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.”

France passes social and solidarity economy law

But students still campaigning for socially-oriented economics education

By Charles Hanks, Collaborator in the Social Economy in Higher Education project

The prospects of the social and solidarity economy in France were strengthened last month with the passing of a law that gives financial and political backing to the sector. Since his election in 2012, the country’s socialist President, Francois Hollande, has made such promotion of social enterprise a priority, beginning with the creation of the post of social and solidarity economy minister, until recently held by Benoit Hamon.

Hamon was the man charged with drawing up the new law, unanimously supported by the political left, with those on the right voting against it or abstaining. The law describes the social economy, made up of over 200,000 enterprises and responsible for 10% of the country’s GDP, as a “stable and resilient” business model and is mainly concerned with providing more reliable and greater funding, from both public and private sources. Covering what it sees as traditional forms of social enterprise – mutuals, cooperatives, other workers’ associations – as well as what are described as “new forms”, the law is composed of five key objectives:

1. To recognise the social and solidarity economy as a specific means of business, defining it specifically and legally and establishing a “legal base” for funding specifically targeted towards the sector. The text also makes reference to granting greater importance to social innovation rather than focusing solely on technological innovation.

2. To consolidate the sector’s network, governance and financing, including the creation of “good practice” guidelines.

3. To empower workers to act, including providing them with training in how to carry out a recovery takeover. Organisations will be obliged to inform workers of closure with at least two months’ notice and to try to find a takeover.

4. To prompt cooperative “impact”, essentially with a reinforcement of original cooperative principles in the governance of such organisations.

5. To reinforce the politics of local, sustainable development. The uniquely French PTCEs (Regional economic cooperation hubs) are groups of actors within the local economy working together and the law will encourage their development and give them official recognition in order to guarantee immovable jobs.

On this last point, the government accepts that it is playing catch-up, admitting that local economies have a 20-year head start on the state when it comes to the social economy and it recognises the importance of this experience.

The law makes no mention, however, of combining this backing of the sector with the introduction of more socially-oriented economics education. French pressure group PEPS-Économie (‘For pluralism in economics in higher education’) forms part of an international student campaign (http://www.isipe.net/) to provide a less homogenous approach to economics in higher education, particularly at undergraduate level. PEPS-Éco challenge the lack of “reflexive” teaching that would present students with a broader economic picture and they bemoan the fact that those in charge of the current model are the only ones satisfied with it. AFEP, an association of teachers and researchers, is also calling for more pluralism and even the introduction of new “Economics and society” discipline. It remains to be seen how the recent government steps will affect these appeals for a makeover of practices in higher education.



Further tales of the Nairobi women entrepreneurs

Microcredits continue to enable Kenyan women to build their businesses.

Thanks to Mike Calvert from York St John University for this update. Please click on the ‘Microcredits’ category on the right to see the previous entries from Nairobi

Readers of the last blog entry will have seen the news that the Kenya women entrepreneurs are going from strength to strength and I promised pictures of Jacinta’s cow. The photos arrived today and I am keen to share them (Daisy and Jacinta’s three boys).   I am pleased to say that the funding is continuing to offer social, emotional and spiritual support as well as welcome economic capital to enable the women to fulfil their business potential.

Jacintas_cowThe women report that that, as well as experiencing financial benefits, they are also more confident and sure of themselves. Their standard of living has improved  and their partners’ perceptions have changed. The most striking example of a success story is Jacinta who is continuing to diversify from her shop and canteen by purchasing Daisy the cow (I must confess to interfering in the naming of the beast) whose milk is supplying the business, satisfying domestic consumption and is being offered for sale. Other successes include Alice who is currently having difficulty meeting the demand for eggs and is hoping to increase her brood to 1600 (from an original stock of about 500).

A fifth member, Rispa,  has joined the group that now goes under the title of Sujali Self Help Group (SSHG) and she is being inducted into the group and hopes to borrow money to enter the organic egg production. Overdrafts are being taken up and this is providing additional short-term borrowing potential. Alice, Eunice, Jacinta and Rispa have all benefitted from these overdrafts and have paid back in full on time.

DaisyThe key factors in their success appear to be low interest rates (5%), clear leadership from Mary, a strong internal support system and clear business goals.

It is important to note, however, that they recognise the challenges that they face. First of all, they need to stay on track and not over-diversify. Secondly, they must borrow and use the money for their businesses and not be tempted to use the money to address any non-business-related pressures (such as school fees, medical fees or other expenditure). Thirdly, they need to be more sophisticated in their financial management and recordkeeping.

In late August, the women are going to receive training in bookkeeping and financial management so that they can record their earnings and identify where the money is coming from and going to. The women have also drawn up some protocols governing their behaviour and interaction. It even includes fines for late arrival and non-attendance at meetings.

I will visit the businesses in October and report back. In the meantime, if anyone is interested in providing additional funding for the women, I would love to hear from you.

Mike Calvert m.calvert2@yorksj.ac.uk

Over 700 responses to survey – helping universities respond better to social economy

Thank you to everyone who has completed our survey. So far we have responses from:  Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, East Timor, Germany, Guinea Bissau, Ireland, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, Mozambique, Paraguay, Peru, Portugal, San Tome, Spain, United Kingdom! We will be publishing a handbook for higher education worldwide to promote the teaching and practice of the social economy in September 2015. We are particularly keen to hear from more cooperatives/social enterprises in the English speaking world.

See more about the social economy in higher education project

Complete the survey                              Complete the survey (UK version)


Responses so far are from:

cooperatives dedicated to food production, health, education and food retail;

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.


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)


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

Universities can be laboratories for a new kind of economic development

Professor Simon Denny from the University of Northampton, UK, has identified an important role for universities: delivering local economic growth and social inclusion. The University has launched the £1 billion challenge for UK universities to spend £1 billion from their £7 billion spending power in businesses that promote social value as well as supplying the needs of the university.

What is social value?

“Social value” is a way of thinking about how scarce resources are allocated and used.  It involves looking beyond the price of each individual contract and looking at what the collective benefit to a community is when a public body chooses to award a contract.  Social value asks the question: “If £1 is spent on the delivery of services, can that same £1 be used to also produce a wider benefit to the community?” (Taken from Social Enterprise UK)

This is a welcome and very ambitious target. However, it can be a challenge for universities to find social enterprises and cooperatives that can supply their needs. Could a local social enterprise provide all of a university’s stationery needs, or catering services, for example?

Why not?  Ohio, Cleveland, USA, has tackled this very problem. Here’s the Evergreen Cooperatives story:

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“Launched in 2008 by a working group of Cleveland-based institutions (including the Cleveland Foundation, the Cleveland Clinic, University Hospitals, Case Western Reserve University, and the municipal government), the Evergreen Cooperative Initiative is working to create living wage jobs in six low-income neighborhoods (43,000 residents with a median household income below $18,500) in an area known as Greater University Circle (GUC).

“The Evergreen Cooperative Initiative has been designed to cause an economic breakthrough in Cleveland. Rather than a trickle down strategy, it focuses on economic inclusion and building a local economy from the ground up; rather than offering public subsidy to induce corporations to bring what are often low-wage jobs into the city, the Evergreen strategy is catalyzing new businesses that are owned by their employees; rather than concentrate on workforce training for employment opportunities that are largely unavailable to low-skill and low-income workers, the Evergreen Initiative first creates the jobs, and then recruits and trains local residents to take them”.

Vital to this model are the so-called ‘anchor organisations’: the local universities, hospitals, local government, that will not leave the area as economic conditions change. These anchor organisations work together to develop cooperatives to supply their needs. Each dollar spent on these goods and services stays in the local area and benefits the community. For example, the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry serves the local hospital. The model has been inspired by Mondragon Corporation in Spain, whose university is part of the Social Economy in Higher Education project.

Could universities  lead consortia of anchor organisations and mentor, coach and incubate new businesses which will supply their needs and provide highly democratic, worker-owned organisations? A culture of nurtured entrepreneurship for meaningful work creation within universities seems like win-win.

“I believe meaningful work is a key contributor to well-being so I set about designing something that could be made through other social enterprises, which could extend the social value”

By Natasha Almond, Founder of Living Interiors, York, UK and collaborator in the Social Economy in Higher Education Project

York had a thriving voluntary, community and social enterprise sector; however, to continue to expand it has to diversify its income stream away from grant dependency.  Within my work as a development officer at York CVS, I have had the opportunity to support some organisations in the sector to consider news ways of generating income. I observed the tensions within some trading social enterprises between staying true to the principles in developing meaningful opportunities for disabled people and the ability to develop a robust business model to bring in work.

Why I started Living Interiors

Living Picture

Living Picture

I believe meaningful work  is a key contributor to health and well-being and so I set about designing something that could be made through other social enterprises, which could extend the social value. I set up Living Interiors, as an experiment, to develop high end products and an end to end solution through social enterprise. If I can make a success of this I can help meet the skills gap within some social enterprise in taking products to market. Those enterprises could then concentrate on what they do best to, recruit, train and provide supported work opportunities for disabled people.

Trading with other social enterprise will increase social and financial value within the sector, and in turn sustainability. With this in mind I set off designing a number of ethical products. I was inspired by the new green wall technology that was starting to spread across the globe – covering buildings with beautiful plants, renewing life in urban areas, reducing carbon emissions and attracting wildlife. With some start up support from social enterprise specialists UnLtd, I developed an ‘indoor green wall’ for the domestic market. I loved the aesthetics of the green wall and its ability to improve indoor air quality, and hoped that crafting a product entirely from reused and recycled materials, would create a guilt free consumer experience.




 The supply chain

York Disabled Workers Co-operative build quality bespoke wooden furniture, and their skilled craftsmanship makes them the perfect people to hand build the wooden surrounds for the indoor green walls. The plants will be grown through Horticap, and the products and currently packaged and delivered through Paperworks, both North Yorkshire based social enterprises offering training and work experience for disabled people.


Reclaimed wood

Reclaimed wood

Like in any start up business there are some challenges with the resources to bulk buy and to pass the financial savings on to the customer, but there are different challenges I have found through working with social enterprise. Working through only social enterprise means going at a much slower pace, because of course all the elements of production, are also training opportunities for people. Training opportunities have to be organised and delivered, and the trainees have to have more time to understand instruction and complete the tasks.

Finished product

Finished product

However, the pace has been perfect, enabling me the time to think things through as I go and make changes. Working through social enterprise has also uncovered some other welcome surprises, such as people’s willingness to try new things and support your ideas, as this all creates new training opportunities for disabled people, building their skills and supporting their pathways back to work. The complex packaging design, which had to hold both the wooden surround and plants, if manufactured through commercial routes would have priced the product out of the market. Horticap, will grow any of the plants suitable for the green walls, offering very reasonable prices. It seems that with social enterprise, one good turn deserves another and people seem to be open to problem solving with a focus on social value rather than financial.  A much more harmonious supply chain, with transparency, ethics and collaboration.

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. Here are some examples of the social economy operating on university campuses with a fuller explanation further down:

  1. Cooperative, student-owned businesses on campus – to cut prices/share profits with the main stakeholders, i.e. students and staff
  2. Credit union for students and staff on campus – to promote a savings culture in an ethical bank where members share the profits
  3. Social enterprise incubators on university campuses – to support students in developing their ideas for viable social enterprises
  4. Selling Fair Trade or other ethically sourced food in the campus cafes – to know that what we eat does not leave the bitter taste of exploitation of workers
  5. Recycling of student furniture – to ensure affordable prices, sustainability and training in furniture restoration for local people
  6. Student residence cooperatives – to ensure a fair price for accommodation and democratic decision making in the residence

1. Cooperative shops on campus, e.g. The COOP at Harvard/Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA

sitewide_logoThe COOP serves the Harvard and MIT communities as a cooperative by providing quality products and services: textbooks; college logo mechandise; framing of diplomas; rental of graduation gowns; dorm room necessities. It is one of the US’s largest campus stores. It is open to all, and students, alumni, staff and other people affiliated to Harvard/MIT can become members for $1. Members previously received a share of the profits each year. As of July 2014 members will receive a 10% discount on all purchases, rather than receiving a share of the profits at the end of the year.


2. Credit unions on campus, e.g. the Changemaker Credit Union at University of Northampton, UK

Credit Unions are social enterprise mutual financial organisations set up by members to benefit their community. Members of a credit union save in a common fund. This fund is used to make low interest loans to the credit union members. All interest on loans repayments is reinvested in the credit union and nothing leaves the community. Credit Unions also promote financial education and a culture of saving and responsible borrowing. Because the credit union is not-for-profit, it is able to offer its members higher deposit rates on their savings and lower lending rates on their loans than most banks. It is often a small organization, so the customer service is more personalized, giving members the feeling of a community bank.


The Changemaker Credit Union is a joint initiative between the University of Northampton and Northamptonshire Credit Union. It provides innovative financial services package to all students and staff of the university.

Students, alumni and staff of the University of Northampton can become members of the Changemaker Credit Union. By joining the Changemaker Credit Union members will be supporting a local and ethical savings and loan scheme that is owned and managed by students for the benefit of all members.


3. Social enterprise incubators on campus, e.g. The Phoenix Centre, York St John University, UK

Enterprise incubators can include commercial and social enterprises. They support start up enterprises with office space, mentoring and practical advice. The Phoenix at York St John University currently has 4 social enterprises:

Inspired Youth: “an award-winning not-for-profit Social Enterprise who embrace the creativity and vibrancy of digital video production, arts, media and participative inclusion techniques to inform, challenge, educate and inspire.   Our drive is to make an ongoing positive impact in the community with a particular focus on engaging and empowering people who are considered by some as hard to reach”.

here:now dementia ltd:  “a social enterprise on a mission to rebrand dementia”.

Kindlewoods:  ”a vibrant social enterprise that leads outdoor programmes with schools, groups and families in York and the surrounding area. We are passionate about two things; nature – and our ability to live sustainably in it, and people – feeling good, confident, happy and fulfilled”.

Caroline’s Rainbow Foundation:  is a registered UK charity working to raise awareness of the importance of safe travel to young people, whether they are going abroad for independent travel, gap year placements, organised tours or simply thinking about visiting a different country

4. Selling Fair Trade or other ethically sourced food in the campus cafes, e.g. the University of Melbourne, Australia

“The University of Melbourne  comprises about 58,000 students and staff.  They believe that the consumer choices they make on campus matter. By using fair trade options, they help reduce poverty and make a real difference to the lives of farmers and to communities in the developing world. Every choice matters and a community of 58,000 consumers, could make a world of difference.

A fair trade university supports and promotes fair trade products on campus. At Melbourne, students and staff enjoy greater choice through fair trade options – for coffee, tea, chocolate, and other products – for those who prefer to buy or consume fair trade products.

As part of their fair trade commitment, the University:

  • Stocks fair trade tea and coffee in at least 50% of kitchenettes across campus
  • Serves fair trade tea and coffee in Council and Senior Executive meetings
  • Encourages other cafes and outlets to offer fair trade options, and
  • Over time, is committed to looking at fair trade alternatives for products such as clothing and sports equipment

5. Recycling of student furniture, e.g. the York Community Furniture Store and York St John University, UK

The York Community Furniture Store (CFS), a registered charity and limited company. The CFS collects unwanted  furniture from student residences at the end of the year, restores it as necessary and sells it at reasonable prices, giving further discounts to people out of work or on low incomes. They also provide work experience in restoring the furniture at the companion store in Selby. From their website:

Last year we saved more than 160 metric tonnes from being added to the landfill mountain and helped several thousand people furnish their homes.  The more donors and customers we have, the greater the recycling we can achieve.

This contact is a win-win situation. CFS will collect unwanted student furniture at the end of the academic year. Previously, this had gone into a skip and been thrown away at the expense of the University and unnecessarily high environmental cost.  Perfectly good furniture can now be recycled instead of discarded; people on low incomes (including students) get access to furniture at reasonable prices; and the CFS gets more business to expand its socially and environmentally-driven aims.

 6. Student residence cooperatives, e.g. the Edinburgh Student Housing Cooperative, Scotland

Edinburgh Student Housing Cooperative Ltd will be owned and run democratically by the students living in the co-operative. This means contributing to the community and helping with organisation. When accepted as a member, students join the co-operative for £1 and have an equal share in the co-operative and an equal say on how it is run.

Opening in September 2014, there will be regular meetings where members decide on the direction and policies of the housing co-operative as well as specific roles for members to carry out. These may include roles like waste reduction, workshop coordinators, financial management, or a women’s officer. There will also be task groups to carry out these jobs. As part of the rent, members will contribute work hours to maintaining and running the co-operative.

30 year study shows social ventures more likely to survive than PLCs

Research shatters the myth that social enterprises are more likely to fail than traditional start ups

Download full report ‘Who lives the longest?’ by Professor Simon Denny from Northampton University, associate partner in the Social Economy in Higher Education project

The following article is by Abbie Rumbold and is taken from The Guardian

There is a lazy but persistent myth that social enterprises should be viewed with suspicion as deliverers of public services or vehicles for new investment because they are inherently unstable, and risky and on the verge of bankruptcy.

Just how pervasive this myth is was brought home to me when I was negotiating, on behalf of a social enterprise client, with a large private sector provider of public services. The company wanted copious payment guarantees in the contract, because, “social enterprises go bust all the time and we have to protect ourselves”.

My initial reaction was that this was a ridiculous assertion for which there is no hard evidence. One very successful social enterprise, the London Early Years Foundation, has been around for more than 100 years, for example, and now boasts a trading income of £10.4m. But I wanted to test the “conventional wisdom” that social enterprises are innately more precarious business ventures than their private sector equivalents. So I asked Professor Simon Denny, director of enterprise, development and social impact at Northampton University, to compare the longevity of FTSE 100 companies and the top social ventures.

Denny’s research looked at the survival rates, for the period from 1984 until 2014, of the 100 top social enterprises and trading charities in comparison with the top 100 PLCs. He found that the social ventures were not more likely than the PLCs to cease operating or fail to repay investments. In fact, overall, 41% of these ‘competitive third sector organisations’ have endured, compared with 33% of the PLCs.

When you take out the 40 trading charities in the list, and just look at the remaining 60 social enterprises, there was a small but not significant difference between their percentage survivability and that of the PLCS – 31.6% and 33% respectively.

No one is claiming that being a social enterprise or trading charity is plain sailing. There will always be those that fail. But this research shows that giving social ventures tougher contracts than traditional businesses on the grounds that they are inherently riskier, is unjustified and unfair.

The research also found that PLCs are significantly more likely to be acquired by other companies than social enterprises. If a company is bought out, it can affect the focus of the organisation and its ability to fulfil a public sector contract. Social enterprises are far less likely to merge or be acquired by a competitor. It does happen sometimes, but it’s much less common. In that sense, social enterprises are significantly less risky as deliverers of public services.

I hope public sector commissioners will examine this research and lose some of their nervousness about commissioning from social enterprises. This nervousness is reflected in qualification criteria that demand huge financial reserves, thus excluding many social enterprises. As a National Audit Office report last autumn showed, government relies far too much on four big private sector suppliers to deliver public services. This research demonstrates that there are reasons why there should be much more diversity among providers.

Abbie Rumbold is a partner in Bates Wells Braithwaites’s Charity and Social Enterprise Department.

Women entrepreneurs on a roll: Jacinta has bought a cow!

Update by Mike Calvert on the group of women from Nairobi who are expanding their businesses with micro-finance

Those of you who are interested in the fortunes of the Nairobi women entrepreneurs (see earlier posts), will be pleased to hear that things are going well. I thank the readers  of the blog for their encouragement which I am sure means a lot to the women and those that support them.

The micro-finance initiative has attracted a fifth member, Rispa and she is following in Alice’s footsteps and rearing chickens and needed the KES20,000 (£150) to ensure continuity of laying by having a second batch of chicks in the wings (pun intended) for when one batch stops laying.

I mentioned last time that the women were considering offering overdrafts short term to maximise the value and usefulness of the money. Three women have taken overdrafts of KES38,000 in total (£250) to be paid back over two months. The women are also working on registering the group so that they do not have to pay taxes.


Jacinta (left) with her husband, Steve with a customer in the shop.

The big news is that Jacinta (who has got the shop and the café) has bought a cow! She did have grand plans for a top of the range model but must have settled for a more modest animal using the proceeds of her second loan. She will now have all the milk she needs and more and will be able to supply milk to others.

I have not got a picture of the cow – I could not go out to Nairobi last week due to the bombings but watch this space. Kenyans are not sentimental about their animals but I have suggested Daisy and this has been given preliminary approval.


Building community an hour at a time – Timebuilders Sheffield, UK

Article written by Mike Calvert, York St John University, UK

Time Banking is not a new concept and many of the blog’s readers will know of the history and development of Time Banking which is a fast-growing global phenomenon. Founded in 1980 by Edgar Cahn it has spread to at least 24 countries and there are well over 250 Time Banks in England (including Timebank York by the way). All Time Banks are different but crudely what they have in common is the use of time as currency, there is the concept of reciprocity and the notion that we all have something to offer and we all need other people.

An interview with a Timebuilder at Sheffield led to this blog which may well be of interest to those committed to community action, social enterprise/economy and is seeking other ways of dealing with serious social issues that shrinking public services are finding increasingly hard to address.

The Big Lottery-funded project (£325K) in Sheffield is 18 months in and is based at St Mary’s Church at Bramall Lane Community Centre. The location had the advantage of already being used by community groups and to house projects. It is used as a centre for teaching English and is used by new arrivals including asylum seekers who have just come into the country and need to learn English. It has conference facilities that can be hired out. There are four paid staff and they recognise the need for some paid staff.

As was mentioned above, every Time Bank or similar is different from the next. It depends on a number of factors and the context. What works in one place might not work in another. Interestingly, Sheffield Timebuilders moved away from one-to-one skill share as a) they feel it has a short shelf life b) it is labour intensive and c) it was unlikely to achieve the deliverables that they were charged with in the lottery bid d) given the demographic sending people out to vet or visit individuals could be quite risky.

The aim is to have 1000 people as active timebuilders. The project attracts a range of people including those from minority backgrounds, those suffering from substance abuse and recovering from mental health issues. They work more extensively with groups of people rather than individuals. They set out to earn as a group and spend as a group. They have established a framework within which they can learn from each other, earn with each other and socialise with each other. They have a weekly joining slot for new members.

They recognise the value of reciprocity and have preserved the notion of time as a currency but regard what they do as volunteering with a difference – it is ‘a two-way street’. They value caring and the range of people’s talents and contributions and see the process as being a mechanism for recovery for some including those with mental health problems. They talk of ‘unlocking the resources in the community’.

They used to use time online to register the hours but felt that there was some rigidity there and have moved to paper time credits that the participants have to take responsibility for managing. They still record the hours on a database to show what is being achieved but this is more for monitoring purposes. They currently have 220 people on their books. They focus on group activities such as litter picking and gardening and can supervise a range of people in one place and fulfil their duty of care.

They are also in receipt of a different funding stream ‘Awards for all’ to the tune of £5000.  This means that they have additional funds to offer social events and trips such as the one to York. This attracts those who might not volunteer, as well as those who might providing an additional ‘pull factor’ of being able to spend the hours on something nice. They have partnership arrangements with football clubs, theatres, other organisations and endeavour to try to get as many free tickets as possible but this is quite challenging.

They have a Timebuilder leadership programme where people can learn transferable skills around facilitation, and make them more effective as Timebuilding volunteers. They recognise the need for capacity building for sustainability that can be brought about by developing the volunteers. They also have a Timebuilders Catalogue specifying what you can spend and what you can earn. They also have a ‘Timebuilders University’ helping those who might be able to go on to study. ‘Speak and grow’ brings together people with different languages to speak and do gardening at the same time.

I recommend justaddspice.org (not an advert for after shave but a great site from Wales) and more locally newhorizonsdoncaster.co.uk as well as our own yorktimebank.org.uk. See also an interview with Viv Chamberlin-Kidd from York Timebank on the Social Economy site. The parent body is timebank.org.uk

Caux Round Table, Japan and Corporate Social Responsibility and Human Rights

The network for  the Social Economy in Higher Education project has expanded to another part of the world.  In this case the selection of  a Japanese organization: Caux Round Table,  is a typical example of how our project is shaping a “global” network interested in contributing with their expertise to the sustainability of the project’s outcomes.  The expertise of Caux Round Table,   as an organization focused on the correlation between Corporate Social Responsibility for  private organizations and Human Rights, allows us to deepen the the quality of information the handbook will be offering to universities worldwide.

The following has been written by Guillermo Juarez Salinas, CRT Japan

The Caux Round Table (CRT) is an international network of principled business leaders working to promote a moral capitalism. The CRT advocates implementation of the CRT Principles for Business through which principled capitalism can flourish and sustainable and socially responsible prosperity can become the foundation for a fair, free and transparent global society.

Since CRT-Japan accepted to become an Associate Partner to the Social Economy Project  their priority has been sharing relevant information about the activities of CRT globally that would become  a leverage  to the dialogue  among the participants to the Social Economy Project and encourage proactive discussion.

One of CRT-Japan concerns is to create awareness around global issues and tracing a roadmap that can lead to a better understanding on how business activities impact a broader range of stakeholders. In this regards we would like to share some of our ongoing activities which we believe can enhance the understanding of “Social Economy” to Japanese corporations from a Human Rights perspective. And also may present a baseline to social economy organizations to find new ways to come together to organize their economic interaction.

Human Rights Due Diligence Workshop

In 2012 the Nippon CSR Consortium was established to raise awareness and promote activities in the field of business and human rights by offering Human Rights Due Diligence Workshops in which companies can discuss human rights issues with NGOs, experts and other companies

We are ready for the next step and from July to December this year we’ll continue with the Human Rights Due Diligence Workshop in which so far 22 companies and 40 people have been registered.

You can find some of the results from the workshop on the following links:



“Sustainable Navigation” framework

To facilitate the practical implementation of UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights we developed the “Sustainable Navigation (Sus-Navi)” framework, a roadmap that marks out twelve steps from A to K in order to create a clear link between Human Rights issues, CSR Activities and Reporting (transparency). You may find more information about the Sus-Navi framework on the following link: http://www.crt-japan.jp/EN/files/Holistic_Approach/framework.html

Supply chain management

As part of the roadmap we identify potential risks throughout the supply chain with the support of CSR initiatives such as Sedex, Maplecroft and the Sustainable Apparel Coalition (SAC) which is holding its full membership meeting from May 6th till 9th at Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and where we are participating, discussing with more than 200 participants about Supply Chain Management and how SAC can maximize collective impact through the industry. You may find more information about our activities on Supply Chain Management on the following link: http://www.crt-japan.jp/EN/press/140128_Sedex_report_E.html

CSR Risk Management Conference in Tokyo, September 4th and 5th, 2014

Caux Round Table Japan has organized the Conference on CSR and Risk Management since 2013 in order to explore the possibilities of strengthening risk management by implementing the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights. In 2014, the Global Conference on CSR Risk Management is planned to be held two times in March and September. At this moment we are preparing the final list of international speakers.

With these activities, we aim to assist organizations in (1) ‘identifying and assessing any actual or potentially adverse human rights impacts’ as defined in the UN Guiding Principles, (2) integrating and acting upon the findings, (3) tracking responses, and (4) communicating how impacts are addressed with the affected stakeholders, such that companies can use the knowledge acquired to support their human rights due diligence activities, which help the implementation of the United Nations ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ Framework.


Patio of hope, Cuba


As part of the social economy in higher education project we are visiting the universities of several countries in Latin America. Our first visit has been to Pinar del Río University in Cuba. Thanks to the Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Juan Silvio Cabrera, we had the opportunity to visit various community projects. One of these is Pelegrín’s Patio, a space which encourages and promotes artistic expression amongst all sections of the community. It is clearly a space for learning artistic skills and creative expression as well as promoting the value of community.

The Patio is an informal community space. It receives no external funds. Its founder, Mario Pelegrín, has three ‘lines’ which he pursues:


environmental, which aims to promote love of the environment and education about its protection and preservation;

socio-cultural, to preserve traditions, promote culture and stimulate the participation of creative talent; and

productive, the production of fruit and vegetables and the provision of a café, which provides income and enables the sustainability of the project.


It is an example of the promotion of social capital through providing opportunity for community engagement and mutual education.


Margaret Meredith and Catalina Quiroz


(Map below by permission of Carlos C. Torres)




Daima Cardoso Valdés, journalist and academic at the University of Pinar del Río has kindly given us the following article about Pelegrín’s Patio.


A patio open to hope

By Daima Cardoso Valdés

pelegrin-1Today Cuba is experiencing a massification of its culture to all regions of the country, without making distinctions about particular local cultural needs. This is prompting Cubans to reclaim their humanity and create the means to address their current problems.

Cuba, a poor country under a US blockade, strives to make visible its social projects which prioritize community and culture, because it is within community that we realise our spirituality.

In Pinar del Rio various projects exist, generally in the areas in which access is difficult. These projects give the possibility of recreation and contact with the cultural heritage of the region. Puerta de Golpe has around 6000 inhabitants within its immediate area. These people are in need of cultural and community projects.

With this in mind an artist from the community,  Mario Pelegrín Pozo, opened up his home and gave his free time to support a project, Pelegrín’s Patio, in order to meet the social and recreational interests of his neighbours.

Pelegrin's Patio3

The greatest possible number of artistic expressions find their space in this place maximum amount of space art forms found on this site, which is a tropical paradise touched by the magic of art. Pelegrín’s Patio will pass into the history of the region as a new option for recreation, instruction and aesthetic education.

The Patio has stimulated great interest amongst the local population and foreign visitors. It attempts to revitalise popular and traditional culture, and it is a way of saving the Revolution and its history. It is very significant that it promotes artistic and cultural values which exist in the community as well as enabling new talents to be discovered.

The direct beneficiaries of the project are 75 fans of arts, handicrafts, painting and ceramics, including women in their later years who enjoy knitting. They get together with children and students from the Basilio Caraballo polytechnic and devote time to creating ceramics and work with papier mache.

They include 23 folk music enthusiasts and poets. They join 2 historians and community researchers and a literary workshop of 15 members. There is also a dance club, a cinema debating club, alongside a circle of people interested in traditional sweets.


This project addresses all groups and sectors in an egalitarian way and represents a laboratory of innovation at the service of culture. Its methodology could be replicated in other areas of the region. It’s worth remembering that everything done in communities today with the purpose of promoting the well-being its people, and to promote expressions of culture, are important steps towards a better world. Pelegrín has demonstrated this with his project. Congratulations!