Values and dimensions of entrepreneurship in the solidarity economy – a view from Brazil

News: We are delighted that Dr Antonio Cruz, former National Coordinator (Brazil) of the Network of Popular Cooperatives of University Incubators will be speaking at the conference at York St John University, 1-3 Sept 2015

In Latin America and Africa the term social and solidarity economy is used to refer to “organisations that have explicit economic AND social (and often environmental) objectives; and which involve varying forms of co-operative, associative and solidarity relations.  They include, for example, cooperatives, mutual associations, NGOs engaged in income generating activities, women’s self-help groups, community forestry and other organizations, associations of informal sector workers, social enterprise and fair trade organizations and networks” (Utting 2013)

The term is becoming increasingly used in English, for example by the United Nations.

Conceptual models of the social and solidarity economy need to reflect the wide diversity of grassroots  experiences. Luís Inácio Gaiger and other Brazilian scholars performed  mapping and studies of the Social and Solidarity Economy ventures in Brazil in surveys conducted between 1992 and 2009. They created a conceptual and analytical model of enterprises in the solidarity economy, defining criteria in  quadrants as below. The model is presented in the table below. (See the original in Portuguese at the bottom of the article).

Gaiger and Corrêa 2010: 162

Gaiger and Corrêa 2010: 162

In quadrant SQ, self-management is linked to democracy, participation and autonomy of the enterprise in its management, relating both to individual partners as organizations and external forces.  Cooperation refers to values and practices of mutual collaboration, mutuality and social commitment. As for quadrant EQ, the efficiency of an enterprise relates to its ability to sustain and consolidate itself as a result of its activities. It refers to aspects of economic operation to ensure the survival of the enterprise in the present and not to jeopardise it in the future. Sustainability refers to the ability to generate conditions for follow working in the medium and long term (Gaiger and Corrêa 2010: 162).

The spirit of enterprise is combined with community solidarity. It recognises two logics of action: the instrumental logic of the entrepreneur who needs realism and pragmatism in his/her drive to ensure workable solutions in the realisation of an economic alternative. In balance with this are the ideological  values and principles, focusing on the aspiration for personal and social change, requiring commitment to others and above all the conviction that transformation will add social value (Gaiger and Corrêa 2010: 166, 167).

This article is translated and adapted from the project blog in Portuguese.


Gaiger, L. I. and Corrêa, A. da S. 2010. A História e os sentidos do empreendedorismo solidário. Outra Economía, volumen IV, nº7: 162.

Utting, P. (2013)  What is social and solidarity economy and why does it matter? Oxfamblogs.org

Gaiger and Corrêa 2010: 162

Gaiger and Corrêa 2010: 162

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

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.

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.

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

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

500 responses to social economy survey .. and counting

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

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

mutual financial associations owned by their members;

informal groups dedicated to producing crafts;

social enterprises seeking to promote employability of young people;

associations for local development;

and many more.

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

See more about the social economy in higher education project

Complete the survey                              Complete the survey (UK version)

The survey is also available in Portuguese and Spanish:

Complete the survey in Portuguese

Complete the survey in Spanish (Latin America)

Complete the survey in Spanish (Spain)


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

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

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

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


Cultivating sugar cane

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

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


Wrapped sugar cane

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

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

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

Main oven

Principal oven worker

Sugar cane – cooling down

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

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








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

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

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


Co-operative wins Financial Times ‘Boldness in Business’ Award

Mondragon Corporation, which includes our partner in the Social Economy project, Mondragon University, has won the Financial Times Boldness in Business award for ‘Drivers of Change‘. Mondragon uses democratic methods in its business organisation, the creation of jobs, the human and professional development of its workers and a pledge to development with its social environment. Leo Johnson from the Financial Times reports that its record “quietly refutes the conventional wisdom that to be co-operative is to be uncompetitive”. It  is one of the 10 largest companies in Spain. Employing 83,000 workers worldwide, it is the largest co-operative in the world.

Its business philosophy is contained in its corporate values:

  • Co-operation.
  • Participation.
  • Social Responsibility.
  • Innovation.

Mondragon University is closely linked to the labour market, and tailors its offer of courses according to the needs of enterprises and organizations needs.





A community to promote a people-centered economy

We warmly invite you to participate in this blog by posting a comment or sending an email to socialeconomy@yorksj.ac.uk


  • If you have questions about what the social/solidarity economy is.
  • Do  universities in your region offers courses on social entrepreneurship or the social economy?
  • If you work in a social enterprise, a co-operative, a mutual society, etc. we would like to publish your experiences. Photos of your work would also be welcome.

We would also welcome links to conferences, organisations, publications about social/solidarity economy. We want to make the blog into a home for a community of people that are working for a people-centered economy.

Please see the website of the project: www.yorksj.ac.uk/socialeconomy

Margaret Meredith and Catalina Quiroz Niño

Social economy – the challenge for Higher Education

Over the recent decades, the social economy sector has acquired greater significance, in terms of economic activity and in social policy planning in EU countries and internationally.  Social economy enterprises represent two million enterprises (i.e. 10% of all European businesses) and employ over 11 million paid employees (the equivalent of 6% of the working population of the EU): out of these, 70% are employed in non-profit associations, 26% in cooperatives and 3% in mutual societies. Social economy entities are enterprises, in their majority micro, small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) (European Commission, 2012)

In spite of its importance, however, this sector is not given much attention in  the mainstream of higher education curricula in Europe and other continents.

It is evident that the world in the 21st century is facing profound changes and transformations and these should be reflected and addressed in the everyday activity within higher education courses. In this sense there is an urgency of finding new answers for old problems and it is possible that those answers have to do with the everyday life, with the local, with the revaluation of ancient knowledge from an intercultural perspective. It is essential that universities look at themselves and adjust their curricula to the new dynamics and challenges facing the continent and the wider world. The curricula offered by higher education institutions have to be relevant to the development and current challenges facing global society.

Margaret Meredith