Reporting from Philippines: Surprising opportunities for Social and Solidarity Economy in the coronavirus era

Benjamin, JR Quinones, April 2020

As food supplies in shopping malls are dwindling - due to slowdown of deliveries as a result of the lockdown, the Asian Solidarity Economy Council (ASEC) has received many requests for information, knowledge about the approach of social solidarity economy (SSE) for bringing groups of consumers and groups of producers together to co-create an alternative, transformative socially responsible economies. ASEC is calling for direct linkages between consumer communities in the urban centers and producer communities in the rural areas/countryside. We’re telling them stories of communities that have reorganized their local economies through solidarity initiatives of people.

Co-create alternative, transformative socially responsible economies

So many challenges and problems are currently associated with the lockdown due to the global hygienic crisis, but adversity also brings surprising opportunities.

We at ASEC (Asian Solidarity Economy Council) have received many requests for information, knowledge about the approach of social solidarity economy (SSE) of bringing groups of consumers and groups of producers together to co-create alternative, transformative socially responsible economies. As food supplies in shopping malls are dwindling - due to slowdown of deliveries as a result of the lockdown - ASEC called for direct linkages between consumer communities in the urban centers and producer communities in the rural areas/countryside. We’re telling them stories of communities that have reorganized their local economies through solidarity initiatives of people.

There’s the solidarity between an organic farming community of Orang Asli (indigenous people) in rural Malaysia and a consumer cooperative organized by a local church in Kuala Lumpur where the latter commits to buy all the produce of the Orang Asli. This has prompted a shopping mall to emulate the example shown by the consumer cooperative by pledging to buy the products of the Orang Asli if more households engage in organic farming. This has encouraged the Orang Asli to enjoin their neighbors and friends to shift from fire-fallow agriculture (also called slash-and-burn agriculture) which harms and decimates forests, to organic farming.

In PanggungHarjo, Yogyakarta the women of the households set up a collective community kitchen (CK) so that they can enjoy eating « outside the house » but within the village area. The workers are young people, all children of the local households, and they hired a nutritionist as CK manager. The manager was so professional and dedicated in her job that the CK produced a variety of delicious food at affordable prices. So the households preferred to eat lunch in the CK and bought extra dishes for dinner. By word of mouth the reputation of PanggungHarjo CK became known to professionals and even foreign tourists. Today, the CK attracts an average of 500 customers, and their sales are not so much affected by the pandemic lockdown because the bulk of their clientele are the local households the who also own the CK.

In the Philippines a young lady who once worked as a community organizer for an NGO quit her job and started « Good Food Community », a small shop that distributes fresh organic farm products to subscribers. This initiative is called « Community-Supported Agriculture » (CSA) and it is a popular short-supply chain model of social solidarity economy. She first enjoined her friends to be the first subscribers, then some of her friends became her vendors who recruited more subscribers. The young lady social entrepreneur also runs a Sunday Bazaar where walk-in clients can sign up as regular subscribers. She also organizes a forum called « Food for Peace » where participants buy their own organic food and share a meal with others while sharing ideas on the forum’s thematic topic. Today, this CSA initiative has 100+ organic farmers whose farm produce is earmarked for the consumer-subscribers of Good Food Community.

Stories like these and many more (ASEC has been collecting case studies of SSE initiatives in various parts of Asia - with support from FPH in the past and in recent years by the Alliance) have attracted people to the ongoing dialogues of ASEC. In the advent of the lockdown, ASEC has resorted to zoom meeting. This month, we decided to call our regular online discourse the « ASEC Online SSE Academy ».

Here is the link to the ASEC Online SSE Academy. bit.ly/SSEacademy

Participation is free, yet voluntary donation is welcome. More importantly, if you want to run the ASEC SSE Online Academy in your own country in your own national language, we will encourage you to do it and we will lend you a hand.

On May 2 2020 from 4.00 to 6.00pm Kuala Lumpur time, ASEC launched its SSE Online Academy. It was run by the adage of Galilei Galileo which says « You cannot teach a person anything; you can only help him find it within himself ». A Chinese proverb says the same thing differently: « You can bring the horse to the river, but you cannot force it to drink ». The implication is, ASEC can share with you information, knowledge, and lessons learned from its collection of case studies on SSE, but we cannot force you to learn and adopt it. We can only help you realize whether it’s relevant and beneficial for your own community and/or organization.

The topics of the Online Academy were: « Introduction to ASEC and to SSE »; « Dimensions 1 & 2 of SSE - Socially Responsible Govenance and Edifying Ethical Values »; and « The Triple Bottom Line of SSE - People, Planet and Profit ». 145 people from 26 countries (including from Africa, Latin America, and Europe) registered for the Academy, and 85 actually attended.

On May 9, 2020, the second session of the ASEC SSE Online Academy will convene. The topic is the link between SSE and SDGs. ASEC Chair Datuk Dr. Denison Jayasooria will be the resource person. The May 9 session will be followed by an interview by the learners of any enterprise n their respective workplaces - using ASEC’s five dimensional framework - to ascertain whether the enterprise chosen for the quick evaluation can be considered to be an SSE enterprise or organization.

Little seeds of systemic change, Proofs of concept

Refering to the Collective call of the ‘Transitions Factory’ which affirms the importance of the « seeds of systemic change », viz:

« …[A] few territories have initiated genuine strategies for systemic change, the common lessons of which constitute the basis for managing change…These strategies show that the transition is possible and a source of joy and hope for those involved. They cannot transform the whole system on their own, and further transformations are indispensable at the global, European and national levels, but taken collectively, they can be the seeds of systemic change ».

Moments of solidarity in the socio-economic space among people scattered in various places of the world are little seeds of systemic change. Quite significantly, they provide « proofs of concept » of the jointly built global vision and shared values of all actors around the world who are committed to systemic change. A popular motto goes « Think Global, Act Local » In recent years, the motto metamorphoses to « Act Global, Think Local ». The gist appears similar: the role of the global is to unite people from various walks of life to a collective, shared global vision of systemic change. The role of the local, territory, national is to provide « proof of concept » and the warm-body support of little armies that carry the banner of the global vision.