The Solidarity Economy

A number of social initiatives - from cooperatives through alternative currencies to open-source software - lead to social and economic transformation

The Solidarity Economy
740 ~ 5 мин. четене
Автор: Vladimir Mitev

While staring at the eternal clash between the state and the private sector, many overlook the third kind of business relationship, which is generally called Solidarity Economy. As a rule, these are initiatives by the people, to the people, for the people, and are a search for an alternative to the values ​​of the dominant economy. Instead of centralized control structures (which are found in the public sector and in corporations - redactors note), these initiatives lead us towards shared responsibility and direct democratic decision-making. Instead of imposing a unified global culture, they strengthen the diversity of local cultures. Instead of privatizing profits, they encourage participation in a wide range of social, economic and environmental justice activities,writes Ethan Miller, an American university lecturer. Some of the initiatives are: worker, consumer and producer cooperatives, fair trade initiatives (which give farmers fair compensation for their products), alternative currencies, solidarity-based community social centres, libraries with resources, community credit unions, community city gardens, open source free software initiatives, etc.

Miller talks about the philosophy of managing these community initiatives: "The Solidarity Economy is an open process. It is an invitation. It does not owe its existence to a single political tradition or a complex of ideas. Its nature and definition are rooted in the constant development, the discussions and debates among the people who support it. It is a "movement of the movements" aiming at the constant formation of new connections and opportunities, preserving the commitment to the shared values, capable of transforming the society and the environment. " 


Solidarity in the economic activity has always existed in one form or another, but in the modern sense, the concept of Solidarity Economy was first used in the late 1930s during the Spanish Civil War. In the early 1980s, the term became popular in France, Colombia and Chile to denote the activity of social activists aimed at overcoming the social exclusion of parts of the population through alternatives to the standard market and state actions. In South America, the concept is related to the upsurge of cooperatives, or to the emergence of initiatives that share the economic logic of cooperation and solidarity. Similar activities are gaining momentum in France, Spain, Mexico, Canada (Quebec). More recently, Brazil has become a one-of-a-kind centre of such solidarity-based experiments. This is a reason why the World Social Forum, an international community of civil society organizations opposed to hegemonic globalization, is based in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre. For decades, this city has been experimenting, allowing civilian participation in determining its budget - a democratic innovation that also has the marks of a solidarity initiative. Latin America is also associated with the first meeting of the International Group on Solidarity Economy, held in Lima, Peru in 1997. In 2007, the Asian Alliance for Solidarity Economy was founded in Manila, and in the USA, the U.S. Solidarity Economy Network was established as part of the first American Social Forum held in Atlanta, Georgia. "We are building a new kind of society and economy in the midst of the controversies and the flaws of capitalism, "says Paul Singer, one of the leaders of the "movement of movements" in Brazil.


In the EU, Barcelona is among the largest centres of such initiatives. According to the report "Social and Solidarity Economy in Barcelona” (2016), quoted by the P2P Foundation, 4,718 socio-economic ventures are being implemented only in the city. Of these, 861 are cooperatives, 1,197 are businesses owned by workers, 2,400 are social organizations from the non-governmental sector, and 260 are community economic initiatives. 53,000 people work in the social enterprises, and another 100,000 are volunteers. Over 500,000 are members of consumer cooperatives. The sectors, in which these initiatives operate, start from energy production, go through culture and reach the food industry. Cooperatives in Barcelona are only 20% of the total number of cooperatives in Catalonia. From 1993 until last year, solidarity initiatives built more than 2,000 homes. 19 cooperatives are active in education, with thousands of members and more than 750 employees. There are also 13 free schools and other shared educational initiatives for children between 0 and 3 years of age. In Barcelona, ​​there are also the so-called Ethical Financial Institutions, including ethical insurance - financial initiatives that have as part of their moral system and the relevant license the respect towards the environmental protection, the sustainable community development, and the support towards solidarity initiatives.

Mondragon Social Corporation

Perhaps the most famous social initiative of Spain, which has become a solidarity corporation, is based in the Basque regions of Mondragon. With interests on 5 continents in spheres of activity such as industry, hypermarkets, petrol stations, finance, research, etc., the corporation has an annual turnover of EUR 12 billion and more than 70,000 employees. The company's portfolio includes 102 cooperatives, 140 subsidiaries, a university, 8 foundations and other legal entities.

The company defines its values ​​as: collaboration between owners and staff, employee involvement in decision-making, fair distribution of wealth, and constant renewal. The General Assembly of the corporation is the supreme body that expresses the social will of its members. The Governing Council is a representative and management body elected by the General Assembly. The Social Council is a consultative body that represents the members. The Monitoring Committee is another consultative body that decides whether the accounting and other principles of the organization are respected. The Management Board is responsible for the management of the giant cooperative.

In addition to these bodies, there is also a Cooperative Congress. Its function is to set the strategic criteria under which Mondragon is managed through planning and coordination of different business units. A Standing Committee controls the implementation of the policies and decisions that are adopted by the Congress. The General Council develops and approves corporate strategies and goals. The Industrial Council coordinates the individual industrial units.


The Solidarity Economy contributes to the turning of the Basque regions into one of the richest regions of Spain, just as it raises the standard of wealthy Catalans. It is not characteristic only for areas of the third world where social experiments are running. Rather, its use drives changes in thinking and in public relations that lead to development.

"Solidarity Economy is a way of thinking about economy that opens up spaces of hope and of a fairer, more sustainable and democratic society. It is both modest and ambitious. Modest because Solidarity Economy movements do not claim to have all the answers and admit that the power of people is in combining their creativity and courage for experimenting and learning. Its ambition lies in the crave to create connections between different sectors of society and the economy, to build coordinated social movements in which the opposition to injustice is combined with practical and inspiring alternatives, and the ultimate goal is the transformation of the social and economic order, “wrote Miller. He dreams, together with tens of thousands of participants in solidarity initiatives in different countries and continents, that the courage and joint efforts of people will lead to social transformation and a better life.