The 5th RIPESS (Réseau Intercontinental de Promotion de l’Économie Sociale et Solidaire) global conference took place from Tue, 15th to Fri, 18th October 2013 at the University of the Philippines, Quezon (Metro Manila), the Philippines as the first global event on Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) in Asia, with the participation of some 400 people from all the six continents of the world (Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, North America and Oceania).
The conference began with the speech by Mr. Jun Simon, former mayor of Quezon City, who criticised harshly the neoliberalism and told decades of his experience as an activist against this economic dogma, showing pictures of the Philippines’ traditional terrace ricefields as a good example of SSE. Then there was a plenary in which Mr. Michael Lewis, from Canadian Centre for Community Renewal, underscored the importance to build the yin-yang at the SSE on the basis of the slogan for RIPESS 2001 at Québec “Resist and Build”. He also referred to the importance to link the three basic needs (food, energy and housing) with SSE’s three tools (Request for finance, request of the commons, democratisation and localisation of the property) and mentioned the examples of affordable housing at Vancouver, of Teikei (Community-Supported Agriculture) in Japan and of the Peak Oil. Then appeared Paul Singer, National Secretary of Solidarity Economy in Brazil, who started by saying that SSE’s story is as long as the humanity and that it can be found at every corner of the world. He underscored the practices of native American and Afro-Brazilian communities, added that solidarity economy is a pacific process without bloodshed and finished by relating SSE with the “happiness” that Bhutan promotes.
The next speaker was Peter Utting from UNRISD (United Nations Research Institute for Social Development) who questioned the paradigm of development as the conventional one brought about different issues such as poverty, unequality between genders, crisis in values and individualisation, highlighting the Latin American concept of “buen vivir” (to live a decent life in harmony with the Mother Nature). Then he told that United Nations is an important player too on promoting SSE, referring to the conference that had took place at Geneva, the Switzerland in May 2013. The last speaker of the first morning was Nancy Neatman, from Chantier d’Economie Sociale (Québec), who said that neither capitalism nor communism worked on reducing the poverty, accentuating the need that grass-root organisations should self-manage their resources.
The afternoon on Day 1 was spent for the presentation of the current situation in all the six continents. Daniel Tygel, general secretary of RIPESS, explained the latest news of the world, such as the renewal of its website with videos and its integration with other related websites, progresses at United Nations and different public policies in favour of the SSE, including the approval of the laws in some countries, highlighting the need for SSE to get linked with other social movements too. Abdeljalil Cherkaoui from Morocco told the African perspective where SSE keeps growing since the 3rd RIPESS conference in 2005 at Dakar, Senegal, focusing on the need to take into account the diversity of socioeconomic contexts within the continent, lamenting the refusal by the Philippine authority to issue visa for different African delegtions which prevented this continent from having more presence at Manila, and highlighting the construction of the Mediterranean network. Benjamin Quiñones from the Philippines presented the Asian perspective in which SSE bodies can be classified into two categories: self-managed organisations and other organisations which support the poor. He criticised the lack of solidarity among solidarity-based businesses and posed a question: is it worth keeping the developed-country model of social enterprise or should Asia learn more from Latin-American experiences?
Jason Nardi from Italy shared the European panorama where different alternatives have emerged on the basis of protests to the predominant neoliberal regime, talked about the state-of-the-art of RIPESS Europe which is trying to include Northern and Eastern Europe too, on top of showing examples like Ethical Bank, social currencies and solidarity-based tourism. Luis Eduardo Salcedo from Colombia talked about Latin America, showing progresses in the legislation in the Dominican Republic and Ecuador and pointed out, as challenges, free trade agreements and the extractivism. Emily Kawano from United States represented North America, showing different cooperatives in the region. And David Thompson from New Zealand talked briefly that also in Oceania new organisations of social economy are emerging with the collapse of the neoliberalism.
Betwen the day 2 and 4 we saw, in parallel with workshops and conferences, the SEE fair where products from different countries were on sale (the author could find goods from the Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia, Mexico, Guatemala and Peru but perhaps there were products from more countries).
The Day 2 in the morning had 12 simultaneous workshops (3 workshops by language (English, French and Spanish) and 9 thematic ones), whose result was summarised by organisers as follows: we’ve sufferd from the failure of the neoliberalism and of the disregard on sociocultural and spiritual values and of human rights while SEE condemns it with affirmative actions, respecting the practices of indigenous and traditional communities. A the same time SSE is full of creativity, defined as “strategy of inclusive development”, “people-centered economy” y “economy to assure the sustainability and the resilience” and different needs emerged: to see SEE within the context of global financial and environmental crisis, to establish solid links with financial bodies to stimulate investments in SSE and to realise cultural researches in the Philippine context to show that the indigenous culture also has some elements related to SSE. Different proposals were done, among others, about the education and the mobilisation of the youth, about the inclusion of SSE in the academic curriculum, about spreading it out by way of different media, about the empowerment, about the promotion of SSE practices, about the leverage of human rights paradigm, about the leverage of institutions, about the application of the gender issue, about the inclusion of SSE at the Draft Declaration of People’s Right and about the researches on SSE. On the second day in the afternoon we visited SSE experiences in Quezon.
On the day 3 we had four workshops. The workshop 1 (Global vision on SSE) had debates to define SSE as something “to transform the whole socioeconomic system” accentuating the self-management which needs to be better organised to have a comparable force with that of the capitalism and also to receive supports from governments, requesting a fairer redistribution of wealth and suggesting the use of different indicators such as “buen vivir”. Three proposals came up at the workshop 2 (SSE practices in the territories): “strengthen the cooperation and solidarity at the local level”, “organise the territorial democratic governance” and “consider the contributions of territorial approaches as alternative model”. The workshop 3 (networking and organisation of SSE) proposed the mutual learning without imposing, the face-to-face communication, bringing different people together for common goals, reading the RIPESS chart and the publication of RIPESS resources for the grass-root (in more languages and also in other media, such as printed pamphlets). The workshop 4 (communication and visibility) showed the needs to share SSE experiences, to visualise them for the public in general, to map SSE bodies, to have a global vision on SSE and a proposal was made to work for mapping, for documenting experiences (including video) and for strengthening internal communications at RIPESS.
Then the summary at the workshop on gender was shown, with the following proposals:
- SSE must not replicate any forms of oppression around gender, race, sexuality, class, nationality, etc.
- SSE must actively engage and address power relations in the household, community, organisations and society
- Women must create and redefine women’s leadership that is sustainable in SSE organisations and movements
- Gender needs to be a key issue in SSE
- Women and men need space to discuss and develop SSE gender’s perspective
- We need to bring up local contexts and share SSE women’s experiences into discussions
- Gender must be officially included in all RIPESS meeting’s and platforms
In 2014 RIPESS will host regional events in: Africa (at Marrakech, Morocco in April), East Asia (in Japan, date to be defined) and Latin America (at León, Nicaragua, date to be defined).
I’d like to leave some remarks about this conference. First of all, this conference seemed to me rather focused on debating pending issues for RIPESS executives than on satisfying the concerns of SSE’s own grass-root players. Some of the workshops on the Day 3, for instance, were rather to progress RIPESS works without necessarily contributing to these practitioners’ own activities, and it seems better to introduce Paulo Freire’s dialogical education methodology onto the very process of organising conferences so these meetings should be for the participants.
Secondly, it was a pity that there was no break which would have allow us to know each other more deeply: for intercontinental participants it’s one of few opportunities to see so many people from different socioeconomic, political and cultural contexts. It would have been better it there had been two breaks every day (half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the afternoon), on top of lunch breaks.
In the third place, it would be better that the workshops on the Day 2 hadn’t been split by language (English for Asia, Oceania and US / French for Europe, Québec and Africa / Spanish for Latin America) but by continent with translation, as it would have been able to help intercontinental dialogues too. Some Asians curious about Latin America, for instance, would have been able to attend the workshop on Latin America to learn their reality.