From 1st to 6 May 2023, the city of Dakar (Senegal) welcomed more than 5,000 people from all over the world, from 250 cities and 70 countries, to the Global Social and Solidarity Economy Forum (GSEF). The INSP!R network was present with the participation of various members such as WSM, IPROFOTH (an organisation supporting and promoting domestic workers in Peru), RIPESS-Latin America and the Caribbean (International Network on the Social and Solidarity Economy), AJE (Action Jeunesse & Environnement, Senegal), ANSSE (African Network for Social and Solidarity Economy, as well as the INSP!R Rwandan national network. These representatives were able to assert, during their many presentations in collaboration with the intercontinental RIPESS and RIPESS Europe networks, that the social and solidarity economy remains an excellent tool for giving people access to universal social protection.
For the GSEF participants, the entire world population has the right to decent working conditions, a sufficient income to live in dignity and must be able to become autonomous and emancipated in a liveable world, while the dominant economic model produces precariousness and destruction of our planet. Today, the social and solidarity economy (SSE) is an appropriate socio-economic model for achieving the UN's sustainable development goals by 2030. Everywhere, the social and solidarity economy is demonstrating its ability to bring about positive change in all our societies and territories. Each new GSEF Forum reminds us that the power of the SSE lies in both its great unity and its great diversity. Its diversity makes it rich in innovation and experimentation, while respecting local cultures and identities, always with the aim of achieving democracy and social and environmental justice.
The GSEF 2023 Forum in Dakar took place at a special time.
First, because we are gradually emerging from the pandemic episode, which had dramatic humanitarian, health, economic and social consequences. SSE organisations were then able to demonstrate their capacity for resilience and solidarity with the populations most affected.
Second, because we are not all equal when it comes to the dominant economic model. There are winners, but there are also losers. Young people, women, migrants, workers in the informal and popular economy and in the platform economy are particularly hard hit.
Combating inequality, changing the paradigm
The social and solidarity economy, which proposes an economic model based on cooperation rather than competition, on putting people and nature before profits, is a powerful means of reversing this trend. Our world today is punctuated by increasing inequality and poverty, wars, discrimination, and a succession of alarming IPCC reports. We need a change in thinking that puts people and the planet first.
By focusing on the specific conditions of young people and women, who suffer even greater insecurity than the rest of the population, and whose empowerment is a priority issue, as well as on improving the working and living conditions of workers in the informal economy, the GSEF was also an opportunity to remind local and national governments of their responsibilities: there is a need to promote the transition from informal economies to collective and sustainable economies, to enable access to social protection for workers living in economic insecurity. This also means facilitating access to markets, sharing services, expertise, knowledge, and resources, as well as access to appropriate and sustainable funding. Finally, we need to recognise this economy through regulations and laws that enable the SSE to develop in a favourable environment.
The social and solidarity economy, a tool for achieving universal social protection
INSP!R members present at the GSEF in Dakar were able to affirm, alongside an ILO representative, the importance of the role of the social and solidarity economy in achieving universal social protection at a public session co-organised with the intercontinental RIPESS on 4 May 2023. Using concrete examples from the field, drawn from the experiences of INSP!R members, this workshop highlighted the way in which social and solidarity economy initiatives play a key role in raising people’s awareness of the need to join mutual health insurance. The speakers also underlined the role of the SSE in the collective registration of their members to social security systems, thus enabling them to access health systems. The social organisations present were also able to demonstrate the strength of the advocacy and lobbying activities they carry out in their countries to push their authorities to introduce social protection schemes to lift people out of precariousness and offer them a dignified life. Lastly, other experiences also raised the profile of Social and Solidarity Economy initiatives that involve providing healthcare services themselves, such as basic health services for vulnerable populations.
INSP!R members taking part in the GSEF 2023 workshops and sessions were able to share their SSE experiences in the field.
They also played an active part in an intercontinental exchange workshop organised a few days before the GSEF, in the company of other civil society players, such as the Senegalese trade union CNTS, MDB (a micro-credit player active in Benin), the Belgian organisation ECHOS Communications, the NGO Green (active in Senegal and a partner of the Belgian NGO SOLSOC) and RIPESS Intercontinental. This preparatory workshop enabled INSP!R and these organisations to refine their positions so that they could be made public at the GSEF.
The testimonies gathered during these discussions demonstrate the vital role of the SSE in achieving universal social protection:
For Ernestina Ochoa of IPROFOTH (Peru), a social organisation that organises domestic workers in Lima, “domestic workers need to be better protected. In Peru, we ratified ILO Convention 189 on domestic work, which was then transposed into law. This contains provisions aimed at ensuring decent work, notably by stipulating that an employment contract must be signed and that we are entitled to holidays. The aim is to get away from the informality that allows abuse by employers, who are well out of sight of the labour inspectorate because the work takes place in their own homes! The law also provides for a social protection scheme for these workers. But in practice, three years after its adoption, we have yet to see any significant changes. We are therefore continuing to put pressure on our political decision-makers to translate this legislation into reality. In the meantime, we are setting up Social and Solidarity Economy projects, such as the manufacture and sale of textile products that domestic workers who are too old or who find themselves out of work because of Covid can sell to obtain the income they need to survive. The next step is to set up self-managed solidarity funds that would allow us to contribute to a social security system. In Senegal, a few days before the GSEF, I was able to see such a system with my own eyes in Mbour, in the Thiès region, with the action of AJE (a member of INSP!R) and groups of women who process food products to sell them on the Senegalese market. This convinced me that it works and brings great benefits!”
Judith Mukamana, executive secretary of AJE, praised the merits of these self-managed funds set up by women for women. “A real sense of solidarity is developing. Each woman understands that it is essential to collectively launch an initiative within the framework of the social and solidarity economy to gain access to social protection. Thanks to our collaboration with GRAIM, a mutual insurance company and member of INSP!R, we are able to offer members the opportunity to join a mutual health insurance that protects them and their families through access to universal health services. And it’s a success, which can also be explained by the fact that we are also doing a massive job of raising awareness of the benefits of mutual insurance. Faced with a lack of support from the state, civil society is not sitting back and acting!”
For Séraphin Gasore, coordinator of the national INSP!R network in Rwanda (“INSP!R ZAMUKA”), access to funding for Social and Solidarity Economy initiatives is the sinews of war. “In my country, there is a universal social security system to which the entire population is automatically registered, free of charge. But the country lacks opportunities in terms of employment, which weakens people because they can’t enjoy a decent life. A system for financing the social and solidarity economy has recently been put in place, but it still has serious shortcomings that prevent people from developing their initiatives in a favourable environment. We are actively campaigning for the system to be more decentralised, so that funding decisions take account of the specific characteristics of localities and populations. The stakes are enormous. With better incomes, people will be able to improve their food security, get a better education and so on. It’s a question of improving their lives overall!”
Pierrette Memong, Secretary General of the African Network for Social and Solidarity Economy (ANSSE), talked about the experience in Cameroon, where the shortcomings of the national social protection system have led women to develop alternative methods to make up for these shortcomings, within the framework of SSE initiatives based on traditional practices. “In Cameroon, by pooling their resources within the various self-managed funds developed within their organisations, the women involved are able to combine the three logics of social benefits and social services. They cover their health and funeral needs, sometimes by joining a community health insurance scheme, or by reimbursing expenses directly to a patient who has been treated. They build up their capital through a flexible loan system based on a joint guarantee (rapid access to the sum requested thanks to streamlined procedures, low interest rate (1%), repayment period adapted to the activity, etc.). They are able to equip themselves. The group can also act as a guarantor if a member wants to buy equipment on the market, either for commercial or family use. They provide social services such as rotating childcare, rotating field work and various forms of social assistance (financial aid or loans in the event of the illness or death of a member or a relative; weddings, christenings, childbirth, etc.). Finally, they contribute to the creation of community infrastructures in their localities.”
The strength of the INSP!R network lies in the fact that it develops Social and Solidarity Economy initiatives rooted in local areas and geared towards benefiting local people. Focused on the crucial needs of these people, these initiatives are sources of decent work and therefore a way out of precariousness and access to universal social protection. INSP!R derives its legitimacy and credibility from field experience, which its members relay and translate into political advocacy. Our demand is truly clear: the SSE must be seen as a genuine source of job creation that promotes decent work. It must be able to enjoy legal recognition, which can be achieved through the adoption of national laws, local regulations, and international conventions. To develop sustainably, it must be able to benefit from financing that is appropriate and adapted to its nature. The General Conclusions adopted at the ILO’s International Labour Conference in 2022 and the Resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in April 2023 on this subject are steps in the right direction, as they recognise the crucial role of SSE and the challenges to be overcome.
Angeles Carrion (coordinator of RIPESS-Latin America & the Caribbean, a member organisation of the INSP!R network) also intends to take advantage of this historic momentum, which saw the adoption of two international resolutions on the social and solidarity economy. “These texts confirm the success of the social struggle waged by many movements around the world who have long been lobbying for recognition of the SSE! They are asking governments to make structural changes. Genuine spaces for participation must be created, enabling solidarity economy players to propose alternatives to the traditional capitalist economic system. These movements are proposing a radical programme for the reappropriation of the most important productive resources (land, water, money, and knowledge) by workers to reverse their appropriation as commodities, which has led to their accumulation in the hands of a few and to their excessive exploitation. There is an urgent need to promote solidarity-based economic circuits in the territories, recognising specific and diverse cultural practices.”
For all the members of INSP!R present in Dakar, it is now time to take hold of these texts to bring them to life in reality and thus push the States to recognise the SSE as a real source of sustainable human development!
By Santiago Fischer, Head of Advocacy and Research at WSM
When the SSE provides healthcare services
In the Dominican Republic, MOSCTHA, a member of INSP!R, provides health services to Haitian migrants through mobile clinics that travel from village to village. This initiative makes up for the inaction of the Dominican government, which prefers to turn a blind eye to the living conditions of these people.
An experiment in collective registration with the social security system in the Dominican Republic
The CASC trade union, a member of INSP!R, has set up the AMUSSOL mutual health insurance, which has almost 60,000 members, all workers in the informal sector. AMUSSOL acts as a “virtual employer” by collecting contributions from women workers. The Dominican State, aware of its shortcomings, has agreed to collect its contributions in this way and pay health benefits to AMUSSOL, which can then distribute them to its beneficiaries. Normally, the State is legally obliged to provide social security for all, but it recognises that it is not yet capable of putting this political decision into practice.
To find out more, read the brochure "AMUSSOL: access to social security for workers in the informal economy in the Dominican Republic". (in Spanish)