Rojava experience of the social economy: reality and prospects (Dr. Ahmad Yousef, Rojava, Syria)
14.45-15.15 Coffee break
15.15-16.15 Social technologies and sustainability (Antonio Cruz, Brazil)
16.15-16.45 Challenges and prospects of the social solidarity economy movement in Greece (Georgia Bekridaki, Greece)
16.45-17.00 Commentary (Outi Hakkarainen, Kepa)
17.00-18.00 Questions and panel discussion
SPEAKERS

Georgia Bekridaki

Georgia Bekridaki has been active in social movements for ten years. She is a founding member of a Greek organisation Solidarity 4 All. The organisation is a collective that gives practical support to various solidarity initiatives. She has also been involved in local time banks and other alternative economy initiatives.

Antonio Cruz

Antonio Cruz has been working on issues related to solidarity economy since the 1990s. He is currently working as a professor at a solidarity economy incubator at the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil. He has also coordinated the network of Brazilian university incubators.

Ahmad Yousef

Ahmad Yousef is a central figure in building a self-administration and social economy activities in the Syrian Kurdistan, Rojava. He also acts as the finance minister of the canton of Afrin.
Please register your participation for the event by the 10 November.
For registrations and more information, contact:
Project coordinator Laura Kumpuniemi Email: laura. kumpuniemi[at]gmail.com

Universities Developing Social Entrepreneurship through Cross-Sector Collaboration

International conference at York St John University, UK. 1st – 3rd Sept 2015. Mark the dates!

More information on this blog in the coming days

Conference Theme:   

As part of the York St John-led Erasmus Mundus social economy project, the conference aims to address the following question: ‘How can higher education foster interactions between the current economic systems (public, private and social) to promote social entrepreneurship cultures for sustainable development in our communities?’

Now more than ever cross-sector collaboration is essential, because the challenges faced by society can only be tackled successfully if capabilities, resources, effort and knowledge are linked or shared by organisations. Cross-sector collaboration is at the heart of social entrepreneurship cultures which are nurtured by the quality of their relationships. Collaborations are based on the values embodied by social entrepreneurship, such as mutual respect, reciprocity, solidarity, common good and respect for the environment. Universities have a clear and distinctive role in promoting both social entrepreneurship cultures and cross-sector partnerships.

The conference will present a range of studies, research and best practices about cross-sector partnerships which create social value within communities and have a positive impact on developing social entrepreneurship within higher education.

We will soon be inviting abstracts for papers, poster presentations and round tables on the topic.

Social economy is now on EU ministers’ agenda

Press release from ENSIE, the European network of Social Integration Enterprises, an associate partner in the Social Economy in Higher Education project

EU Ministers for employment and social affairs have now started to see the importance of social economy. Discussions on social economy took place for the first time in July at an informal meeting in Milan of the EPSCO Council, under the Italian Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

The Council, the European Commission, Member States representatives, social partners and the Social Platform shared their points of view on the social economy, the opportunities it offers and how it needs to be developed.

Mr Poletti, Italy’s Minister for Labour and Social Policies, and Mr Andor, European Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion both stressed the increasing importance of the social economy sector, especially in this period of crisis. They stated that social economy has positive effects on social cohesion, inclusive growth and on reaching the EU 2020 Strategy headline targets.

Several speakers thanked the Italian Presidency for having put social economy on the agenda. Currently, almost every Member State is working in order to create a ”favourable climate” for social economy enterprises. Nevertheless, challenges remain due to the lack of a clear definition for the social economy and little awareness of the sector in some countries. So some Member States are more advanced in the social economy development, but for others, the topic is quite new. 

Patrizia Bussi, ENSIE’s coordinator, and member of the Social Platform delegation to Milan in tandem with Heater Roy, Social Platform’s President, underlined the urgent need to make a clear distinction between social economy and corporate social responsibility.  They also stressed three other important messages:

·         European Institutions must continue the work launched with the Social Business Initiative to support the recognition and development of social economy and social enterprises;

·         Member States have to unlock the employment potential of social economy, in particular in the social and health services sector;

·         An “ecosystem” for the development of social economy and social enterprise must be created at both EU and national level.

The prospects for the development of social economy at EU and at national level are good. The different European, national, regional and local stakeholders must continue to support this positive process.

The whole Social Platform contribution is available here

Our most visited posts

This blog has now been running for 18 months  It seems a good time to review the most visited posts – those which have received the greatest number of visits and re-tweets. It has been inspiring to receive guest posts from university students and staff and others working for social justice in economic affairs from around the world. Take a look at our visitor map to see where the articles are being read. 

These are the top 4:

Mendoza, Argentina: Economic change through academic, professional and political exchange

Charles Hanks report on the Institute of Work and Production (ITP) at the National University of Cuyo, who are on the axis of a growing social and solidarity economy in the Mendoza province of Argentina. In their efforts to make visible the workings of the third sector by drawing together its academic, professional and political elements, they are also managing to make the sector more credible.

6 ways a university can be a force in the social economy

As well as teaching and researching about social enterprise and cooperatives, it is important that universities explore ways of practicing the social economy. In the case of cooperatives, these lead to sharing of benefits among their members (students and staff) and the development of democratic decision-making and governance. Other forms of social enterprise can lead to more environmentally and/or socially just and sustainable outcomes. In this article we give some examples of the social economy operating on university campuses.

Can universities lead the way in social value procurement? Let’s look at Cleveland, Ohio!

This post argues that universities can promote a new kind of economic development. It discusses the important role universities can play in supporting social enterprise through its procurement policy. It aims to address the issue of local social enterprises not having the capacity to provide what universities need.

Former children’s worker opens social enterprise

This post draws attention to a social enterprise which offers employment and training to young people in a commercial environment on either a full or part-time basis. It was set up by former Children’s Services worker Gill Walker, who wants to help young people by preparing them for a more successful future. Since the article was posted, Labelled has gone from strength to strength and has opened a franchise shop in Newcastle. We hope to feature this on the blog soon.

We have also had a number of guest posts from students and staff at universities around the world.

Stop press! Daisy’s pregnant!

Here is the latest from Nairobi, Kenya, where the Sujali Self Help Group (SSHG) are really moving on. It is a photo report from Mary Kiguru who co-ordinates the group and is doing a wonderful job. Regular readers will know that Jacinta bought a cow and pictures were provided recently. We recognize that Daisy is attracting all the attention (rumours that she wants her own television series are unfounded) but the achievements of the other women are also spectacular. They can be immensely proud of their achievements.

Report by Mary Kiguru, Co-ordinator of the SSHG

Click here for previous posts on the unfolding story of the SSHG and their use of microcredits to develop their businesses

Alice

Alice

 

Alice currently has 1200 chickens. She is expecting new chicks on August 11, 2014 to build the stock to 1800 chicken. Alice is currently unable to meet the demand for eggs. She is therefore collecting eggs from friends to ensure that she meets the demand. Alice demonstrates commitment to her own business.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alice's chickens and the new house for the new chicks

Alice’s chickens and the new house for the new chicks

 

Susan's boutique

Susan’s boutique

Susan’s boutique

Susan’s stock has continued to grow to include beauty products and basins. She has one employee.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jacinta's greengrocery

Jacinta’s greengrocery

 

Jacinta: Greengrocery

Jacinta in her grocery shop. She now has three businesses in one: the green grocery, the hotel (cafe) and selling milk.

 

 

 

 

 

Rispa's farm. Above in the far end is the on- going construction of the greenhouse.

Rispa’s organic chickens. Right photo in the far end is the on- going construction of the greenhouse.

Rispa: farmer

Rispa is a committed farmer. She has been supplying seedlings to other farmers. She has planned to set up a greenhouse to grow tomatoes, spinach and kale targeting the Christmas season. She just took an overdraft of KES5,000 to complete the  greenhouse.

 

 

 

Eunice

Eunice

Eunice: seamstress

Eunice in her tailoring shop. Eunice makes dresses for markets outside Nairobi and on demand. She supplies to such places as Eldoret and Kericho in Rift Valley. She therefore required a loan to meet the demand for her clothes. She has taken an overdraft twice to prepare clothes for the Christmas market.

To meet the demand, Eunice hires tailors from the area who are paid on piece work. This is more economical than having someone on full-time employment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Elizabeth

Elizabeth

Elizabeth: Hairdresser

Elizabeth is the newest member: she owns a salon and would like to borrow KES30,000 to increase beauty products in her shop. Elizabeth joined the group during the August 9, 2014 meeting. The group recommended her based on her commitment to her business. She will have the money after one month – Sept 6, 2014.

 

Mendoza, Argentina: Economic change through academic, professional and political exchange

Article written by Charles Hanks, collaborator of the social economy in higher education project,  following a visit to the “Institute of Work and Production” of  the National University of Cuyo, Mendoza, Argentina.

“As a public university,” asserts José Perlino, “we have a very important social role.” Indeed, José and his colleagues in the Institute of Work and Production (ITP) at the National University of Cuyo (UNCuyo), find themselves the axis of a growing social and solidarity economy in the Mendoza province of Argentina. In their efforts to make visible the workings of the third sector by drawing together its academic, professional and political elements, they are also managing to make the sector more credible.

From the cooperative to the classroom: a two-way exchange

Roberto Roitman

Professor Roberto Roitman, General Secretary of the Institute of Work and Production

It is the linking of these three aspects that is the innovation and success of their work. ITP is pushing for more representation of social economic practices on courses at the university and in 2009 ran a course in Social Economy for which there was a very high take up and a great deal of enthusiasm among students. Alongside this, Roberto Roitman, general secretary of ITP and Economics professor at the university, runs a social economy module each year as part of the general Economics undergraduate course; despite his working here for several decades, Roberto is still seen as something of a ‘black sheep’ in a department he bemoans having a mainstream approach to the discipline. As part of this teaching unit, he invites people who work in the sector to talk to students, giving them practical insight and a link to the tangible impact of what they are studying. José tells me that when they open the doors to these people, the reaction from the students is very positive; many come to them afterwards asking about internships in the sector, which ITP is well-placed to organise. “This contact makes them realise that they take part in the social economy themselves, and it is not on a small scale, not the poor working for the poor.” Universities can be very elitist, he replies, when I comment on how much he and his colleagues seem to value the link between the academic and the ‘live’. “Organisations are not made in the university; they are made in the street, learning from their mistakes.”

At the ITP with José Perlino (left)

At the ITP with José Perlino (left)

And the link works both ways. The Institute runs training courses and workshops open to all that eventually allow people with much experience in the sector but no relevant qualifications to obtain accreditation from the university recognising and ‘rubber-stamping’ their knowledge and experience. These training sessions also help towards what José describes as one of the key aims of his programme: capacity-building. “We work mostly on organising supply, grouping entrepreneurs together, increasing the scale and improving the quality, providing certification. And basically ensuring they have the means of providing to the state, which makes up a huge part of all purchases.”

Completing the triangle: political backing

Indeed, the state is now obliged to make at least 10% of its purchases from social enterprises, thanks to the Social and Solidarity Economy Law passed in Mendoza in 2012. In 2009, the ITP helped to form the first Mendoza Social Economy Forum which brought together organisations from the sector from across the region. Five years on, the Forum has taken place seven times and is making tangible steps towards a greater representation of the social and solidarity economy. The 2012 Forum welcomed 160 organisations and was held in conjunction with the second

At the ITP

At the ITP

‘Towards an Alternative Economy’ forum attracting interested parties from all over the country, including representatives from the national government. As well as holding workshops and talks, the Forum also provided an opportunity to discuss the introduction of a provincial law that would give official backing to the growth of the sector – hence the political aspect of their work. The law was passed shortly afterwards and a council was set up to ensure its implementation. This panel is made up of seven members: three from organisations within the sector (representing cooperatives, microcredit unions and familial agriculture respectively); three from the provincial government (one each from the social development, agroindustry and schools departments); and one academic, a position currently held by Professor Roitman. José explains that a principal role of the council is to “work with government members in charge of buying to make sure they know the law and their obligation, and also that they know why it is important to work with the social economy, because the cultural change is very slow.” This observation extends to the general public, it seems: “If we all bought 10% of what we buy from social enterprises it would be a huge change,” he suggests.

The crash: before and after

Argentina has, however, already seen huge economic change in recent years. In 2001, the country suffered a debilitating crisis following a series of reckless borrowing agreements with the IMF and, especially after the mass privatisation of the 1990s, the population was left in a dismally insecure situation: 27% were unemployed and half were living below the poverty line. In response, thousands of workers left without jobs, in hundreds of businesses across the country that had been forced to close, joined together to take co-ownership of their workplaces – most of them factories in various manufacturing industries – in a vast cooperative movement known as fábricas recuperadas, which succeeded and continues to grow today despite initial obstacles from government and previous owners. Others took a different initiative; a distinction arose, Roberto explains, between the words ‘work’ and ‘job’ (both ‘trabajo’ in Spanish): a ‘job’ is a kind of work no longer available to all, so people had to create their own ‘work’. Whereas before the crisis there were three million microentrepreneurs among an economically active population of 16 million, these now numbered five million, the extra two million mostly women forced into starting small businesses to support their families. In addition, the value of the peso plummeted (it still has not recovered, standing at around one-tenth of its pre-crash worth) and a widespread bartering market grew up around the country.

All of this was indicative of the three key aspects, according to Roberto, of what is a relatively thriving social economy in Argentina. The first, he says, originates with indigenous traditions, notably that of minga, which translates roughly from Quechua as ‘reciprocity and solidarity’. Around 10% of the population of Mendoza is of indigenous Bolivian origin (the proportion is much higher further north) and he suggests that they have long influenced local economic attitudes, especially to farming. He cites the influx of Europeans towards the end of the 19th century as a second influence, bringing with them the newfangled cooperativism; the first mutual in Argentina was established by Italians in Buenos Aires and the first cooperative by Jewish immigrants in the Entre Ríos province 1890. Thirdly, and most urgently, the 2001 crisis affected economic attitudes, perhaps irreversibly. “Cooperativism helped overcome previous challenges,” says Professor Roitman. “But now there are new challenges and we need new solutions. People have begun to realise that capital is at the service of economics and economics is at the service of people.”

The ‘prosumers’: challenging the norm

One such person was Pablo Ordoñez. Before the crisis, he had owned two businesses and was director of a youth centre for 13 years. He describes the crash as a ‘calling’: the economic collapse alongside his vocation for social work called for something new. “The Argentine economy at the time of the crisis was a long way from being social,” he says. “It was something not even the President or the Finance minister had any say over.”

El Arca with (left to right) Bruno Zangheri (vice president) and Pablo Ordonez (president)

El Arca: Bruno Zangheri (vice president); Pablo Ordonez (president) and Charles Hanks

So, nine years ago, he founded El Arca, which he describes as a ‘socially managed business’ though in a limited legal paradigm it is simply a ‘non-profit organisation’. The aim of the organisation is to join together producers and consumers, who are often the same people, he points out: small producers for whom the crisis and the rocketing inflation that came with it were disastrous, principally those working in textiles and food, but also in services and in crafts; and consumers from families to local businesses to large companies. So, I try to clarify, his team of around ten working at El Arca is a kind of intermediary between the producer and the consumer? “Definitely not.” He is firm on this point. Rather, they are working to bridge the gap between producer and consumer, as producers and consumers themselves, to create a solidarity network of producers and consumers – ‘prosumers’ he calls them. He is not one to be satisfied with limiting or dichotomous denominations, apparently. “We wanted to establish ourselves outside the norm, somewhere that joined together the educational, the social and the typically economic.”

The educational aspect, he explains, involves providing “permanent learning spaces, not just for producers but also for consumers. The idea is to work on the concept of the conscious consumer, fair trade, responsible production – hence this community of ‘prosumers’.” All sorts of people have gotten involved, he says. “People who already have a good understanding of these ideas, as well as people who are recently discovering the power they have in the instant of producing or buying a product, and the advantages that breaking with the model of producer and consumer as two separate worlds can have.” This all-inclusive ethos extends to the private sector, too; El Arca has, for example, a contract with Arcor, one of Argentina’s largest food corporations, to provide clothing to wear in their factories.

Linking to the future

The aim is for “the greatest possible intersectorial link”, says Pablo, as much in his role as President of the Social Economy Forum as that of El Arca’s President. This link also embraces, of course, the public sector. He is lukewarm about the new law, describing it as a “valid tool but not perfect”. He does, however, highlight an important distinction from ostensibly similar laws elsewhere in the country: others have been developed by the government and passed onto the ‘prosumer’; this one has been developed from the bottom up and is being implemented accordingly, with producers, consumers and academics all being given a voice, and one the government seems keen to listen to. José explains to me how they are starting to convert these broad links into practical benefits. The stipulated government 10% will come in part from graphics and other smaller purchases, but they aspire to more. “Our idea is to organise buying for school canteens, as well as hospitals and health centres. Also within textiles, for all the sports teams in the province for example. These are just two areas into which the government puts a lot of money but at the moment it all goes to a few businesses.” Another job of the council is to create a register of social enterprises in the province and, from there, a catalogue which will be available not only to relevant government departments but also the general public, allowing producers greater visibility and consumers greater awareness – the empowerment of the ‘prosumer’.

And at the ITP, determined to keep juggling as many balls of social enterprise opportunity as possible, they are looking to improve provision within the university. Much of the food in the canteens is already sourced from social enterprises, and now they are trying to create microcredit opportunities for student entrepreneurship, as well as extend their training programmes. “And we buy a bag of vegetables here in the ITP once a week,” José adds, proving his money is where his mouth is, quite literally.

Towards an alter(n)ative economy

“There is talk of moving towards an ‘alternative’ economy,” Roberto muses. “But perhaps more accurately what we are aiming for is an ‘alterative’ economy.” The difference is subtle but important, and indicative of what ITP and the Social Economy Forum support: what is needed is not just a change of economic ideas but economic ideas capable of bringing social change. It is an active, inclusive, socially empowering outlook. “When we buy from social enterprises, we’re buying something else,” José asserts, speaking on behalf of an ever-wider community. “We’re paying for jobs, for people to stay in their homes, for a product that has value in its origins. We arrive at the source. We remove the middle man.”