BALTA - B.C.-Alberta Social Economy Research Alliance

Analysis & Reflection

Further Reflections on the Social Economy Debate

Defining the Social Economy - The BC Context by John Restakis (January 2006).  This paper was developed for the BC Social Economy Roundtable by BALTA co-investigator, Restakis, and subsequently used as a starting basis for early BALTA work on defining and conceptualizing the social economy.

Mapping the Social Economy in BC and Alberta: Towards a Strategic Approach by Mike Lewis (August 2006).  This paper elaborates the definition, criteria and conceptual framework used by BALTA in its mapping program and large parts of its other research.

Social Enterprise in Anytown by John Pearce (Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation: 2003).  This book influenced BALTA’s approach to defining and conceptualizing the social economy.  For further information.

Social and Community Enterprise: An alternative business model for the 21st century by John Pearce (August 2007 keynote presentation to the Community Enterprise Conference in Melbourne, Australia – accompanying powerpoint presentation)

Open Letter from Yves Vaillancourt presented at June 2, 2010, panel session on Public Policy and Government Relations during the 2010 conference of the Association for Nonprofit and Social Economy Research (ANSER/ARES).  (The letter is primarily in English, partly in French.) (To be posted soon.)  Some prefer to use a broader definition for the social economy which encompasses the whole non-profit sector, irrespective of whether organizations engage in market-based economic activity or not.  This presentation argues strongly for that approach.

Presentation on the BALTA model of community-unversity research partnership and conceptual approaches to defining the social economy
Listen to the presentation that BALTA's coordinator, Stuart Wulff, gave at the 11th National Metropolis Conference, March 19-22, 2009, in Calgary, Alberta.(*Please note: you may need to turn up the volume on your speakers for the first two minutes of the presentation.)

From Social Economy to Social Solidarity Economy

While the social economy is often contrasted to the public and private sector economies, there are many who believe that the values and goals of the social economy should also be reflected in some forms in the private and public sectors.  In terms of intent, social economists see merit in the reinsertion of social goals, reciprocity and ecological sustainability into wider economic thinking and decision making.  In that sense, their aim is as much about ‘socializing the broader economy’ as it is about strengthening the social economy sector.

A terminology that is being used by some to reflect this perspective is that of “socially missioned organizations and businesses”.  This includes both non-profits that use business models to pursue their mission and for-profits whose primary or significant purposes are social.  It embraces a variety of approaches, including such movements as fair trade, corporate social responsibility and related approaches to promoting explicit social aims within a variety of business models.

An article by Rory Ridly-Duff on the SENSCOT (For Social Entrepreneurs in Scotland) website, Understanding Social Enterprise: Theory and Practice (SENSCOT: 12.06.08) elaborates on the evolution of social enterprise thinking within the UK context and the question of how to view socially missioned private sector businesses vis a vis the social enterprise economy.  While noting that one perspective on social enterprise views them as “trading organisations sitting in the middle of a continuum between the pursuit of a social mission (charitable) and trading in a market (private)”, another perspective “breaks out of this linear mode of thinking and views social enterprise as a cross-sector trading organisation or activity (Morgan, 2008) capable of rebuilding and developing social capital where this has been depleted by contemporary political and economic thinking (Laville and Nyssens, 2001).  As such it emerges in the boundaries between the public, private and voluntary sectors to address the shortcomings of each (Nyssens, 2006; Ridley-Duff, 2008).  Holding these organisations up to the norms and 'best practice' of charitable, private or public enterprise at best obscures, at worst devalues, their potential.  It not only creates a mindset incapable of recognising their innovative approach, but also has the potential to stifle it.” (emphasis added by BALTA)

BALTA has also been exploring this approach to thinking about the social and social solidarity economies, particularly in two papers authored by BALTA’s lead investigator, Mike Lewis.

Constructing a Sustainable Future: Exploring the Strategic Relevance of Social and Solidarity Economy Frameworks by Mike Lewis, Canadian Centre for Community Renewal.  This paper explores recent economic trends and thinking and the resulting conceptualizations of social and solidarity economy.

Social Economy? Solidarity Economy? Exploring the Implications of Conceptual Nuance for Acting in a Volatile World by Mike Lewis, Canadian Centre for Community Renewal, and Dan Swinney, Center for Labor and Community Research.  This paper suggests that the solidarity economy as a conceptual framework in progress may have significant theoretical and strategic implications for actors in the social economy.  The distinct boundaries most social economy actors draw to set themselves apart from the private and public sectors shapes their perception of the terrain upon which action is viewed as either desirable or possible; the "third sector” is the primary locus of strategy and action.  In contrast, the solidarity economy thrusts social economy actors into the spaces among and between the three economic sectors and inserts reciprocity as the dominant animating driver, creating a space for expanding solidarity (note similarities with Ridly-Duff above).  Case studies from Montreal and Chicago serve as lenses through which the implications of both conceptual frameworks are explored.  (Presented at the First International CIRIEC Conference n the Social Economy, October 2007)

Social Economy, Ecology and Sustainability

Increasingly, a third pillar is being added to the blending of economic and social goals that has been the hallmark of the social economy, that of the ecological.  BALTA bas brought significant attention to this nexus in our work.  In our view, both the social economy and sustainability movements have much to offer to each other and the conjoining of the two represents the best hope for re-weaving a world that is economically just, socially inclusive and ecologically sustainable.

Sustainability, the Social Economy, and the Eco-Social Crisis: Traveling Concepts and Bridging Fields by Lena Soots and Dr. Michael Gismondi
Current global issues such as climate change and peak oil have brought attention to the severity and complexity of our eco-social crisis and called for local action and community-based solutions.  There is a need for middle level analytical concepts and tools that engage the organizational and operational forms and practices of mutuality and trust needed for a conversion to eco-social sustainability.  This BALTA paper and subsequent conference presentation explore how the social economy can help to address local issues in this context and contribute to the transition to a more sustainable society.  The paper compares the historical and ideological foundations of the social economy with those of the sustainability movement, identifying both theoretical similarities and ‘traveling concepts’ used by practitioners in the two fields.  We argue that effective community responses to current socio-ecological crises would benefit from some bridging and building between the two schools of thought and fields of practice.  We highlight how practitioners in both the social economy and sustainability fields can understand the eco-social crisis and compare how each organizes its alternatives around notions of trust, mutuality and sensitivity to community locale.

The Great Transition: Navigating Social, Economic, Ecological Change in Turbulent Times
Trans-disciplinary thinking by evolutionary, social, and ecological economists from the mid-1970s is pointing to a new paradigm from which working models are emerging.  The premise of this project is that the global challenges we face demand a radical transition from a globalised growth economy driven by escalating levels of debt to a federation of decentralised, social and ecological economies.  The project explores the implications of the current context where the vulnerability of communities to the intertwined issues of carbon, energy, food, finance and disparity is mounting.  It examines a range of emerging responses that point the way to new paradigms, pointing out the strategic roles of co-operative, complementary innovations in navigating these challenges. A conference paper has been produced and translated into several languages.  A book is in preparation.

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