Kuala Lumpur: a key moment for the solidarity economy in Asia!

I have just returned from the Regional Workshop on Social Finance for SMEs with CSR Agenda held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, from 10 to 13 March. What a meeting, what organization, what methodology, what a team! A very successful event indeed. There were 13 countries represented, 45 participants, prestigious guests and a closing event in the form of the official inauguration of a social enterprise research centre in Kuala Lumpur…but I’m getting ahead of myself.

The 4-day workshop was organized faultlessly, and led efficiently by the outstanding Ed Canela, whose energy was equalled only by his enthusiasm. Presentations were given by participants, both social enterprises and microfinance organizations, as well as Laurent Fraisse on the European concept of the social enterprise. Everyone had a role, which varied according to the different workshop stages. A site visit was organized to a credit cooperative: Workers Credit Cooperative, KKR, of Malaysia. The workshop ended on the future partnership with the Binary College University on the theme of social enterprise.

The workshop opened with Ben’s presentation on “learning disabilities”, i.e. the habits that prevent us from learning and being open-minded. The idea, of course, was to encourage participants to leave behind their usual way of thinking and open up to the things they could learn at the workshop and beyond. Fair trade organizations from different countries (Indonesia, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Malaysia) then presented their work in the field. Selected participants commented on these projects; Marcos Arruda’s comments focused on the global vision of the solidarity economy (SE), of which (fair) trade is just one element. Work groups then reflected on the needs social enterprises have to meet, the challenges facing them and their factors for success. The afternoon followed the same programme, but with presentations from microfinance organizations. Miguel Hirota from Japan introduced the concept of social currencies and their importance in all-round local development. You can find details of discussions in the Day 1 Summary document (available only in English).

The second day focused on the definition of a social enterprise (its social and environmental mission, ethical practices, democratic governance, indicators, etc.). The afternoon was spent examining the role financial institutions can play by adapting their products and services to the need of social enterprises, and the necessary political and institutional support that takes into account the importance of social enterprises. You will find all the work groups’ discussions in the Day 2 Summary document (available only in English).

On the third day (see Day 3 Summary document, available only in English), participants continued to discuss the factors that characterize social enterprises, with Marcos Arruda’s remarks providing an important perspective in terms of repositioning the enterprise in the context of the solidarity economy as one of its driving forces. Ben made a global presentation of solidarity-economy, comparing the old and the new economy based on social values. Leida Rijnhout stressed the importance of genuinely incorporating environmental and ecological discussions in the concept of economy and a solidarity economy, as is not often the case despite all the fine talk of sustainable development. Discussions were followed by presentations from the following networks that work to link up the various components of the solidarity economy in Asia:

  • Association of Development Financing Institutions in Asia and the Pacific (ADFIAP)
  • Oikocredit
  • Asian Fair Trade Forum/ World Fair Trade Organization
  • Alliance for Responsible Plural and Solidarity Economy (ALOE)
  • Coalition for Socially Responsible SMEs in Asia (CSRSME Asia)

Group work ended with innovative proposals for the future. Taking these proposals as a basis, participants signed up to coordinate or set up theme-based electronic forums:

Group 1: markets/an ethical consumers club
Group 2: knowledge management/SE indicators
Group 3: financing mechanisms: a Social Development Bank
Group 4: development of a Web2 portal
Group 5: responsible environmental perspective

If you would like to take part in these forums, you can sign up on the website http://www.aa4se.com/cms2/. The working language will be English.

You can also find all the presentations given during the workshop and a variety of videos with participant interviews on the website of the Asian Alliance for a Solidarity Economy. It will show you the array of social enterprises in Asia. It’s worthwhile taking the time to look at them. The next Asian solidarity economy meeting will be in Japan, at the Asian Forum for Solidarity Economy. Good luck to this hugely dynamic network. And thanks once again to Ben, Ed and the whole team for their efficiency and enthusiasm.

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