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Ruby van der Wekken: Sustainable Economy


I am Ruby van der Wekken and I consider myself a member of the global justice movement.  I am working at the Siemenpuu Foundation, which aims at supporting partners in the Global South around issues of ecological democracy. I also work actively on the development of Stadin Aikapankki of which I am a co-founder, and in which people yet also organizations exchange services on the basis of time. I am also part of a collective (( – soon opening) which wants to take forward the discussions around Commons and Solidarity economy in Finland. 

Addressing a sustainable economy is for me an economy which upholds a socially and ecologically just society, locally, which in turn has important ramifications globally. The dominant economic paradigm in which economic growth is seen as a panacea, continues to generate globally inequalities, as well as ecological havoc by its using up of natural resources. 

Instead, it seems useful to be looking at alternative paradigms which put people and nature first, and which make people and not corporate profit interests, the producers of value. At the Peoples Summit of the Rio+20 Conference in June in Brasil, where I participated, such alternative paradigms were prominently present and debated, such as that of Solidarity Economy building and the Commons. 

The idea of a Solidarity economy has been developed since the 1980’s, especially in Latin America, and has been taken forward in processes as the World Social Forum.  In this approach, economy is about the whole of how “we as human beings collectively generate livelihoods in relation to each other and to the Earth” (Miller 2004), and we are being urged to look at the economies that we build with our everyday lives and relationships. “Maintaining social life” is the primary goal of these “people’s economies”. I find this importantly also reflecting on current tendencies which want to separate thoughts and values connected to community from those which are connected to the economy, whilst, however, the economy must be developed in function of the strengthening of a community and its values. 

Solidarity means here  “The process of taking active responsibility for our relationships in ways that foster diversity, autonomy, cooperation, communication, and shared-power (direct democracy), and of fostering these and other related values with our fellow humans (social and economic solidarity) and with the rest of the Earth (ecological solidarity)” (Miller, 2004). 

Solidarity is thus importantly about the sharing of power, which is another fundamental to come to an equal and sustainable economy and important also when addressing issues such as participation. It has been pointed out how recently in Finnish society a surge in self organized civic society activities has taken place – key, however, is how far these participatory initiatives are politicized and actually including effective transfer of power, making them processes of cultural change.

’Solidarity economics’ proposes to identify the alternatives that already exist – such as ethical organic local food cooperatives, ethical banks, community associations, timebanks – increasingly use and link these initiatives, whilst in the process creating more and new forms of solidarity economy practices. 

Instead of furthering corporate interests, one could imagine a state, municipalities and communities increasingly producing goods and services within the framework of a solidarity economy.  In Brazil there is a secretariat for solidarity economy under the Labour Ministry. At the Peoples Summit of the Rio+20 conference, people could sign on to the proposal for a law concerning Solidarity economy actors, calling for their recognition and for supporting policies. Also for instance in Germany an active debate around Solidarity economy is currently taking part. 

An important alliance towards a sustainable economy would be between Solidarity economy actors and Commoners. The Commons have been described as the intellectual and material basis of a Solidarity economy; the creation of use value without the interference of state or market. The Commons can be seen as an opposition to Neoliberal capitalism, with financial markets currently encroaching everywhere, including now the increasing development of new markets for natural resources. 

Commons, whether it is forest or ideas, is to be understood as the social practices of commoning, of acting together, producing together. The core is that all who participate in a Commons have right to an equal voice in decision making concerning the Commons, whether this is community management of natural resources, or free open software.  Self organization and self determination are important aspects, and the discussion of the Commons is seen to have a great potential to transform current relations of power, of production, and of wealth, locally and globally. 

Needless to say, both solidarity economy building and furthering of the Commons geared towards structural change need an enabling political environment, as well as matching macroeconomic policies. Solidarity economy building as well as the Commons can be seen as important methodologies and visions when addressing the economic and ecological crises, as tools in the discussion on degrowth. 

Stadin Aikapankki has many angles from which to address the issue of sustainable economy. Main guiding principle in Stadin Aikapankki is that everyone’s work, need and time is of equal worth, whilst organisations joining are meant to be upholding economic relations in respect of the timebank’s value and principle chart, which includes values as equality, democracy, autonomy, and ecological sustainability. Also the principles of self organization and self determination have been found to be important in the discussions around the developmentt of Stadin Aikapankki. I have found it inspiring to think of how aikapankki can be used to be strengthening solidarity economy actors, and to be linking between them, an with this expand solidarity practices, as also the alternative economic paradigm of the Commons. 

I could end with an example of the cooporation between aikapankki and a local ethical organic food producing cooperative. 

Also in Finland the issue of organic food has become big business. This means that organic food must be produced cheap in order to be competitive. In practice this then means too little salaries for the work of the farmer, and the possibility to only focus on the production of a few kinds of crops. However, an organic food cooperative which tries to ethically produce its food would need more hands and better wages. By connecting up to a local timebank, bank members can take part on the field, the work from which they will receive time credits. With these time credits, they can either get products from the cooperative, or they can, alternatively, use their earned time credits in the timebank to get services. In this manner the ethically produced organic food becomes more available. As such, a timebank can become an important tool to support participatory and ethical production of food. 

Needless to say this entails an important critique of the dominant global food production chain. A sustainable local economy must allow for food sovereignty, locally and globally. A sustainable economy builds towards local and global socio economic and ecological justice.

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