Thursday, March 28, 2013

Potential and Limits of Social and Solidarity Economy

Note this event is looking for a post-event follow up intern. See announcement here.

Date: 6 - 8 May 2013
Time: 09.00 - 17.45
Location: GB Room and Room II, International Labour Office, Geneva, Switzerland
Counterpart(s): ILO, UN-NGLS, Hivos
Project Title: Potential and Limits of Social and Solidarity Economy
This event is open to the public.

SSE conference flyerAs interest in alternative production, finance and consumption grows in the face of global crises, this conference will explore the potential and limits of Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) — organizations such as cooperatives, women’s self-help groups, social enterprise and associations of informal workers that have explicit social and economic objectives, and involve various forms of cooperation and solidarity.

Through this event UNRISD aims to raise the visibility of debates about SSE within the United Nations system and beyond, and contribute to thinking in international policy circles about a post-2015 development agenda.
This conference is being co-organized with the ILO in collaboration with UN-NGLS.

Key questions

  • Can SSE make a real difference to food security, rural development, gender equality and decent work?
  • What is the role of governments, civil society and the private sector?
  • Can SSE expand while remaining integrative and rights-based?

Sessions include

  • Conceptualizing SSE
  • SSE, Welfare Regimes and Social Service Provisioning
  • SSE and Local Development
  • Poster Session for PhD Candidates
  • SSE, Public Policy and Law
  • SSE and Gender Dynamics
  • Political Economy of SSE and Collective Action
  • Scaling up SSE through the Market
  • SSE, Resilience and Sustainability
  • Priorities for Research, Policy and Action

More information

Register now

To register for the conference, please use the online registration link provided on the top right of this page.

Registration for this conference is free of charge. We are unfortunately unable to offer conference participants funding for travel and accommodation.

Related events

  • UN-NGLS (UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service) will be organizing a special session on alternative finance and complementary currencies during the afternoon of 8 May 2013 following the end of this conference.
  • From 8-12 April 2013, the International Labour Organization is holding the third edition of the Academy on Social and Solidarity Economy in Agadir, Morocco. For more information please see the website.
  • International Journal of Labour Research Seminar: "Trade unions and cooperatives: Challenges and Perspectives", taking place on 9 May at the ILO in Geneva. For more information please contact Pierre Laliberté at laliberte (a) ilo . org.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

How to Make Better Decisions Together

Photo by Maurice from Zoetermeer, Netherlands

Learning how to make decisions together is a crucial element of getting along and getting things done with others. It’s wise for your group to learn how to steer your boat together with collective decision-making before you have a sinking ship on your hands. I’ve learned these skills through workshops, readings and from living and working in cooperatives and they have been incredibly valuable to the success of these projects.

Collective decision-making has innumerable rewards. If group members affected by the decision are involved, less conflict will result. If folks implementing the decision are involved, decisions are more likely to be implemented with hard work and enthusiasm, and empowered decision-makers are likely to stick around for the long haul. Team spirit is cultivated by collaborative problem-solving and listening to other's perspectives.

A strong example of collective decision-making is participatory budgeting which often leads to less contentious, more inclusive budgetary decisions – not an easy challenge. Residents, assisted by city administrators, create proposals through a collaborative process and present their projects. Everyone (including youth and immigrants) votes on their top choices using ballots or dotmocracy - a rank-choice voting system using dots as votes.

NYC participatory budgeting, courtesy of the Participatory Budgeting Project
Collective decision-making isn't as much about how we vote on decisions as it is about the process of hearing and incorporating all sides. This process often involves:
  • A well-facilitated discussion of the issue or problem
  • Open brainstorming of proposed solutions
  • Developing refined proposals
  • Identifying concerns about proposals and checking for initial agreement
  • Modifying and making amendments to proposals through compromise
  • Voting to assess unity, concerns or to make further modifications
  • Implementing and evaluating the success of the proposal
Consensus flowchart by Grant Horwood
There are 3 key ingredients to effective collective decision-making:
1) The ability to trust the wisdom and consider the well-being of the group while setting aside personal agendas.
2) Selection of an appropriate process that your group agrees on and get training in the  facilitation of the process.
3) A comfortable and accepting group environment, so that individuals freely share their ideas, thoughts, emotions and experiences without retribution or oppression. Participants should feel their contributions are fairly and equally considered, even though they might not be part of the final solution. Troubleshooting guides listed in the Resources section below encourage full, fair and safe participation.

Group Mind
A group should have some common ground to hold it together during conflict, such as values, vision and goals. Common ground serves as a reference for whether or not a good decision is being made. Knowing whether you like warm or cold weather will help you figure out whether to sail your boat North or South. If you don’t know your common ground, it’s good to find it before you set sail so you don’t have folks steering you in different directions. Large groups that have factions can form subgroups that come back together for discussion, like spokescouncils, as activist groups like Occupy have done. Diverse stakeholder decisions are an exception, where common ground may be naturally lacking, and consensus can be challenging though still worthwhile.

Cooperative Attitude
Cooperative attitude can be learned through cooperative experience and requires developing a sense of group unity, caring and respect amongst members.  Have positive experiences together like group projects and shared meals to help create unity – the glue that gets the group through stormy meetings without unraveling. To a certain degree, participants must surrender forcing their own personal agenda in order to make decisions as a group, while still being clear about where they are coming from. Developing communication and listening skills and to make compromises comes with maturity and practice, though there are tools to help accelerate learning, like the Connection Action Project's guide below.

Decision-making Process
Get trained in a process -- research guidebooks or hire a consultant to teach the process to your group. Every new person who comes into your group should be trained, as one unskilled decision-maker could steer you off course. The larger your group, the more structured process you will likely need. A consultant can also help you pick your process and tailor it to your group's needs and culture. Consensus is often thought of as the ideal collective decision-making process, but other models are helpful for large, diverse groups: Dynamic Facilitation, Spokescouncils, Crowd-wise and Consensus-Oriented Decision-making.

Consensus State of Mind flowchart by the Rhizome Coop
Your boat will need a crew trained in all the key roles so that your meetings stay on course. Training in facilitation can be basic, like learning meeting roles such as note-taker, facilitator, vibe watcher and time keeper. Or it can be more elaborate training in conflict resolution, creating group agreements, techniques to break up mental gridlock, or anti-oppression tools. Take turns with facilitating and other roles for power balancing and group skill-building. Create group agreements/rules for every meeting. Look out for hidden power dynamics, which can sabotage authentic collective process.

Listening and Communication
These are essential,  yet often overlooked, elements of effective group process - participants must be able to voice themselves and be heard. There are many communication styles, some more emotional or nonverbal, and some people are able to speak their mind more than others due to conditioning or personality. Nonviolent communication is popular, but be careful about imposing one tool on unwilling participants; have varied tools available for different folks and contexts. Cues such as "step up" and "step back" direct members who are over- or under- participating. Take a break (use a "T" hand sign) to move through emotions in the middle of a heated discussion and calm the energy for clearer communication. "Safe space" is one of my favorites to incorporate into a meeting - it's where anyone can voice any concerns without response. Personal development practices like meditation or counseling may help members come to the table with a clearer mind that less is attached or triggered and more open to hearing others.

Read more and see resource links here.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

How to Map the New Economy in Your City

By Mira Luna 
Groups all over the world are resisting the status quo of profit maximization by putting society's happiness, health and the Earth first. This work, though, is often overshadowed by big business with its bloated advertising budgets and economic monopolization, which makes alternatives seem insubstantial if not nonexistent.

New economy projects are mostly unconnected, so each one struggles alone rather than supporting each other. One result of this is that awareness remains low.  The US Solidarity Economy Network (USSEN) and its international counterpart, RIPESS, are working to change this by implementing a mapping and economic integration tool to connect groups with one another to build a cooperative, just and sustainable economy.

Mapping your community helps demonstrate that “Another World” is not only possible, it already exists. Mapping also can become a community organizing tool - uncovering a reservoir of social assets even in the poorest neighborhoods, which may seed mutual aid and cooperative business ideas - as it did for the Jersey Shore Neighborhood Cooperative. USSEN has a list of communities that have done independent mapping projects, each using its own methodology, criteria, platform and map name.

When developing a map, a challenging question comes up,“who's in?” Some generally agreed upon principles for solidarity economy (SE) are: solidarity, mutualism, cooperation, equity (race, ethnicity, nationality, class, gender, LGBTQ, ability), social and environmental prioritization, democracy, pluralism, and grassroots driven. Most groups will not meet all these criteria. The line can become fuzzy if you don't have lots of local entities to choose from to populate the map. These principles leave something to aspire and work towards. You may want to do the mapping with local organizations to get a broader perspective and to encourage participation.

Functions of mapping
  • Make projects more visible to each other and the public -- free advertising!
  • Movement and regional community-building by connecting SE entities, social movements, and activists through social networking for developing mutual support and common infrastructure.
  • Facilitate the creation of viable solidarity economy supply chains that link SE producers, distributors, and finance.
  • Foundation for research to make the case for allocating resources and policies to support the solidarity economy.
Brazil's solidarity economy map and directory
Brazil has an elaborate, government funded Solidarity Economy Map of over 20,000 collectively run enterprises throughout the country, which enables consumers to find SE goods and services and develops SE supply chains. The map's social networking function is supported by a separate platform called Cirandas where enterprises, organizations, networks and individuals can create their own information page. ZOES is a platform in Italy that links mapping and social networking and allows entities to self-map after being vouched for by someone already in the ZOES network.
Within the US, there are many examples of simple maps, some just beginning:

How to Make a Map
Sometimes mapping starts with a curious individual. However, it's best if the map involve the broader community at some point. A community survey can collect information to populate the map in a balanced and diverse way. This may help you figure out what your geographic boundaries are, who to include in the map, as well as what to name it.

Read the rest on how to map here.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Extreme Wealth Inequality in America

This timely myth-shattering video is spreading across the web, using powerful infographics to make the case that not only is wealth distributed unevenly, but that it is much, much worse than we think. Just in time for the sequestration...Also, check out this film on Netflix about the Koch Brothers, multi-billionaires that pull all kinds of political strings to avoid taxes and grow their already extreme wealth.