All over the world – and in towns and communities close to you – people are providing services and products in ways that put people, not profit, first. These include not just well-known initiatives such as Fairtrade, but small-scale and local projects which encourage people to pool their resources and skills to work co-operatively and collaboratively. There is a name for this alternative way of doing business: the Social and Solidarity Economy. Three short films made by the Co-operative College get behind the scenes to explore what motivates the people involved in the solidarity economy, and how it benefits both the people employed in this way and those using their services and products.
The films are one of the first outcomes from the international, three-year ‘SUSY’ project, which has brought together 26 partners from European 23 territories. The College and London-based global education charity Think Global are the UK partners, and are focusing on the solidarity economy in the North West of England, the North East of England, Greater London and the South East of England, in addition to the Indian territory of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
After an initial stage which involved mapping and speaking to solidarity initiatives in these areas, best practice case studies were identified, and interviews were conducted with members, employees and users. These interviews formed the basis for the short films.
Care and Share Associates (CASA), a care provider owned by its employees, was chosen as the focus for the film highlighting the solidarity economy in the North West of England. The film-makers from the College met employees and users of the Manchester branch of CASA, who describe how it was set up in response to the needs of its members, and explain the ways in which employee ownership influences the way the business is run. The film demonstrates that employees feel they have a say and that their job is valued, leading to a noticeable improvement in the quality of the care provided.
In the North East of England, the College team visited Shared Interest, a social enterprise based in Newcastle that uses the investments of individuals to make loans to Fairtrade producers around the world. These investors are members who have a say in the way Shared Interest is run and what businesses it funds. Their involvement empowers the investors, who feel that they are more than just donors, because they know what their money is used for and can stand for a position on Shared Interest’s board and committees. The film shows how and why Shared Interest works in this way, the way in which Shared Interest’s support differs from conventional kinds of loans, the impact of these loans on the producers, and what motivates investors to get involved in this way.
Associate Veena Nabar worked on behalf of the College in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which is geographically isolated from mainland India, to produce a film about Ellon Hinengo Co-operative Society. Ellon Hinengo is the only Central Tribal Co-operative Society in the islands. Its activities range from marketing agricultural produce to providing consumer goods and transport. The film shows how this has had a huge economic and social impact on the lives of the islands’ inhabitants, from providing the island’s only petrol pump to rebuilding the island after the 2004 tsunami.
The videos produced by SUSY partners across Europe can be watched on the ‘SUSY’ YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/channel/UCRy4hjD4SJg1Oo_OOapXhcg. They show the scope and diversity of the solidarity economy, spotlighting initiatives ranging from a co-operative café in Prague, and enterprises promoting environmentally friendly living, responsible tourism and renewable energy, to initiatives supporting social enterprises. Prepare to be surprised and inspired by the films, which also visit a Slovenian enterprise promoting world cuisine, a food co-operative in Finland, a recycling initiative in Brazil, Iban weavers in Borneo, and a project in France using recycled coffee grounds to grow mushrooms.
Future outcomes of the SUSY project will include training, as well as film festivals, speaker tours and other public events. More information will be available on the SUSY website at http://uk.solidarityeconomy.eu.