Social and solidarity economy
Do not seek your own advantage, but that of the other.
—1 Corinthians 10:24 (NRSV)
One of the great pleasures of my work across the Caribbean and in Latin America has been to see and bear witness to solid “work for justice in the economy and the earth”—one of the covenants proclaimed in the Accra Confession.
In Haiti, the Karl Lévêque Cultural Institute—known as ICKL—has been organizing, training, and supporting grassroots networks of impoverished farmers to work together in building a “social economy of solidarity”—one where employment, housing, education, literacy, and health care are available to everyone.
The term “economy of solidarity” (or “social and solidarity economy”) seems to be more commonly used in French or Spanish than in English, and may be more often reflected in Catholic social teaching than in Protestant circles. It has been promoted by those who try to find common threads in the experiences of grassroots mobilizations like the Lenin Shipyards strikes in Poland in the late 1970s and struggles for economic and social justice in Latin America. The term has become a catch-all to include economic alternatives created in the more distant past, including cooperatives and credit unions.
ICKL entered the solidarity economy world—micro-credit and seeds-and-tools projects and the provision of chickens and goats to communities—because of the need for economic survival of the small farmers’ organizations that it works with in various parts of the country. A farmer who receives a pair of goats, for example, must later return some of the offspring to the group so that other farmers can be supported.
But the projects do not stop at just improving livelihoods, as important as that goal is: the real point is to provide people with good experiences of community organization and local leadership that lead to political change at other levels of Haitian society.
Benefits from work in the economy of solidarity framework have both collective and individual characteristics: “Collective, in that part of the activity will profit the movement. Individual, in that part will benefit each member with respect to the broad interests of the locality. The group will be given greater visibility and its basis for calling for change will expand.”
In Cuba, the solidarity economy ethos undergirds work of the Christian Centre for Reflection and Dialogue (CCRD) in Cárdenas, Matanzas province. Working with a new generation of micro-businesses--cuentapropistas, or people who work on their “own account,” not for the state or large business—CCRD provides training to people running food services, hair salons, repair shops and clothing workshops so that they manage book-keeping (including all the basics, such as keeping business accounts separate from personal expenses), labour and tax law, ethics and marketing.
As the government in recent years began to open the socialist economy to such small business, CCRD sought to integrate those efforts with its other community development work in terms of social and solidarity economy: cooperative, anti-competitive, participatory, and with a vision of the common good that embraces all.
The Accra Confession affirmed that issues of economic and ecological justice are not only social, political or moral issues: they are at the heart of Christian faith. The use of the concept of social and solidarity economy represents one more tool in the collective construction of alternatives to the market economy that finds itself again in crisis, this time as a result of the pandemic.
— Jim Hodgson
Having served as Latin America/Caribbean partnership coordinator at The United Church of Canada for 20 years, Jim Hodgson is retiring in August 2020.