The Canadian Social Economy Research Partnerships (CSERP) was a 6-year project (2006-11) in which universities and community-based organizations combined forces to explore Canada’s social economy: its participants, activities, purpose, accomplishments, and potential. The research organization and process were diverse and complex, like the subject itself. To a great extent, CSERP’s achievements derive from its embrace of all this diversity and complexity.
CSERP demonstrated how mutuals, voluntary associations, co-operatives, nonprofits, and charities should be understood as a single sector, distinctive in its commitment to community service and authority. The project displayed the benefits which flow from the collaboration of universities and communities in research. It mobilized scores of young researchers who devoted matchless energy and enthusiasm to research topics important to their careers and community values.
CSERP had to bear with several impediments. Criteria set by the funder, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC), hampered participation by Social Economy organizations and personnel. Competition among them and within academic circles was often fierce. Academics and practitioners differed over the purpose of research, its process, and how and to whom results should be disseminated. There are also marked tendencies to undervalue co-operatives and informal community groups, or to overvalue a well-intentioned private sector (social entrepreneurs).
Getting the Social Economy recognized as valid, interdisciplinary field of enquiry will be a long process. CSERP can take pride in just making a start on that. With so many signals of the emergence of a new economic era, now is not the time to stop. Academics and practitioners must continue to explore, systematically and cumulatively, the Social Economy’s wider possibilities: what the sector can be asked to do, and how best it can do it.
This is one of a series of articles sponsored by the Canadian Social Economy Research Partnerships (CSERP) to celebrate its 6-year contribution (2005-11) to our understanding of the importance of Canada’s social economy to the resolution of fundamental social and economic issues.