The U.S. Solidarity Economy Network - Background & History

August 21, 2007

What is the Solidarity Economy?

  • The Solidarity Economy constitutes an alternative development framework
  • The Solidarity Economy is grounded in practice and the following principles:
  1. solidarity, mutualism, and cooperation
  2. equity in all dimensions: race/ethnicity/nationality, class, gender, LGBTQ
  3. recognizes the primacy of social welfare over profits and the unfettered rule of the market.
  4. sustainability
  5. social and economic democracy
  6. pluralism and organic approach, allowing for different forms in different contexts, and open to continual change driven from the bottom up.

A growing movement

In the midst of growing inequality and corporate power, government cutbacks, privatization and de-regulation, there is a quiet hum of people getting on with building economic alternatives grounded in principles of social solidarity, cooperation, egalitarianism, sustainability and economic democracy. Moved by desperation, practicality, values, or vision, many of these folks have turned their energy to building economic alternatives to provide jobs, food, housing, services, and money, as well as to create healthier communities, sustainable practices and economic democracy. Taken together, they offer stepping stones toward a new way of organizing our economy that is being called the solidarity economy.

While elements of the solidarity economy have existed for hundreds of years (or more), the framework is very young and is still in the process of evolving and being defined. There’s a growing global movement to advance it as an alternative to the failed model of neoliberal, corporate-dominated globalization. While the U.S. has many solidarity economy practices and institutions, the term itself is almost unknown in the US. As of yet, we do not have a either a framework that unites them conceptually as an overall system, or an overarching network of solidarity economy organizations.

Examples of a Solidarity Economy

  • cooperatives – worker, producer, consumer, housing, financial
  • local exchange systems, complementary currencies
  • social enterprises & ‘high road’ locally owned businesses
  • social investment funds
  • worker controlled pension funds
  • fair trade
  • solidarity finance
  • reclaim the commons movement
  • land trusts
  • co-housing
  • eco-villages
  • community supported agriculture
  • green technology and ecological production
  • participatory budgeting
  • collective kitchens in Latin America
  • tontines – collective health programs in Africa
  • community-based services in France
  • social cooperatives in Italy
  • open source movement (e.g. Linux, wikipedia)
  • unpaid care labor

Why form a Solidarity Economy Network in the U.S.?

We believe that there is an historic opening to create and push for a new framework for social and economic development – one that puts people and planet before private profits and power. Creating a solidarity economy network to foster a common sense of identity and purpose has been powerful in other countries, strengthening the solidarity economy by facilitating collaboration and coordination between practitioners, as well as cross fertilization of best practices and technical assistance. The networks have also been successful in gaining state recognition and support.

In Canada, the social solidarity economy networks have forged a comprehensive national policy framework and have leveraged $132 million in government funding for investment, capacity building, research and training. The Brazilian Forum of Solidarity Economy, created in 2003, has also developed a comprehensive national policy framework, with eight working groups covering communication, research, legal framework, public policies, production, commercialization and consumption, international relations, solidarity finances and training. Similar inroads have been made in Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina and the European Union.

We believe that through the formation of a Solidarity Economy Network we can achieve similar advances in the U.S. A stronger solidarity economy will provide employment and services for marginalized communities, foster sustainability, workplace and local participatory democracy, re-build local economies and communities, and advance solidaristic international relations, investment, trade, and aid. We urgently need the ‘big tent’ of the solidarity economy in the U.S. to unify and strengthen its many inspiring but fragmented elements, get us pulling in the same direction, and join up with the growing global solidarity economy movement.

Formation of the U.S. Solidarity Economy Network

The decision to launch the SEN was taken at the end of a series of meetings that were held at the U.S. Social Forum in July 2007. This decision was encouraged and supported by Canadian and Mexican members of the North American Network for the Solidarity Economy (NANSE) and the Intercontinental Network for the Promotion of the Social Solidarity Economy (RIPESS). It was agreed that in this initial phase, the Center for Popular Economics would serve as the fiscal sponsor and provide core staffing, provisional upon raising financial resources.

The first U.S. Forum on the Solidarity Economy was held in March 2009. It was attended by close to 400 people, and was very successful. Coming out of that Forum we formed a new Board, a Coordinating Committee and four Working Groups: 1) Research & Policy 2) Networking, Education and Organizing 3) Media and Communication and 4) Development. We are in the process of developing a three year strategic plan.