Social Solidarity Economy (SSE) is an alternative socio-economic model based on principles and values that set the foundations for the productive reconstruction of communities and society in general, amid the emerging multilevel crisis.
The foundations of the Social and Solidarity Economy can be traced back to the time of the Industrial Revolution, where industrialization and the formation of capitalist productive relations led to rapid growth, but also to problems of distribution. At the end of the 19th century, cooperative shops, social banks and other forms of organization appeared, along with the development of alternative ways of administration (1 person, 1 vote). These attempts, without forming a completely different context and a class approach, call into question the dominant economic model turning the interest into the “third” sector of the economy (communities), seeking for its independence from the private sector and the governments.
In this framework, the Institute of Entrepreneurship Development participated in the Educational Program “Values and Principles of the Social Solidarity Economy”, held from 11 to 15 September 2017 in the impressive Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. The aim of the program, as part of the Erasmus+ project “Social and Solidarity Economy in Europe – Affirming a new paradigm through IVET curricula innovation” is to transmit SSE knowledge, as an overall alternative model of political economy through collective social practices, as well as to help the development of appropriate training material for post-secondary (vocational) education. The participants on behalf of the Institute of Entrepreneurship Development, Ilias Bampagenes and Nikos Papachristos, had the opportunity, together with partners from Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Portugal and Romania, to learn the SSE’s historical path and its core principles and values, the context in which the SSE is based in each country and through group exercises to assimilate the basic conditions for the development of SSE activity. Today, as this has been extensively presented by the Italian partner “Solidarius Italia sas”, there are many different methodologies and approaches to Social Solidarity Economy; but they all end up recognizing SSE as an underlying economic system, having as an axis the overcoming of economic sovereignty and the shaping of a new society, economically fair, politically democratic and ecologically sustainable -on the basis of intercultural dialogue. In order to make the rationale more understandable to the participants, the SSE principles have been compared to those of neo-liberalism, emphasizing the main objective of the two approaches (profit≠benefit), the strategy (privatizations≠publicizations-socializations), the relationships (competition-big firms≠partnership-communities) and the structure (vertical≠horizontal). Particular reference was made to natural resources, which for SSE are not inexhaustible, as are being treated by the unreasonable and unsustainable economic activity.
In Greece, although the term “Social Economy” was only recognized in 2011 and not in the most notable way and despite the existence of administrative and legal deficiencies, the Social Economy has a solid base, following the trend of adopting the model in Europe. Similar difficulties exist in other countries as well, as long as the start of a SSE activity has to cope with issues such as legal form, taxation, and finding enthusiastic individuals to engage. Also, in Europe, the issue has not begun so much on the basis of the fast deterioration in living conditions and the lack of goods, as in Latin America, but it is based on the awareness of the so-called middle class about the need to develop an alternative beneficial model. However, there are 2 million social economy enterprises in Europe already -representing 10% of the EU business activity, while SSE perspective has gained promotion by international organizations and institutions. It is also notable the initiative by the GUE/NGL Group of the European Parliament, to adopt SSE as its strategic goal for the forthcoming years and to promote the organization of the First European Forum for Social and Solidarity Economy (EFSEE) in 2016, highlighting SSE as a tool for personal and community development and prosperity, in the middle of the negative effects of the crisis. In addition, trainees had the opportunity, with the assistance of Czech partner and coordinator “GLAFKA sro”, to accept visits from SSE-based companies in the Czech Republic, to study SSE case studies across Europe, as well as to visit NGO’s “Green doors” facilities, an organization who aims to socially reintegrate people with mental disorders and who wish to improve their social and work skills.
In conclusion, special reference was made to RIPESS network, which interconnects the SSE networks at an intercontinental level, taking into account cultural and historical differences. Finally, the evaluation of each training day by the Portuguese partner and coordinator “Agência Piaget para o Desenvolvimento”, highlighted aspects of education that could be improved and laid the foundations for the continuation of the effort to transmit this educational project to the post-secondary level.