The Solidarity Economy and its model in Latin America and the Caribbean. The situation and responses of poor and excluded populations with a view towards holistic, solidarity-based human development

Humberto Ortiz Roca, July 2011

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Summary :

People affected by poverty and exclusion within the region respond to this situation through diverse economic activities, with the aim of supporting themselves and their families and contributing to their communities.

Today there are two ways in which we can define a poor person. The first definition is that of someone who has nothing and who therefore needs to be given what they lack. In this first case, therefore, the poor person is considered as a number or a statistic. The second definition is that of a human person who, as a human being, has capabilities – capabilities, however, that the established order has not allowed them to develop.

In the first case, the solutions proposed for those who are poor and excluded are compensatory poverty relief programmes which, in general, are aid-related and have little chance of being sustainable in the long term. In the second case the solutions put forward opt for programs which promote human development in order to broaden the capabilities of the poor and excluded, thus allowing them to support themselves in solidarity with their families and communities.

When it comes to the efforts made by the poor and excluded to obtain income for themselves and their families, self-employment activities as well as small and micro businesses are activities which stand out. In recent years the number of people within the Economically Active Population (EAP) engaged in these types of activities has risen significantly - the regional average has risen from 30% to 43% of the EAP in Latin American and the Caribbean. This trend is set to continue, despite the quality of this type of work being low in the majority of cases. These jobs, which are usually confined to the informal sector and which are notable for their insecurity, are often examples of underemployment1.

It is also clear that in these popular economies there are cases of individuals and their families being exploited (women, children, adolescents and the elderly). In these cases management is normally contained within a small nucleus which, in general, displays low levels of economic and entrepreneurial planning.

Despite these problematic situations it needs to be pointed out that many of these activities have potential for growth, sustainability and development in the long term.