RIPESS is a global network of continental networks committed to the promotion of Social Solidarity Economy (SSE). This September, The RIPESS EU – Solidarity economy Europe network celebrates its 10th anniversary. On this occasion, we interviewed Jason Nardi, general delegate of RIPESS.
We, as Sosyal Ekonomi team, congratulate their anniversary and wish them many more years to foster translocal cooperation and solidarity.
Interview with Jason Nardi on the Occasion of the RIPESS EU 10th Anniversary
I am what I would call a social justice activist.
Jason, can you introduce yourself by telling us about your background?
Sure. I am from Tuscany, Italy. I am what I would call a social justice activist. For a long time, I’ve participated in broader social movements in Italy and also beyond. I have been a part of many different campaigns and organizations, ranging from human rights for immigrants and refugees to economic justice, financially sustainable systems, mutualistic forms of economy, relocalizing production and consumption, communication rights and territorial cooperation. These are all things I’ve been working on.
In the last maybe 25 years, within the alternative economy movements, I’ve been most involved with ethical and mutualistic finance.
Let’s say that in the last maybe 25 years, within the alternative economy movements, I’ve been most involved with ethical and mutualistic finance. I was among the people who promoted the Manifesto for Ethical Finance in Italy and the creation of a cooperative ethical bank (Banca Etica), which to this day, is quite successful. I’m sort of someone in-between an advocate, a networker and a practitioner. Through my local organization Solidarius Italia, I’ve been a part of many different realities working on food and how to recreate a direct food chain and food solidarity between local producers and organized consumers, different forms of distribution, cooperative, mutualistic, and ecological.
In order to radically change the economic system, we can start with changing our relationship with money.
I work with renewable energy cooperatives to re-democratize the way we produce and consume energy, which is one of the themes of sustainability in general. We’re also re-thinking about our relationship with money. We’re working with several groups experimenting or using local, social, community currencies. Today, I think this is one of the most interesting themes because the technology to use and develop them is much more available and easier to implement. In order to radically change the economic system, we can start with changing our relationship with money. And how we can appropriate the use of an exchange system that is money to our needs instead of tailoring to the needs of today’s global financial system.
RIPESS is mainly a network of networks.
You talked about your connection to the social solidarity economy (SSE). And how about your relationship with RIPESS?
My organization is a part of the RIES – Italian Network of Solidarity Economy, of which I’ve been the president for the last year and a half. RIES is a part of RIPESS, which is the European and worldwide social solidarity economy network. And inside RIPESS, I also have the role of general delegate which is a sort of director or coordinator of the network activities for Europe. For the last five years, this has been my role, working with the representatives of different national and sectoral networks.
RIPESS is mainly a network of networks. Inside, there are different kinds of member organizations, as some countries’ networks are quite developed, like Spain, Italy, France, and Portugal. Other countries have hub organizations that are developing network relations but are not networks themselves yet. And then there are some transnational sectoral networks that are working on tourism, fairtrade, cooperative housing, local food distribution, renewable energy coops, etc… all the different forms and practices of social solidarity economy.
There are quite different kinds of members but they all identify themselves with the idea of a different economic organization.
Also, there are some more academic networks. For instance, the French Network of Universities promoting social solidarity economy (RIUESS) or networks of municipalities that promote SSE (RTES), or federation of artists and cultural organizations like UFISC, with more than 400 different artistic and cultural organizations in France, which also work within social solidarity economy. There are quite different kinds of members but they all identify themselves with the idea of a different economic organization.
RIPESS is a global network. How many organizations are included in it, globally, and in Europe?
In Europe, we’re now at 42 networks and 22 countries. Each network can have hundreds of organisations and enterprises. Worldwide, it depends. For instance, in North America, there are only three networks but those networks already have many different actors and federations inside of them.
In Latin America, which is probably the oldest continental network, most of the countries have a national solidarity economy network, with thousands of organizations in total.
In Asia, it’s mostly Southeast Asian networks, which include all kinds of organizations. You can imagine countries like Indonesia and India which are huge, there are very different sizes and forms and types of organizations, informal economy, women cooperatives, recycling groups, etc.
In Africa and the Middle East, the levels of SSE network development are quite different, with more presence in francophone countries, but it is changing.
There is a wide and vast network in Australia and Oceania. In the last five years, New Economy Network Australia has developed a lot and became a RIPESS continental member as well.
An economy based on human rights and ecological justice, focused on our needs and solution to those needs
Can you talk about RIPESS’s mission and vision more? What is its approach to SSE?
If we first look at RIPESS as intercontinental coordination of networks, the values that are at the base of it are pretty much the same: the idea that we have to go beyond the organization of the economy based on market forces and rather one that’s based on human rights and ecological justice, focused on our needs and solution to those needs.
Proximity and democracy
One that’s based on proximity and democracy, that needs to be a part of the cooperative democratic structure instead of traditional vertical enterprise forms which have a distinction between who owns the structure and who works. In cooperative structures, decisions are normally taken together.
But the other part is that this democracy and the solidarity (in its strong, mutualistic form) within this economic activity has to be in the community in which this economic exchange has developed. It has to have a positive impact on people who live there and not just for the workers of an enterprise, as democratic it may be.
Fundamental environmental component
There is also a fundamental environmental component. Economic activity has to confront the limits of the natural systems and use them in regenerative ways. The economic system has always been interpreted as the production, distribution, consumption, and reproduction of any goods that are made. But it traditionally excludes “externalities” and has an extractive linear form, led by the myth of infinite growth. This has to radically change into what we call a circular economy in general, but it’s much more than that. It’s more of an organic idea of being a part of a natural system.
Strong gender justice component
There is also an always-strong gender justice component. The care economy that is traditionally done informally by women and many times not recognized is something that has to be integrated more into formal economic activities and emerge from the invisible portion.
Today, the economy only counts or values what is productive, what is considered to be productive, what is assigned a monetary value. Care structures and the commons, which are parts of the “reproductive” economy and are collectively managed, are underlaying the “productive” economy, which cannot exist without them. All of these have to be recognized and it’s a part of the social solidarity economy.
RIPESS also has this particular window trying to get into the traditional social economy.
RIPESS also has this particular window trying to get into the traditional social economy mutualistic structures, cooperative structures, associative activities of citizens that really meet and work together for the cooperative for non-profit scopes. Together with the more political, solidaristic kind of activities. And you can see this from the push that comes with the movement of solidarity economy in Latin America which took form at the times of the pedagogy of liberation and the liberation philosophy of the 70s and the 80s (the Brazilian Paulo Freire being one of the main promoters).
At the basis of many of these practices and strong social movements, there is the aim freeing from a patriarchal society and structures imposed by the State and by the Market. So, it’s about the capacity of the communities to self-organize locally (not depending on remote economic or financial structures they have no control over) and satisfies their needs through mutualistic and solidarity forms. That kind of push has merged with more traditional forms of cooperative work – with community-led initiatives and grassroots organising, which are a strong constituent of social solidarity economy.
Many different interpretations and strands; more institutionalized ones – some have been even put into laws or such. We have national laws in France, Greece, Canada, Tunisia or Mexico, where social solidarity economies are defined by an integrated traditional system and liberal frameworks, and others take part in the informal kind of state. For instance, a lot of the African social solidarity economy is a popular informal economy with the influence of some cooperative and social enterprise integration that has not been yet so clearly defined as it is in some European countries.
From 7 to 10 September 2021, the RIPESS EU will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its founding Congress.
Despite the pandemic, RIPESS has continued advocacy activities through webinars and online meetings. So, what are some of the short-term plans and projects of RIPESS?
Okay, well, the very next thing is that we can finally have a presential meeting of our members for the general assembly, which will be in Paris at the beginning of September. It will be our 10th anniversary: 10 years ago, RIPESS Europe was formally established in Barcelona in September 2011. We will celebrate our 10th anniversary near Paris, at la Bergerie de Villarceaux, which is an eco-farm owned by the FPH (Foundation for human progress) and is one of the main supporters of the network.
Also, we will be joined by some representatives of our partners and allied networks. So, for instance, the Ecolise Network is a European network that works for sustainable communities. There will be representatives of WFTO Europe – the World Fair Trade Organization. There will be the director of Social Economy Europe. Some of our new members coming from Ireland, Austria, and other countries. Hopefully, most people will be able to attend but we will also have online sessions. By the way, it would be nice if you and some of your colleagues, if you want to participate; especially the 9th, which will be a more of a public session, also show up.
Advocacy work on the European Commission for the Social Economy Action Plan
We will be working on several issues. Let me give you two or three of the main issues we will be working on. On one side, we’re participating in the advocacy work on the European Commission for the Social Economy Action Plan, which will be launched later this year. And to see the connections with the Next Generation EU recovery plan and all the policies linked to that (such as the European Green deal, announced. Although we’re not an advocacy organization per se and we don’t have an office in Brussels, we try to involve our members in the, first of all, informing on what is going on in policy areas at the European levels because that’s reflected at the national level.
Development of a Solidarity Economy youth-led platform
With the more active members, we work on agriculture policies, on climate issues, on the conditions to enable the different forms of social enterprising. Because there’s no general recognition at the European level; it’s mainly national levels. Then, another area we’re working on is to help the development of a Solidarity Economy youth-led platform. Bring together young people from 18 years to 30 and involving them directly either through their university or through their first experiences with SSE and having their own agenda and activity supported by the network. This all started a year and a half ago. There are working groups many different issues that will be discussed during the general assembly.
Link professional education with the SSE approach
One of our main activities is to work on different forms of education. In the last 5 years, we’ve been working on the issue of professional education. We are trying to link professional education with the SSE approach and have been working with both legislators, decision-makers, and national agencies that do the curricula for the local professional education, and with local schools or institutions to see how they can reinterpret or integrate a more cooperative approach to the training that they do. Not just a cooperative approach but also a mutualistic, territorial approach.
Cooperative digital platforms
We’re also trying to develop and make better use of our cooperative digital platforms. Especially the past year has helped to boost this. How we can make better use of online tools, based on free software and open licenses. In other terms, how to de-Google-ize our dependence on monopolized technologies and services. This “pandemic” time has someway forced the development and use of technology that is appropriated by the users. Also, this form is more decentralized, distributed and democratized, as well. More and more, the big issue with information is that it’s being detained by private entities. We need to free information and increase accessibility and security of our communication, privacy, etc.
So, we’re trying to use more and more of these open source available technologies and working with the information technology organizations and cooperatives that develop and promote their use.
We’re also trying to develop tools for economic exchange that can be an alternative to companies like Amazon. Also, this, in a way, has been accelerated with the pandemic. Forms of local distribution have been making use of some form of electronic exchange to do this. The idea is to try to develop common formats and cooperative platforms that can be replicated so people can do these in a secure, accessible way. With shared ownership, of course. These are all themes that these networks support. We have members that are capable of and do help their development. But we also have weaknesses. For instance, the whole issue with technology is that our average SSE actors are not experts. We need to have more support and to be stimulated to change habits and dependencies.
RIPESS recently gave some feedback about European Commission’s Social Economy Action Plan. What exactly are your proposals?
I’d say the first point is about recognition. Recognition about not just social solidarity enterprises that are integrated into the market but also about many different economic activities they organize today in Europe and how they have no visibility or legal framework that recognizes them. It’s important to make a distinction and not to put everything under one single general form. Because we don’t use the same parameters for success, for instance.
Measurement of social utility and impact
That’s another issue: How do we measure the social utility and impact that economic activity or enterprise has? We have traditional means of measuring this, such as growth or how many jobs are created and whether they are contracted jobs or not, etc. All of these needs to be considered and much better defined.
Public procurement, access to public money
There is an issue of access to public procurement and in general, to better qualify how public money is spent. There is a European directive on public procurement which is much better than in the past, but if we want to go towards an ecological and fair economy, then this has to be integrated in a better way that states how the European community spends its money. Any access to public money should follow certain criteria.
Any activity that is not environmentally positive, isn’t accountable for its impact or is discriminating against workers or beneficiaries or clients should not be allowed to access public funds. These are negative criteria. In a positive way, the criteria to evaluate how to spend taxpayers’ money should prioritize those who are better integrating the environment and democratic management as an integral part of their activity.
There is also an issue of transparency and traceability that we have proposed. Look at the history of alternative economies and trade. From the beginning, Fair Trade supported transparent pricing. Starting with the public, you should have more access to information on how costs and prices are composed and what the final “consumer” gets as a price and what the actual worker at the end of the supply chain receives as payment. Only then you would know enough in order to make informed and conscious decisions. Today, there are some labels and guarantee systems but we don’t have a standardized form of transparent pricing, which with today’s technology, would be quite easy to implement.
The perspective of SSE, in general, is more “translocal” than international.
These are some of the proposals. There is also an issue about how Europe approaches international cooperation and solidarity, which has huge contradictions. This may seem remote from what social solidarity is since it is mainly focused on local communities. The perspective of SSE, in general, is more “translocal” than international. So, it’s about cooperation going on among local communities that work in similar ways on similar issues. For us, international solidarity is about supporting these forms of translocal cooperation, which may deal with smaller realities than national budgets but are more effective and address the issues of communities more directly.
So, how can an institution like European Union support the spreading of SSE? Through programs that allow access to small funding that help the exchanges among these communities. Just to give an example, one of the programs we use among our members is the Erasmus+ program. Because they allow the exchange of knowledge and practice in a quite simple way. They have improved the cooperation and mutual knowledge of many organizations around Europe. The fact that EC (European Commission) has more than doubled the provision for it for the next years is a positive sign. But it is still very small compared to the other programs which are given huge funds for very few private actors. Again, we citizens have very little knowledge and control of these processes. But they are the ones that are pushing our future policies. We must be more and more aware of these and have more access to them.
Turkey, with its history and very diverse society, is somewhere that we absolutely want to look at and try to work with.
I want to take your final remarks. Any messages you want to deliver to the Turkish audience?
As much as we’re happy to share more stories about many different European territories under the umbrella of SSE, at the same time we want to know what’s going on in Turkey and how things are developing there and what forms of translocal cooperation takes place. This is certainly something that we’ve been thinking about in the last 3-4 years. As a network, we concentrated on eastern and central Europe but we started to open more to Mediterranean countries. At this General assembly meeting, we will have representatives from the REMESS, Moroccan network, joining in, and formalising the partnership agreement we’ve been working on during the last year…
Turkey, with its history and very diverse society, is somewhere that we absolutely want to look at and try to work with. How can that develop? Only a few members of our networks have relations with Turkey so we haven’t advanced that much yet, as the network works through its members. But I’m sure this can change very quickly. Let’s start exchanging and discussing – you are welcome to be an observer or member and we can support your networking in Turkey and beyond.
PS: Special thanks to Murat Soysaraç for transcribing the interview record.