The 2nd Asian Forum for Solidarity Economy took place on Sat, 7th and Sun, 8th November 2009 at the United Nations University, Aoyama Gakuin University and Women’s Plaza, Tokyo, Japan. About 320 participants from 11 countries attended this international event, learning both the theoretical foundations as well as practices of solidarity economy both in Japan, Asia and other parts of the world. On top of that, more than 10 NGOS had their booths to show their products and activities, allowing visitors and bystanders to witness the diversity of the realm of solidarity economy.
The conference began with an introductory speech by Ms. Yoko Kitazawa, one of the founders of the PARC (Pacific Asia Resource Center), admitting the seldom use of the term “solidarity economy” in Asia, explaining its historical development in Europe and mentioning RIPESS and WSSE at Alliance 21 as key global networks which have driven this movement forward. Then followed a video conference by Mr. Pierre Calame, of FPH, who told that the cliché “21st century is for Asia” is also true in terms of solidarity economy, arguing the need to transform our economy into the one in which “territories” (French speakers preferred this term while a number of English speakers told me that it should be replaced with the word “communities”) can manage their own currencies and energy source, putting their workforce for social cohesion and making themselves more self-sufficient.
The Session 1 was about the perspective of the solidarity economy in the world and three speakers shared their vision (another speaker was supposed to come from Brazil but had to cancel his trip because of his sudden illness). First Mr. Vincent Dagenais from Québec, Canada mentioned three key issues: social exclusion of the poor who have no access to credits, need to participatory community management and food sovereignty, concluding that the globalisation excludes people while solidarity economy includes them. The second speakers, Ms. Martine Theveniaut from France and Mr. Yvon Poirier from Canada, presented their initiative called “Pactes Locaux” (“Local Agreements” in English) which tries to link territory-based activities (environment, society, culture, finance and governance) on the global level. The third speaker, Mr. David Thompson from Job Australia said about the two economies in his country, i.e. the mainstream economy which seeks for its greed and another economy in search for common goods, hoping that today’s serious issues such as climate change, peak oil and food crisis will drive us towards further transformation.
The Session 2 focuses on Asia and six speakers from five different countries gave their own stories. The first speaker, Mr. Benjamin Quiñones from the Philippines, main organiser of the 1st Asian Forum in October 2007 in Manila, talked about his own network CSRSME which consists of Philippine small and medium sized businesses with social and environmental responsibility, saying that he tries to create the supply chain among these businesses and to improve their performance. Then followed Mr. Denison Jayasooria from Binary University, Malaysia who depicted briefly his country’s economic growth as well as severe income gap and the underdeveloped rural areas, although he sees this circumstance as new opportunities because different initiatives are emerging to fill in the gap, such as microcredit and cooperative movements. And as an example Mr. Shaun Isaac showed his initiative to build IT hub centres at 42 communities all over Malaysia with the aim to help people, especially women, to leverage the Internet access to commercialise better their goods and services. Then followed Ms. Ira Shah, from Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), India who told about their microcredit initiatives and the expansion of their network to the whole South Asia and even to Afghanistan.
The fourth speaker, Mr. Won-bong Jang from Social Investment Support Foundation, Korea, talked about the current situation of social enterprises as well as that of regional self-help centres in his country. Currently there are 251 social enterprises acknowledged by the Ministry of Labor, with either job creation or provision of social services (or sometimes both of them) as their main goal and working for the weak, the elderly and the handicapped. And there are 242 self-help centres, with 2,967 examples with 26,691 employees. The last speaker, Mr. Jun Nishikawa from Waseda University, Japan, depicted the structure of the Japanese economy, saying that in Japan politicians and other conventional élite have been rather ruling than helping the non-profit sector such as farmers’ coops and consumers’ coops, although new sorts of non-profit activities have been emerging since 1990s.
The Session 3 was focused on the solidarity finance and four speakers gave their presentations. The first one, Bernd Balkenhol from ILO, gave an overview of social finance and its difference from the conventional one as the social one takes care of environmental and social values too on top of pursuing financial profit. Then Ms. Viviane Vandemeulebroucke from INAISE gave a talk on her organisation as well as on some member institutions in Europe such as Triodos Bank, the Netherlands, Clann Credo, Ireland and La NEF, France. The third speaker, Ms. Micol Pistelli from Washington D.C., United States gave a presentation on MIX, a NGO which gives analysis on the performance of microcredit all over the world. Finally Ms. Mariko Kawaguchi, from Daiwa Institute of Research Holdings , a think tank which belongs to a commercial security corporation in Japan, explained the current situation of social finance in this East-Asian country, suggesting the non-profit sector to leverage those social finance services provided by conventional financial institutions.
The Session 4 was about the role for social enterprises to play. The first speaker, Mr. Benjamin Quiñones who had already spoken at the Session 2, showed different social enterprises and coops in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, such as artisans’ group, solidarity tourism, affordable housing, healthy coffee, funeral service and organic farm of green tea. The second speaker, Ms. Chigusa Fujiki from Workers’ Collective Network Japan, showed different initiatives in her country, such as catering service (restaurants and lunchbox services), bakery, jam, café, kindergarten and transportation service for the elderly. The third speaker, Ms. Jung-eun Ha from the Work Together Foundation, Korea told that the miserable job quality there gave birth to social enterprises in order to provide better job opportunities to the impoverished, mentioning the law by way of which the government gives subsidies up to 2 years to those enterprises acknowledged as social enterprise. And the last presenter, Mr. Kendo Otaka from Seigakuin Univ., Japan, showed some challenges of the solidarity economy sector there, showing some examples of social exclusion and suggesting existing solidarity economy actors to play the role of social and territorial inclusion too.
On Sunday morning there were five different workshops: “social finance”, “fair trade”, “elderly care and health service”, “self-sufficient style communities” and “international solidarity tax”. Then the Session 5 dealt with indicators and evaluation method in terms of the achievement of solidarity economy, and three speakers showed their own practices. The first one, Ms. Micol Pistelli who had already spoken at the Session 3, gave details on the evaluation method provided by her NGO called MIX, followed by Mr. Rolando Victoria from ASKI, the Philippines, who shared their own experience of evaluation with the final result of A-. The final speaker, Edith Sizoo from Paris, told about the significance of the Charter of Human Responsibilities. The last session was dedicated to the elaboration of the consensus of this forum, and the final document is expected to be published before long. The 3rd Asian Forum for Solidarity Economy will be held in 2011 in Malaysia.
My remark in this conference is that most actors of solidarity economy in Japan belong to high middle class who are rather concerned with satisfying their needs (especially organic food and elderly care) while job creation and the struggle against poverty take a backseat to customer satisfaction. Japan has been going through radical changes of its economic and social structure, nevertheless, including aging population, worsening balance sheet of the public sector and dismantling of the middle class, and it is essential that the solidarity economy movement in Japan as a whole should be aware of these current trends if it really wants to show alternatives to those who really suffer from the status quo.