Public policies and the solidarity economy
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Certain governments have chosen to render their recognition and support for the social and solidarity economy definitive. Independently of the orientations of a party or the economic context, these measures, whether laws, new institutions or certification processes are enshrined in laws that ensure their sustainability. The immutability of these structures often facilitates the collaboration between government actors and enables constructive and inter-sectoral partnership processes and with actors of the social and solidarity economy.
Cooperative and not-for-profit models have been set up in many countries in recent decades, particularly in the homecare services sector. They fulfil social functions not covered by the state or market, in areas such as education, health and integration. As is the case in Canada, to some extent, the social and solidarity economy can be recognized as having obvious potential as an effective tool for addressing a number of themes linked to public policies, such as infancy, solidarity-based partnerships between farmers and consumers for local high quality food, environmental sustainability and sustainable energy solutions. This recognition should go hand in hand with the introduction of public policies and regulations that encourage this potential.
Social innovation is now taken into account in a great many public policies, from the English-speaking nations to Europe and Quebec. Meeting social needs becomes a more challenging issue at a time when economic and social models are being shaken up by the crisis. In the space of just a few years, this polysemous notion has extended beyond the sphere of specialised research to enhance the concept of innovation and take it beyond a vision centred on the technological dimension.
Yves Vaillancourt (2014) identifies the notions of the co-production and co-construction of public policies. They refer both to the participation of civil society and market actors in the implementation of public policies (for example, services management and supply) and to actors’ participation in defining and drawing up policies (determining general policy lines and key elements). These practices provide a major opportunity for democratising the economy, and public policies in particular, by introducing forms of governance based on the participation of civil society and market actors. In addition, in this context, civil society actors are no longer confined to the role of passive service consumers.
Social and solidarity economy enterprises play an active part in ensuring better social and economic participation of certain groups or individuals who face various barriers that prevent them from accessing the labour market and the goods and services produced by the traditional economy. Rather than investing exclusively in programs on income, the social and solidarity economy works to find ways to empower the target population with which it works. This approach interests governments investing in programs to support socio-economic groups (youth, persons with disabilities, recent immigrants to the country, indigenous communities). Thus, in some countries, the social and solidarity economy is an integral part of strategies to develop the labour market.
Certain economic sectors offer more interesting perspectives for social economy enterprises and solidarity. These companies often arise in response to needs that neither the market nor the government are able to meet, though one can also find social and solidarity enterprises in lucrative markets. Through a combination of market resources, voluntary contributions and public support, social and solidarity economy enterprises plays a decisive role, as they help to structure certain markets or to ensure that the benefits of these markets are collective, while effectively responding to needs for certain types of products and services. Policies that promote the emergence or strengthening of specific economic sectors (including the environment, services to persons, housing, technology, communications, tourism, food services, culture, and many others) are therefore important tools for the development of the social and solidarity economy.
Social and solidarity economy enterprises emerge in communities that mobilize in order to promote their development. They are often the only option for marginalized communities that private investors have abandoned or that are less attractive because the market is less profitable or in remote areas. Thus, to enhance the social, cultural and economic development of their territory some governments, whether at the municipal, regional (i.e. a sub-national entity, be it a province, a region, a state, etc.) national or international level have launched initiatives to facilitate the creation and growth of these enterprises. Conversely, for the local communities, to be able to count on public policy to build networks, develop strategic planning processes and develop collective projects is a key success factor.
A key challenge for companies in the social and solidarity economy is to obtain adequate financing on acceptable terms to enable their development. Governments can facilitate access to capital by recognizing the uniqueness of these enterprises thus making it possible to earmark funds for them, by adopting fiscal measures to encourage private actors to invest in them, by contributing to investment funds targeted to them or by creating financial tools specifically for these types of enterprises or the organizations that support them.
Like private businesses, social and solidarity enterprises need access to adequate markets, to research and development as well as to resources that help them implement effective management practices. However, the policies and programs put in place for the private sector must often be adapted to meet the needs of social and solidarity economy. Tools specifically designed for social and solidarity economy enterprises allows all companies to operate on the same footing, while recognizing the unique characteristics of these organizations and, more importantly, their contribution to the achievement of social, environmental or cultural objectives which would require, without this contribution, much more expensive forms of investment from the government. In this sense, policies and programs for social and solidarity economy enterprises are not unfair competition for the lucrative private property sector. Instead, they give social and solidarity enterprises the means to be competitive on the market without compromising their social or environmental objectives. In many cases, when the social and solidarity economy enterprises have carved a place in the market and become profitable, long-term government support is no longer needed.