International project will promote ‘solidarity economy’

The Co-operative College is working with development education charity Think Global on a new, international project promoting the role of co-ops and the ‘social and solidarity economy’ in...

The Co-operative College is working with development education charity Think Global on a new, international project promoting the role of co-ops and the ‘social and solidarity economy’ in poverty reduction and development. Sustainable and Solidarity Economy (SUSY) brings together 26 partners from 23 European countries, along with nine countries in the global south, over three years.

“The social and solidarity economy is typified by people coming together to meet their needs in a way that presents an alternative to the current economic system by putting people, not profit, first,” said Natalie Bradbury, information co-ordinator at the Co-operative College. “Successful solidarity-based initiatives, many on a local scale, include house and garden projects, consumer-producer communities, local exchange trading systems, giveaway shops, open-source projects and repair cafés.

“People who are involved might use Fairtrade products, produce goods and services together or own assets and resources collectively. They might get together in local exchange trading systems, or make use of networks to organise and inform themselves.”

The first stage of SUSY is to compile and share best practice and map the social and solidarity economy, highlighting key initiatives and agencies. Think Global has been compiling case studies of co-ops and social enterprises in London and the South East, while the college has been covering the North West and the North East, including co-operative support organisations, members of the European parliament and local authority workers.

The college is overseeing parallel research in India by Veena Nabar, an expert on the Indian co-operative sector. Her focus is co-operative activity in the Andaman and Nicobar territory, a group of 572 islands, islets and rocks in the Bay of Bengal, which are home to aboriginal tribes who derive their basic livelihood from forest produce, as well as settlers from the mainland.

Ms Nabar has chosen central co-operative marketing society Ellon Hinego as the region’s best practice case study. The college has been working with Ellon Hinego in Port Blair, the territory’s largest town, since 2006. It is a secondary co-op with 15 primary co-ops, known as Panam Hinegos, as members.

The co-ops are central to village life, providing access to education and health facilities. Ellon Hinego works to further member co-ops’ interests in cottage and small-scale industries, fishing, credit, supervision, co-operative education and training, postal services, tourism and recreational activities.

It provides help in marketing members’ produce, such as copra (dried coconut) and betel nuts. It distributes consumer goods and merchandise, and carries cargo, essential commodities and freight between Port Blair, the mainland and other islands. It is also involved in construction, supply of petroleum products and employing youth.

But in 2004 Ellen Hinego lost practically everything in Boxing Day tsunami, and its managing director was among the victims. Since the disaster, the college has been involved in a project to promote reconstruction through co-ops.

Ms Bradbury said: “The tsunami showed the power of co-operatives to demonstrate solidarity and concern for community in periods of calamity and trial. Co-operatives spared no effort or expense, opening their homes to villagers whose houses had been washed away, and eventually rebuilt an economy that was all but wiped out.”

Case studies like Ellen Hinego will feature in a series of short films based on the interviews and research undertaken by SUSY project partners. The films, which will aim to inspire more people to see the benefits of the social and solidarity economy and to get involved, will be shown at public events over the coming year.

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