Peak Oil and climate change impose on us unprecedented demands for thoughtful, energetic, and broad-based societal action. Will the concepts we commonly use to guide and explain initiatives in social and economic justice be up to this challenge?
Currently, most practitioners of social economy draw a clear line between their work and what happens in the private and public systems. Each system is said to be based upon different principles. Their own "third" system, guided by the principle of reciprocity, strives to secure resources for the disadvantaged or even to challenge neo-liberal hegemony in the market and the state.
Yet the record of two outstanding social economy organizations, RESO in southwest Montreal and the Chicago Manufacturing Renaissance Council (CMRC), does not confirm this analysis. The private and public sectors are important players in the governance, constituencies, partners, clients, and funders of both organizations. Had they confined their targets, partnerships, and alliances to nonprofits, co-operatives, social enterprises and the like, could they have achieved the same high level of innovation and socio-economic impact? It seems unlikely.
What RESO and CMRC are practicing is the "solidarity economy." They contend on behalf of the values of justice, inclusion, diversity, ecological sustainability, and financial viability - the High Road (as opposed to the Low Road of "life-damaging, growth-addicted capitalism") - in all three systems. The concept of solidarity economy builds bridges across old divides and opens up whole new realms for strategic thinking and engagement by social economy practitioners. It also challenges them to make social purpose and reciprocity central to exchange across society - an agenda of transformation.