According to European Satellite Agency, last month was the hottest June in the recorded history. We got our share of the scorching heat wave when we were in Geneva for the conference. Yağmur had said “We’re going to the skirts of the Alps, how hot it can be?” prior to our departure, but unfortunately, she was wrong. Do not worry, this article is not about the heat wave or climate change. Our goal is conveying our impressions from the Implementing the Sustainable Development Goals: What Role for Social and Solidarity Economy? conference organized by UNRISD and ILO.
Social and Solidarity Economy and Sustainable Development Goals
While there is a growing body of research and knowledge on Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE), there has been little attempt to systematically analyze the contribution of SSE to inclusive and sustainable development. Much information and analysis remains dispersed and anecdotal. It can also be prone to romanticizing the role of SSE, lacking critical analysis of constraints and challenges. And there is a need for knowledge to be synthesized and presented in ways that can usefully inform policy making and advocacy on inclusive and sustainable development.
The 2030 Agenda and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), agreed by all United Nations member states in 2015, provides a framework for tracking progress in relation to specific development goals, and in relation to more holistic and integrated patterns of development that avoid the trade-offs and contradictions associated with the development strategies often pursued in the past. Furthermore, the emphasis within the 2030 Agenda on national goals and targets leaves open the question of how the SDGs will be implemented at the local level and grounded in local realities.
Based on this, two research questions were defined in the conference call. The first one concerns SSE’s instrumental role in the SDGs implementation. Can SSE actors and institutions facilitate the implementation of goals and targets associated with the SDGs, particularly in local settings? The second is how can SSE’s scale and impact, in relation to SDGs be measured?
Leaving No One Behind
Before coming to conference notes, it would be better to mention a public roundtable discussion Leaving No One Behind: What Role for Social and Solidarity Economy? organized by UNRISD and Geneva University in June 24. The debate was structured around this question: How can the social and solidarity economy effectively contribute to the integration of those left behind by declining social assistance and create solidarity for these vulnerable groups?
Why this questions and why now? Since 2008, the European Union has become synonymous with crises: the economic crisis, the Eurozone crisis, and finally the refugee crisis. As a result of the financial crises and ensuing cuts in social spending, European societies further witnessed the weakening of solidarity policies. Especially for the social protection of the unemployed native-born, the migrants, and the newly arrived refugees. At the same time a rise in xenophobia and populist politics that blamed migrants and refugees for the economic upheavals and the struggle of the local communities could be observed. In the face of these problems, SSE’s role is an important subject of research.
This roundtable discussion provided insights into these questions based on ongoing research in the specific cases of Geneva (Switzerland), Bergamo (Italy) and Heraklion (Greece), as well as more broadly. Speakers include researchers from the project Protecting Vulnerable Urban Groups in Contentious Times: The Role of SSE, expert from the ILO and from academia.
In our opinion, among the conference notes, the most interesting one was the one about Heraklion case study. It brings about a number of questions related to the lack of collaboration. However, it is familiar to us in terms of overlapping experiences with Turkey.
On of the most exciting part of conferences is meeting with new people. Or having a chance to meet face to face with people that are already known from different communication channels. Since our blog (Social Economy) started, we were in touch with Simel Esim, the head of the Cooperatives Unit of the ILO via social media. We were happy to meet her in person and talked about cooperatives and SSE in general.
In terms of numbers, 43 papers were presented over 20 different sessions and the conference gathered a bit more than 200 participants: around 15 governments representatives, 25 people working for UN agencies (excluding the 20 members of the conference organizing team), 50 representatives of the NGO/SSE sector and 70 participants related to academia.
The six conference themes were:
|Social and Solidarity Economy for Women’s Empowerment and Gender Equality|
|Tracing the Evolution of Social and Solidarity Economy in Different Local Contexts|
|Institutions and Policies for Scaling and Integrating Social and Solidarity Economy|
|Theories, Concepts and Impact Measurement|
|Social and Solidarity Economy as an Eco-Social Approach for the Sustainable Development Goals|
|Social and Solidarity Economy for Food and Agriculture|
The conference brought together regional and international representatives of SSE was actually important and useful in terms of networking and advocacy and also balancing theoretical and practical.
In the two-day event, the first day was more special for us as you might have guessed. In the first parallel session after the opening session, Prof. Dr. Aylin Çiğdem Köne presented their co-authored paper with Güneş Kurtuluş, A Regional SSE Practice from Turkey: Opportunities and Challenges of Scale up.
We can say the cocktail party that held after the first day’s sessions pleased everyone with soothing music and tasty treats. Maybe it’s not the same with listening it there but we still included some of the songs in case you might enjoy it.
Several of the sessions were recorded and streamed on Facebook during the event. You can find all of them on the following page: https://www.facebook.com/pg/UNRISD/videos/
In addition to the presented papers, presentation slides will shortly be available on the Knowledge Hub. Over the next months, UNRISD will continually add papers and think pieces to develop the Hub into a rich knowledge base on the contribution of SSE to the SDGs.
Most of the studies presented in the conference were case studies. Therefore, in the closing session, there were criticisms about “too many case studies”. But saying we saw enough case studies and now everyone should adapt them to themselves is not very reasonable. If only there was some magical formula in our hands, but since there is not, every example of success is a reference for us.
Let alone countries, every community’s own dynamics show differences. Geography, culture, needs, challenges and even habits change from community to community. Therefore, we can widen our perspective with different case studies. This is also one of the reasons we introduce examples from Turkey and world with our readers in our blog. We need every example that says “why can’t it be done?”.
Elephant in the room
It is not possible to disagree with “too many case studies” criticism entirely. All case studies in the conference were intended to showcase successful stories. Obviously, there are failure examples in practice, too. We cannot formulate success like how we cannot formulate failure. We are limited with using general statements. Therefore, we should also ask “what are the reasons of failures?”.
Amount of case studies in the conference about agriculture and food field, which SSE is traditionally strong at, was particularly remarkable. Food is a sensitive spot in the whole world. The importance of studies in this field is increasing. Examples about new cooperatives like platform cooperatives were not absent, but still lacking in number.
In the SSE field where systematic empirical data is not produced, researchers are naturally drawn to case studies rather than quantitative studies. While they are important to contributing to a growing body of knowledge, unfortunately it is not enough.
And then there is “trust” issue… It’s possible to say that subtexts of questions asked to participants were all the same. Almost everyone wanted to know how “trust” was built in these different case studies. The answers to this question came together with two main emphasis. First; the examples presented were all grassroots movements. Therefore, it was stated that the sense of trust was built from the beginning of these organizations. They started with grassroots confidence, but if you ask how they are maintained, this was the second emphasis. To generalize, their answers were transparency, equality and standing communication.
At the closing of the meeting, some suggestions were made to guide the SSE studies:
- Conduct realistic evaluations, for example, the constraints and shortcomings of SSE, instead of one-way studies focusing on the success of SSE in case studies.
- Since there are many case studies from different parts of the world, turn towards different research methods to avoid repetition. For instance, studies focusing on measurement and evaluation or sequencing based on performance evaluation.
In conclusion, we can answer the question of what left the most impact on us in this instructive experience like this: “Our observations in Turkey show similarities with the global trends.” Highly dynamic and complex SSE field which theory in pursuit of practice has so many common grounds… However, the links that connect SSE practices are still too weak. There is a dire need for practitioners who step out of their own SSE initiatives and organizations, and make efforts to establish networks.
PS: This article is written by conference participants from Social Economy blog, Aylin Çiğdem Köne, Güneş Kurtuluş and Yağmur Kara and translated by Murat Soysaraç.