Autumn School on Social Economy and Local Economic Development

Quebec (Canada), 25 - 29 October 2010

The social economy is increasingly recognized internationally for its capacity to generate wealth, create employment and respond to needs for innovating welfare policies. In countries where the social economy has established this capacity, its strength is consolidated when it is embedded in a coherent strategy for local development. This is the case of Quebec, a Province of Canada. Over the years, professionals from many countries have visited Quebec to learn more about the tools and processes underlying its success.

From 25 to 29 October 2010, the Universitas Programme and the Karl Polanyi Institute of Political Economy at Concordia University (Montreal, Canada), in collaboration with the ILS LEDA Programme, organized an autumn school for local economic development professionals and policy makers, from Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Italy and Spain, interested in learning about the social economy and how it can be included in an integrated territorial strategy for social and economic development. The autumn school aimed, in particular, to:

a. Analyse the social economy in Quebec and how it is embedded in a territorial strategy of local development

b. Discuss the pertinence of the experiences, tools and policies in the context of the present strategies of local development and social economy underway in Latin America

c. Establish further collaboration with the many actors of the social economy in Quebec.

The first day was held at Concordia University with lectures by Professor Emeritus Benoit Levesque from the University of Quebec at Montreal (UQAM), Professor Marguerite Mendell (Concordia University, Luciano Carrino and Giancarlo Canzanelli. Site visits and group discussions over four days enabled participants to discuss the respective experiences, successes and challenges directly with the professionals involved. They included:

- Chantier de l’économie sociale (a network of networks in the social economy: sectors, local development intermediaries, social movements including the labour movement, women’s movement and the environmental movement). Participants learned about the numerous organizations that have created development tools for the social economy that range from enterprise development, training for labour market insertion, investment tools to policy-oriented partnership research with social economy actors and municipal and provincial government bodies;

- Corporation de développement économique communautaire (ECOF) de Trois-Rivières (a medium-sized city that was the capital of unemployment following the closure of the pulp and paper industry in Quebec that has instituted numerous initiatives in the social economy and local development as part of a local economic development strategy promoted by the Province of Quebec, trade unions, businesses and a network of community organizations.)  Insertech (a training business to reconstitute used computers employing marginalized youth - in photo below);

- La TOHU (a social economy enterprise supported by the Cirque de Soleil in culture and the environment that employs socially excluded youth – training business);

- william.coop (a consumer cooperative for approximately 900 day care centers across Quebec – an important example of a successful commercialization strategy).

Highlights of the autumn school

Of the many experiences and tools discussed and visited during the intensive 5-day programme, certain aspects generated particular interest in participants and represent the basis for further collaboration and the development of joint proposals:

1. The strong links between actors of the social economy and the structures for promoting integrated community economic development and local development in the same territories. Participants responsible for local economic development agencies and strategies in their countries noted that in their countries these activities had few links with the social economy actors in the same territories and were stimulated to create or strengthen such linkages so as to promote social economy enterprises as part of the wider local development strategies;

2. The social enterprise as an alternative to an assistance-based welfare model that instead of providing passive assistance generated autonomy, self-respect and capacity development. Participants noted that the Government of Quebec had established conventions with several social enterprises and cooperatives for the provision of basic social services, training of marginalised population groups (new and often illiterate immigrants, youth with criminal records or emerging from prison, etc for insertion into the labour market (enterprises d’insertion) or to integrate people with physical or mental handicaps into the work world (enterprises adaptés). Other social enterprises had created multi-purpose internet cafés which were also community spaces providing services such as public laundrettes, etc. as identified in the community. In these spaces, through specific conventions with the municipal and provincial governments, public social service professionals (nurses, social workers, etc.) ran community clinics, consultation services, health education programmes, etc. For the Quebec Government, these social enterprises are effectively delivering public social services determined by the local community in an alternative and innovative way and thus a part of the public budget has been dedicated to funding service provision through social economy structures.

 3. Tools for human resource management and labour market development for the social economy, including the provincial observatory on the labour market. During the day at the Chantier for social economy, the director general of the “sectoral committee of workers for social action and the social economy”, Mme. Céline Charpentier, described the range of actions and training initiatives for workers in undervalued and often informal sectors such as homecare workers, domestic workers, day care workers, etc., many of whom are new immigrants, handicapped people, indigenous Canadians and other marginalised groups. The purpose of these activities is to analyse needs of an evolving labour market and of workers in the social economy (observatory), provide training and continuous education to qualify, valorize and stabilize workers in this sector.

4. The role of partnership research in the generation of public policy and social innovation. Researchers from a vast network of Quebec universities and research centres are involved in research activities designed to promote social innovation and generate public policies that provide a favourable environment for the social economy in Quebec. Through specific presentations and throughout the week’s visits, participants were able to see directly the level of engagement of researchers in accompanying all the work of the social economy in Quebec and the impact this work has had on policy formation. The model of partnership research involves the creation of research teams comprised of researchers, social economy actors and members of government at provincial and municipal levels. They jointly determine the research agenda; researchers take the lead in data collection while analysis and interpretation of research results is a collective task. The idea is that this form of participatory research leads to more complete understanding of phenomena from different perspectives and understandings and thus has the potential to foment innovation.

Feedback from the course participants (through brief evaluation reports) was consistently extremely positive, both regarding the organization, the methodology and the content of the autumn school. In general, the course participants, particularly from countries where ART programmes are active and where LEDAs have been established (Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador) were enthusiastic about the experiences they visited and about the opportunities to discuss with the professionals engaged in them. They consistently identified the pertinence of these experiences to the situation in their respective countries, that the autumn school had generated new ideas and ways of thinking and the potential for adaptation and replication of many of approaches underlying the experiences visited. The participants clearly hope that the collaboration with Quebec will continue and that ILS LEDA and Universitas will work together to ensure continuity to this occasion.

The last day evaluation meeting highlighted the following recommended steps forward:

Step 1: Improving knowledge. a) Map and systematize the experience and actors of the social economy in their respective countries.

Step 2: Spreading Knowledge. a) Organize an interactive workshop in Central America, with participants from Quebec, to share the experiences and disseminate some of the lessons learned through the autumn school and reinforce collaboration with social economy actors in the region. b) Prepare proposals and initiatives in preparation for the Social Economy World Forum of October 2011 in Montreal.

Step 3: Building Tools a) Launch an action research/partnership research initiative to include social economy enterprises and tools as part of the LEDA strategies and activities in one or more countries. b) Elaborate a Universitas/IlsLeda guide to social economy in local development for countries in financial difficulties.

Step 4: Apply knowledge. a) Experiment social economy initiatives and enterprises where possible and through the LEDAs, according to what was learned in Montreal. Pilot cases could regard social enterprises such as the internet café (Buffet Boufflé) in Trois Rivières, social insertion enterprises, the creation of an observatory on the labour market, partnership research in collaboration with local universities for building public policies.

To see the programme of the school, in Spanish, click here. To see the programme in french, click here.

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