Photo Credit: HUANG Zheng

The role of science in fostering a common good economy

Science is to contribute to economy with new solidarity and social values

Does entering the race for growth and progress for its own sake make sense? Nothing could be less certain if we do not question the meaning of such endeavour. Nevertheless, this is what happened for over forty years! As if growth and progress were de facto positive. This misguided notion has been used, to a great extent, to mask a broader reality. That is, the accumulation of capital, profit-making through an acceleration of growth processes, mainly linked to finance. In other words, a growth process geared towards the owners of the means of production. And increasingly, towards their funders and the funders of the funders.

This is a somewhat brutal but fairly accurate assessment of the situation. It would be undue and excessive, of course, to say that the evolution of science, in general, and of technologies, such as biotechnologies, was totally determined–some would say polluted–by increased reliance on financial drivers and on globalisation.

But the facts are here. And they are well known. In particular, global warming or the concentration of scientific and technological advancements in favour of a relatively restricted group of countries speak for themselves. It is therefore essential to be concerned about the purpose of sciences and economic governance systems.

Ultimately, we should aim to define virtuous paths for progress–be it technical, biological, medical or digital. Another goal is to ensure that progress is consistent with the new Sustainable Development Goals, recently voted by the United Nations member countries. Or rather that progress goes over and beyond these objectives.

If such concern had pre-existed, the Tokyo, Rio, and Copenhagen climate change conferences would have been more ambitious and possibly more effective. We are clearly staying clear of the naive belief that there is a potential socio-economic model that is perfect and unique. Or that “putting the brakes on” would miraculously rebalance negative effects on humans and on the planet.

New vision

Instead, a multi-fold vision of potential new development models is more necessary than ever. The idea is to move the lines, valuing and amplifying previous achievements, in line with the criteria included in the UN human development index. The traditional measures of Gross Domestic Product and stock market indicators have demonstrated their limitations.

This vision has been adopted by the Social Solidarity Economy (SEE) movement. It already encompasses more than one billion cooperative members (excluding members of associations and mutual societies) throughout the world. It is essential than its role grows. This ambitious goal is nevertheless realistic because SEE is present in all continents and in all sectors of the economy.

Without SSE, indeed, there will be no lasting success of the likes of COP21. And there will be no fair and solidarity based implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. However bold that statement may appear, this is true.

Social and Solidarity Economy

Let’s place the Social and Solidarity Economy in its context. It is a model, which contrasts with the previous prevailing model. It is mainly based on the following principles: democratic management–one person, one vote–sustainable property–both private and collective–fair distribution of surpluses, respect of both people and the environment and, of course, solidarity.

To be successful, the SEE project–and not the capital–needs to be placed at the heart of all activities by cooperatives, mutual societies, associations, foundations, participatory and social enterprises, communities, free software or seeds freed of intellectual property rights, etc.

The SEE copmmunity recently positioned itself on the international policy scene. Calling for new alliances at the European and international level, the Joint Declaration for Social and Solidarity Economy, was adopted on 28th September 2015 in parallel to the UN General Assembly. Those involved include UN Member States, UN institutions, three global federations of cities and territories, as well as the International Forum of the SSE Entrepreneurs, known as the Mont-Blanc Meetings.

It is now crucial to go beyond this declaration. An effective alliance between the main actors of the social economy and researchers as well as academics has yet to be built. These actors include the International Forum of the Social and Solidarity Entrepreneurs and the supporters of Mont-Blanc Meetings, due to take place between 26 and 28 November 2015 in Chamonix, France. The common goal is to define how best to combine synergies in the realisation of SEE projects with the help of scientific input, and thus pave the way for progress. This should result in joint projects–both collaborative and cooperative–which can really make a difference.

The Scientific Committee of the Mont-Blanc Meetings, which includes economists, lawyers, and sociologists, is now open to welcome other interested parties from the scientific community. The time has come to work in this direction. Several trends show that there is an emerging desire to combine economic, social and scientific fields. It is therefore time for solidarity initiatives to become much more prevalent.

Thierry Jeantet

Thierry is president of the International Forum of the Social and Solidarity Entrepreneurs, of the Mont-Blanc Meetings, the forum of social and solidarity economy leaders, and works for supplementary pension and complementary mutual insurance companies, including as administrator for SGAM Ag2R La Mondiale, vice-president of Mutavie, in France, vice-president of Tuw, in Poland.

Featured image credit: Huang Zheng via Shutterstock

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