International Seminar on Solidarity Economy in Helsinki, Finland

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

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). There is also a possibility to follow the event online through a live stream.
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!


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

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 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: 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: 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.”

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:

YouTube Preview Image

“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.