Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Congress on the Solidarity Economy--Dakar, Senegal

In the last two weeks of November, a delegation from Niger traveled 6,000 kilometers in buses on difficult roads to attend the third Congress of RIPESS in Dakar Senegal. RIPESS ( is the French acronym for the Intercontinental Network for the Promotion of the Solidarity/Social Economy. They were the representatives of one of the 31 African country delegations that joined with 1,200 delegates from 46 other countries from Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, Asia, and North America to figure out how to globalize solidarity in creating a positive and practical development alternative to the neo-liberal Low Road globalization that’s devastating our communities and our planet.

A small US delegation attended the Congress including myself, my daughter Erica Swinney-- an organizer for Green Action in California as well as Carol and Brett Swinney; Matt Hancock—a CLCR staff member who has been studying cooperative economics in Bologna; Tanya Dawkins, President of Global-Local Links; and Cliff Rosenthal the Executive Director of the National Federation for Community Development Credit Unions and his family. There were 140 Canadians from the whole spectrum of cooperative and community economic development organizations.

It was a big Congress indicating momentum. There was double the number they expected in September. People gathered to exchange experiences, create a vision for development that can compete successfully with what is unfondly referred to as neoliberalism, and to build an organization that truly links the North and South in solidarity. There were 30 different workshops on topics that combined practical and local experience to broader strategic issues. There were caucuses for women, for youth, for rural organizers and others. There were plenaries where speakers and the audience worked together to add greater definition and substance to our alternative vision and engaged challenges from the floor. Women and youth demanded greater representation and galvanized support. Abu Brima—an organizer from Sierra Leone—politely but clearly challenged the delegates from the North to go back home and engage the companies in their own countries who are wreaking havoc in the South and not define “solidarity” simply as a visit to a Southern city like Dakar and charitable financial or verbal support for initiatives in the developing world.

There were continental caucus meetings. Over 70 delegates from Canada, the US, and the Caribbean met to get to know each other and explore ideas of some common work. At an earlier meeting of RIPESS, the North American Network on the Solidarity Economy (NANSE) was formed. It’s a membership network that will organize meetings, promote joint cross-border projects, and build the international network. It will sponsor a conference in Chicago for network members to engage some of the strategic issues and to set the stage for a determined effort against US and Canadian companies engaged in Low Road practices in Sierra Leone—responding to Brima’s challenge. 20% of the delegates to that October 2006 meeting will come from the South.

The Minister for the Social Economy in Belgium announced that they would host the 4th Congress of RIPESS in Brussels in April of 2007—a proposal that reflected the momentum of this network. In the middle of the Congress, we held a two hour march down a major crowded street of Dakar—a hot, electric, and dynamic city—attracting over 8,000 people under our banners of solidarity. An evening forum was held with members of the Canadian, US, and Senegalese labor movement to discuss common concerns.

The term “social economy” or “solidarity economy” isn’t used frequently in the US. But it is around the world and we should start using it in describing our identity. In several countries in Europe and Africa, there is a Minister of the Social Economy that is at the highest echelons of government and on a par equal to the Ministers of Finance or the Ministers of Industry. It is a term embracing the broad range of economic and social activity including that of community-based groups, cooperatives, small companies, buying groups, credit unions, and others who are engaged in market and economic development activity with the purpose of building sustainable communities and societies not just generating a positive financial return for the owners of the enterprise. There is growing interest by activists, development and business leaders, government, academics, and others in the social economy as people look for an alternative approach to development that can compete and contend with low road globalization.

By way of background, the November Congress in Dakar was the third Congress of RIPESS. RIPESS grew out of a joint effort of community development leaders and academics that organized a conference on the Solidarity/Social Economy in Lima, Peru, expecting 40-50 people in 1997. Over 200 people from 21 countries showed up and RIPESS was born from this enthusiasm for North and South solidarity around a development vision. After a follow-up congress in Quebec City in 2001 with almost double the number of participants and countries represented, RIPESS established its central office in Dakar, Senegal.
This will be a network worth watching. It represents a sub-grouping within the broader networks such as the World Social Forum. It will grow and likely be a unique center for those advancing an alternative vision and practice to Low Road globalization. Its leadership is designed to be diverse. The current Board includes 2 people from each continent. It has a broader consultative International Liaison Committee with 6 people from each continent. It is well led and encourages practical exchange as well as critical thinking and debate. It’s also still in its development stage. There are loose ends. There is always the challenge of translation and different languages. But that’s the way all movements begin.

Your organization should join RIPESS and plan on going to Brussels in April 2007. You should also join NANSE—the Canadian, US, and Caribbean network. Dues are just $75 a year. We publish a 4-page supplement in the Canadian Journal Making Waves. And we will be increasingly active.

For more information, contact:

Dan Swinney
Center for Labor and Community Research


Tanya Dawkins
Global-Local Links Project
Miami, FL


Ethel Cote
l'Art du developpment


Mike Lewis
Centre for Community Enterprise
Port Albernie, British Columbia