There are many buzzwords to describe the social economy. It’s likely you’ll have heard of fair trade, co-operatives, charities, social enterprise, the real living wage, credit unions or basic income.
When we cut past the soundbites what does this mean for ordinary people? What is the social economy? How would lives be improved by turning the wider economy into a social economy? How could this be done?
The social economy exists because of human need. The public and private sectors can’t provide everything and often don’t have the right skills, experience or the right connections with local communities.
This is where social enterprises and others step in. Ultimately it’s about building a new kind of economy, one that’s strong and sustainable over the long-term. An economy where everyone benefits from wealth creation and has the opportunity to get involved – and where the natural environment is a top priority.
In order to work for people and the planet, a successful social economy must be as localised as possible too.
We can start with our core needs. An economy exists to deliver essential goods and services to everyone, such as healthy food, water, quality housing, renewable energy and healthcare. Simple.
But how are these essential things currently being delivered to you, your family and your neighbours? Are they only being provided by a remote, profit-driven corporation or a bureaucratic government body? If the answer is yes then there’s clearly much room for improvement.
You could find out what’s already happening locally and get involved. A community owned business, development trust or charitable project may already exist. Perhaps there’s scope for growing food for community benefit, pooling childcare or launching an energy saving initiative. If you’re even more ambitious, then renewable energy projects or social housing may be something that a local group could look into.
We can, of course, use our consumer power to mainstream the social economy too. Choose local shops and co-ops, switch to ethical finance providers and donate to charities and national campaign groups. There’s a long list of initiatives to support, that form the foundations of the emerging social economy. These are things that can benefit people, planet and the economy equally.
In addition, we also have B Corporations, mutuals, ethical businesses and tax justice. There are also innovations like flexible working, local currencies and fixed pay gaps between the lowest and highest paid workers. All have a part to play in bringing long-term economic prosperity and a fairer society.
It’s time we ditched the old economic narrative. Arguments over GDP that bear no reality to people’s lives, meaningless numbers that mask the real job market, ‘too big to fail’ banks and privatisation versus nationalisation. The social economy can do things so much better.
We need to embrace change and drive forward community-owned social enterprises as the beating heart of every neighbourhood.
By understanding all parts of the social economy jigsaw we can ensure a stronger economy and better society for all of us.
Duncan Thorp, Social Enterprise Scotland.