By Miguel Yasuyuki Hirota
The 1st Solidarity Economy Social Forum took place at Santa Maria, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil from 22nd to 24th January 2010, showing achievements in different aspects of this new economy and defining challenges to get over, with hundreds of participants mostly from all over Brazil and neighbouring countries (especially Argentina and Uruguay) but also from United States, Canada, Europe and Japan (well, it’s actually only myself). Most participants to this event moved to Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul and/or neighbouring cities where more discussion went on during the World Social Forum 10th Anniversary from 25th to 29th January.
On Fri, 22nd January this event began with remembering the path people have gone through so far in the last decade (since the 1st World Social Forum took place at Porto Alegre in January 2001), followed by two plenary sessions which took place in parallel (“Opening of the National Seminar, Fair and Solidarity Trade at Brazilian Domestic Markets” and “Intercontinental Assembly: Solidarity Economy and World Social Forum – retrospectives and perspectives.”) I attended the international one where participants from other countries praised Brazil’s numerous achievements in terms of solidarity economy (the creation of National Secretary of Solidarity Economy (SENAES, http://www.mte.gov.br/tca_contas_anuais/2006/senaes.asp) and of Brazilian Forum of Solidarity Economy (FBES, www.fbes.org.br), for instance) on top of asking Brazil to take further initiatives to spread solidarity economy into abroad too, and some argued the importance to coordinate custom policies among Mercosur countries (such as Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) so that more goods of solidarity economy can be traded beyond borders.
The Day 2 (Sat, 23rd January) was spent for five different workshops (“Solidarity Finance”, “Education and Culture”, “International Solidarity Integration”, “Solidarity Production / Commercialisation / Consumption” and “Food and Nutritional Sovereignty”). I was at the Solidarity Finance session where seven speakers (including myself) gave presentations. Heloísa Primavera from REDLASES (http://www.redlases.org.ar/), Argentina mentioned that current monetary system is designed to provide money insufficiently and that the Central Bank of Brazil is now starting to provide technical services for community currencies. She criticised that solidarity economy is still regarded as poor people’s economic activities, suggesting a paradigm shift that this is a new development model. Then followed I, as Online Laboratory on Complementary Currencies JAPAN (http://www.olccjp.net/), mentioning some points such as the character of today’s money as debt, the impossibility of local communities and of national governments to control their own means of exchange, exponential growth forced by compound interest rate and the redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich and showing some examples of complementary currency. Then followed Paulo Moreira from Rede Estadual de Trocas Solidárias (the State Network of Solidarity Trade), Rio Grande do Sul who talked briefly about his practices of barter fairs in which people do not use real (R$, Brazil’s official currency) but barter tickets to exchange goods.
Other speakers gave their own presentations too: Rogério Dalló, secretary general of COLACOT (Confederação Latinoamericana de Cooperativas e Mutuais de Trabalhadores, Latin American Confederation of Workers’ Cooperatives and Mutuals) from Porto Alegre, Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil said that in his country credit unions makes up for only 4% of all deposits, criticised the harsh trend propelled by the neoliberal policies, such as Basel II and BIS (Bank for International Settlements) and told that some Latin American countries such as Dominican Republic and Paraguay did not introduce them in the way neoliberals wanted, suggesting credit unions to be exempt from Basel II and to set up the World Bank of Solidarity Economy. Joaquim Melo, founder of Banco Palmas at Fortaleza, Ceará, Brazil, told that a huge poverty in Brazil is triggered by the fact that a half of Brazilians are excluded from access to financial institutions, saying that community banks such as the Banco Palmas (http://www.bancopalmas.org.br/ and http://www.banquepalmas.fr/) which he established are a solidarity financial service in network, of associative and communitarian nature, dedicated to reorganise local economies in the prospect to churn out jobs and incomes of solidarity economy. Celina Whitaker from France explained about her initiative of complementary currency called SOL project (http://www.sol-reseau.org/), telling that it was conceived from the idea to reconsider money, based on other indicators than GDP and defining solidarity economy as a means to achieve the struggle’s goals, showing how this complementary currency can be used (as loyalty point for solidarity economy shops, time banks and points for volunteers). And as the last speaker, Haroldo Mendonça from SENAES mentioned the Banco do Nordeste (Bank of the Northeast) and its worldwide recognition on top of underscoring Central Bank’s efforts to support community banks which issue local currencies. Another proposal was made to support the social struggle of the Alianza Cooperativa Nacional in Mexico.
On Sun, 24th January as many as 20 workshops were held, dealing with a wide of topics such as food and nutritional sovereignty, urban agriculture, international integration, joint management by public sector and NGOs, solidarity education and culture, socialist identity in solidarity economy, incubators for people’s coops, online space for solidarity economy (www.cirandas.net), establishing supply chains, youth’s involvement and another consumption. In the afternoon summaries on the discussion on Saturday was done, recognising that there have been reciprocal effects between solidarity economy and world social forum which helped local players of solidarity economy to be articulated intercontinentally, needs to coordinate public policies, importance for the mapping of initiatives, protests to the current situation in which big corporations control food supply, creation of the seed bank, people’s right for food, solidarity between cities and the countryside, the importance of fair trade not only North-South but also North-North and South-South and paradigm shift in the development model.
Discussions continued next week in Greater Porto Alegre, with some interesting seminars such as public policies in different countries (Brazil, Mexico, Paraguay and Quebec) and economy of gratuity where five speakers from Bolivia, Brazil, France and Uruguay spoke. Speakers said that in Brazil solidarity economy is based on the democratic tradition and was strengthened during Lula administration (2003-present) by the setup of National Secretary of Solidarity Economy (SENAES) and Brazilian Forum of Solidarity Economy (FBES) while in Paraguay solidarity economy is still brand-new and in Mexico people are struggling for the law in favour of credit union. In terms of economy of gratuity, some interesting points were given, for instance that in the current economy fundamental mercantilism is rampant, healthcare is the public goods and therefore should be free of charge.
My impression is that the total length of eight consecutive days for these two forums were, to be honest, a bit too long and tiring for participants, especially given that discussion were done in the midst of summer at places without air conditioner. And the distance among different seminar and workshop venues during the World Social Forum in Greater Porto Alegre was another inconvenient factor. From the visitor’s viewpoint, it would be helpful if the forum could take place at universities and/or other indoor places with good logistics.
And another challenge to improve these forums is to strengthen the intercontinental network as well as interpretation services so that non Latin-Americans also could attend this forum and exchange experiences. It was a pity that I was the only participant from Asia and that the participation from out of Latin America was much less than I had thought (I saw less than 10 non Latin-Americans during the whole event). More efforts will be expected, should the 2nd Solidarity Economy Social Forum take place, to enhance non-Latin-American participation and evolve this movement into the worldwide one.