Imagining New Economy with Dr Eri – KSInsights May 2024

Published on 05 Jun 2024

Could you provide an overview of your expertise in Social Solidarity Economy (SSE) and how your experiences have shaped your understanding of its principles and applications?

I have been working on issues of social development for over 25 years, serving as a community facilitator, development consultant, and activist. However, I see that the world remains stagnant in reducing inequality, and it is even worsening. I became acquainted with SSE in 2014 through Bambang Ismawan, the founder of the Bina Swadaya Foundation in Indonesia, Benjamin Quinones from the Philippines, and Datuk Denison Jayasooriya from Malaysia. Following the journey of ASEC in promoting SSE in Asia, led by these three founders, I learned a great deal about SSE. It answered my questions about why there has been no progress in reducing inequality. The world is dominated by a capitalist system where corporations tend to maximize profit in the short term, neglecting the impact on the environment and society. On the other hand, the civil society movement has not been united or strategic enough in combating inequality. The alternative system of SSE, although present in community activities and organizations, has not yet been fully established in society. Thus, within ASEC, I can see more clearly the position of CSOs relative to the government and the private sector, providing a clearer path for the CSO movement to advance advocacy and strengthen the CSOs themselves.

SSE is a broad concept that encompasses various economic practices. How would you define Social Solidarity Economy, especially in practical terms, and what are the key principles that underpin its functioning?

The Social Solidarity Economy (SSE) is a values-based economic system that can be applied to organization and governance, including within families. To facilitate a better understanding of SSE, I would like to draw a comparison of values between SSE and the capitalist system:

  • Competition is prevalent, whereas in SSE, collaboration is emphasized.
  • Financial capital is paramount; in SSE, a combination of financial and social capital is valued.
  • Nature is often exploited to maximize profit; in SSE, conservation of nature is prioritized.
  • Profit maximization is the primary goal; in SSE, the prosperity of people and equitable distribution are deemed important.

In summary, we are familiar with the three principles of the social enterprise: people, profit, and planet. SSE adds ethical values and participatory governance to these principles (3P + ethical and participatory governance).

You might wonder if organizations embodying these values exist. Such organizations, which include cooperatives, educational or socially purposed foundations, mutual aid organizations, and microfinance institutions, can indeed be found if we carefully observe our surroundings. We refer to them as community economies or inclusive communities.

According to ADB’s 2024 data, there are approximately one million social enterprises in Southeast HHHAsia, and this number is growing. In Malaysia, 66.9% of social enterprises serve between 11 to 100 beneficiaries each, highlighting significant potential for social enterprises to provide quality jobs and uphold these values.

Moving from theory to practice, how can SSE be practically adapted in different contexts? Are there specific examples or case studies that highlight successful implementations of SSE principles, and what lessons can be drawn from these experiences?

I would like to present a case study from Yayasan Kajian Pembangunan Masyarakat on organic farming for the Orang Asli Ulu Gumum community in Malaysia. Until 2008, this community primarily consisted of hunters who lived in poverty, relying heavily on natural resources, which contributed to the degradation of their forest environment. At that time, the state did not recognize them as a distinct forest-dwelling people whose identity, culture, and livelihood were intrinsically linked to the forest. As they transitioned to farming, the Orang Asli faced limited market access and were considered a vulnerable group.

Yayasan Kajian Pembangunan Masyarakat stepped in to provide seeds to the Orang Asli, which yielded significant success. The foundation then helped facilitate the marketing of the community’s produce. Encouraged by these achievements, the community decided to scale up their efforts. Consequently, Yayasan Kajian Pembangunan Masyarakat established a social solidarity economy (SSE) business model centered on community ownership and shared profits, significantly enhancing the community’s economic resilience.

One of the core aspects of SSE is community empowerment. Can you elaborate on how SSE initiatives contribute to fostering stronger, more empowered communities? Are there specific strategies or models that have proven effective in enhancing social and economic solidarity at the local level?

Initially, by coming together in a network, we can share knowledge among members and encourage one another on the SSE journey. ASE has members in 18 countries across Asia. ASEC, as a network organization, aims to strengthen SSE organizations and promote SSE. Dr. Benjamin Quinones often likens SSE to a forest and the individual SSE organizations and enterprises to trees. Just as there can be no forest without trees, SSE organizations and enterprises must come together to form a robust alternative system within SSE.

Shifting our focus to the ASEAN region, how does SSE align with the cultural, economic, and social dynamics of Southeast Asia countries? In what ways can the principles of SSE be integrated into the existing economic frameworks of ASEAN nations?

If we consider the three pillars of ASEAN Community policies—namely, Political-Security, Economic Community, and Socio-Cultural—the SSE aligns well with the ASEAN Blueprint. However, no specific policy explicitly mentions SSE. Despite this, ASEAN recognizes the growing importance of Social Enterprises and has established the ASEAN Social Enterprise Development Program to tackle socio-economic issues and bolster social enterprises.

Although not explicitly familiar with the principles of SSE, many social enterprises in ASEAN countries embody SSE values through cooperative and community-based organizational models. Consequently, introducing SSE in ASEAN forms a crucial part of ASEC’s advocacy strategy. ASEC has been actively participating in the ASEAN Civil Society Forum (ACSC/APF) to promote SSE. The international workshop on Inclusive Community to Support SDGs, held in collaboration with APPMGs and ASEC in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, last February 2024, exemplifies ASEC’s efforts to underscore the significant role of SSE practitioners in achieving the SDGs.

Given the diverse nature of the ASEAN community, how can SSE facilitate cross-border collaboration and cooperation among member states? Are there specific challenges or opportunities that arise when applying SSE principles in a regional context?

Cross-border collaboration can be observed among Home Net members in ASEAN countries such as the Philippines, Cambodia, Thailand, and Indonesia. Most SSE organizations or enterprises operate at the local level; therefore, cross-border collaboration should be broadly defined to include advocacy and networking.

As with any economic framework, SSE may face challenges in its implementation. What obstacles or hurdles do you foresee in integrating SSE into existing economic systems, both at the local and regional levels?

The economic paradigm in many countries, dominated by capitalism and neoliberalism, is a major obstacle. SSE-based organizations require a different ecosystem because they operate with distinct values, yet they contribute significantly to reducing inequality and supporting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

On the flip side, where do you see the opportunities for innovation and growth within SSE? Are there untapped areas or specific sectors where principles of SSE can lead to transformative changes in the socio-economic landscape?

These global policies need to be implemented at the national level. Additionally, digitalization offers numerous opportunities for innovation, such as crowdfunding and capacity building for SSE practitioners.

Policies play a crucial role in shaping economic structures. What policy considerations or changes at the national and regional levels could enhance the adoption and effectiveness of SSE in the ASEAN region?

In 2022, there was global momentum supporting the promotion of SSE, highlighted by a letter from the General Assembly that mentioned SSE’s role in achieving the SDGs, and an ILO conference in Geneva that underscored SSE’s significant contribution to decent work.

How can governments and relevant institutions actively support and promote SSE initiatives? Are there specific measures or incentives that could encourage the integration of SSE principles into mainstream economic strategies?

The government could begin its support by implementing policies that enable a fair and just economy, prioritizing the benefits to people at the center of all development sectors. The informal economy, including micro and small enterprises, represents the largest group of enterprises often overlooked by policies. Therefore, providing access to social protection, especially non-contributory social protection, is essential and should be considered a fundamental human right. Additionally, the government must ensure that businesses, including medium and large-scale as well as multinational companies, comply with human rights standards.

To conclude, based on our discussion, what steps do you believe should be taken to advance the practical adaptation of SSE, both within individual communities and on a broader ASEAN-wide scale? What collaborative efforts and initiatives could be pursued to realize the potential of SSE in fostering sustainable and inclusive development in the region?

Several actions should be taken concurrently. At the government level, policies focused on a people-oriented economy need to be implemented. Regionally, follow-up actions on the General Assembly Letter and the ILO Conference Declaration to support SSE should be pursued within ASEAN. Moreover, collaboration between international development agencies, regional organizations like ASEAN, civil society organizations such as ASEC, and think tanks like KSI is crucial for achieving effective policy changes. Additionally, the capacity of Civil Society Organizations or SSE organizations and enterprises must be strengthened. SSE is a system designed to ensure equal relations between the government, private sector, and civil society. Without a strong civil justice system, SSE cannot be effectively built.


05 Jun 2024