The Solidarity Economy: An Overview

By Jenna Allard and Julie Matthaei, Guramylay

[Note: a Word document version of this text can be downloaded here]

The solidarity economy is a new way of naming and conceptualizing the many types of transformative economic values, practices, and institutions that exist in the U.S. and all over the world. These include, but are not limited to, egalitarian and participatory economic behavior by individuals, workers, and producers, such as by an individual who is an ethical consumer, worker, and/or investor, or by a worker-coop, fair trade business, or progressive union. Solidarity production processes can also take many forms, from self-employed entrepreneurs and local small-scale businesses, to high road businesses and corporations, to worker-owned cooperatives and collectives, to community businesses. Many of these practices and organizations have arisen in response to the injustices and imbalances of neo-liberalism.

The solidarity economy is also the process of uniting these various forms of transformative economics in a network of solidarity: solidarity with a shared vision, solidarity with shared values, and solidarity with the oppressed. Thus, the work of building the solidarity economy is both to grow transformative economic values, practices, and institutions, and also to connect people and organizations that are already doing solidarity-based work in their own communities.

The solidarity economy is being defined from the grassroots, by the many diverse groups and individuals who are building transformative economic institutions. Thus, the term has a variety of meanings which are sometimes contradictory. In the United States, many solidarity economy practices, institutions, and networks already exist, but there is no conceptual framework linking these enterprises, or overarching network of solidarity economy organizations.

This paper, which is a work in progress, aims to provide an introduction to the solidarity economy. We include a summary of key aspects of the solidarity economy, written by the Solidarity Economy Coordinating Group for the U.S. Social Forum, some definitions from all over the world, and summaries of key values. Please visit for more information and to contribute to our blog.

The Emerging Solidarity Economy: Some Common Themes

The Solidarity Economy constitutes an alternative economic model to neoliberal capitalism, one which is grounded on solidarity and cooperation, rather than the pursuit of narrow, individual self-interest, and that promotes economic democracy, alternative models of local economic governance, equity and sustainability rather than the unfettered rule of the market.

While noncapitalist, cooperative forms of economic organization have always existed, solidarity economy is a recent and evolving concept and practice, which is being defined from the bottom/up: The term "solidarity economy" emerged about 10 years ago, and solidarity economy organizations and networks now exist in Latin America, most European countries, Africa, Asian, and Canada. While the U.S. has many solidarity economy practices, institutions, and networks, the term itself is not well known in the US. As of yet, we do not have a either a framework that unites them conceptually as an overall system, or an overarching network of solidarity economy organizations.

Solidarity economy involves three overlapping but distinct types of solidarity:

  • Values-based solidarity: solidarity with people, movement groups, NGO's, worker cooperatives and other businesses who share economic justice values - e.g. Fair Trade, ethical consumption, and socially responsible investment practices.
  • Anti-oppression solidarity: solidarity with oppressed countries or with oppressed groups of people, especially the poor, women, indigenous peoples, people of color, gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgendered peoples, and workers.
  • Vision-based solidarity: solidarity among people, economic organizations, and social movements based on shared visions for local and global economic development that are economically, socially, and environmentally restorative, and shared advocacy of transformative institutions and policies such as Bolivia's People's Trade Agreement, participatory budgeting and labor-based investment funds

Solidarity economy involves two levels of solidarity:

  • Micro-solidarity: egalitarian and participatory economic behavior by individuals, workers, and producers, such as by an individual who is an ethical consumer, worker, or investor, or by a worker-coop, fair trade business, or progressive unions.
  • Macro-solidarity: the development of networks aimed at supporting and growing the solidarity economy among individuals and institutions. This involves networks of organizations involved in micro-solidarity, such as the Fair Trade Federation, SAS (Students Against Sweatshops), and national, regional, and international networks of solidarity economy organizations such as RIPESS (The Intercontinental Network for the Promotion of the Social Solidarity Economy), and NANSE (North American Network for the Solidarity Economy). A key aspect of macro-solidarity is organized activity by these networks, in coalition with other progressive groups, aimed at transforming the state and global institutions so as to make them supportive to the growth of the solidarity economy.

Reform and Revolution:

Solidarity economy involves both transforming current economic institutions, and growing alternatives to them. Solidarity economy values, practices and institutions currently coexist with neo-liberal capitalist ones in all sectors of the economy. The ultimate vision is:

  • to grow these values, practices and institutions through conscious activity designed to transform civil society, the market, and the state; and
  • to link these solidarity economy activities in a network of mutual support, such that they transform neo-liberal capitalism into a just, democratic, and sustainable economic paradigm and system.

Solidarity economy involves a continuum of forms of relations of production, and different solidarity economy networks link various subsets of these:

  • From landless workers to family farmers to agricultural cooperatives
  • From self-employed entrepreneurs and local small-scale businesses, to high road businesses and corporations, to worker-owned cooperatives and collectives and community businesses
  • Indigenous, collectivist forms of production

Solidarity economy involves a range of social sectors and focuses:

  • The Canadian social economy involves cooperatives and non-profit enterprises in many sectors, which are often supported by government programs obtained through the mobilization of social movements, especially in Quebec province
  • The Brazilian solidarity economy relies heavily on unions, landless worker organizing, and the creation of cooperatives among those living in informal settlements
  • The European platform for ethical and solidarity-based initiatives focuses on anti-materialism and ethical consumption
  • NANSE (The North American Network for the Solidarity Economy) is committed to organizing against the neo-liberal vision on all levels and in all sectors

Solidarity economy simultaneously promotes unity and diversity:

  • Unity around shared values of equality (especially gender, race, and economic equality), participatory democracy, cooperation, sustainability, community
  • Diversity is not only accepted but valued, encouraged, and celebrated, including diversity of culture, of conceptual frameworks, of ways of structuring economic institutions, of priorities, and of ways of movement building.

Solidarity Economy: Some Definitions

"Solidarity economy designates all production, distribution and consumption activities that contribute to the democratization of the economy based on citizen commitments both at a local and global level. It is carried out in various forms, in all continents. It covers different forms of organization that the population uses to create its own means of work or to have access to qualitative goods and services, in a dynamics of reciprocity and solidarity which links individual interests to the collective interest. In this sense, solidarity economy is not a sector of the economy, but an overall approach that includes initiatives in most sectors of the economy."

- Alliance 21 "Proposal Paper on the Solidarity Economy", 2001

"We have also seen the emergence of various forms of Solidarity Economy as a new proposal to organize the economy and society around the conviction that Another Global Socioeconomy is possible, another Human Being is possible. It aims at overcoming alienation with holistic individual and collective self-development."

"It is economic activity organized for safe and sustainable individual and collective self-development, which implies the shared satisfaction of needs and wants and the co-management of the houses people share in common - the home, the community, the district, the county, the ecosystem, the country, the planet. It is an ethical, reciprocal and cooperative way of consuming, producing, financing, exchanging, communicating, educating, developing which fosters a new way of thinking and living."

- Marcos Arruda, PACS Brazil
"Solidarity Economy and the Rebirth of a Matristic Human Society"

"Solidarity Economics begins...with the realization that alternative economies already exist; that we as creative and skilled people have already created different kinds of economic relationships in the very belly of the capitalist system. We have our own forms of wealth and value that are not defined by money. Instead of prioritizing competition and profit-making, these economies place human needs and relationships at the center. They are the already-planted seeds of a new economy, an economy of cooperation, equality, diversity, and self-determination: a ‘solidarity economy'."

"Solidarity is a powerful word that names the dynamic, collective process of taking active responsibility for our inter-relationships on both a local and global level. When we practice solidarity, we recognize that our fates are bound up with the fates of others, both human and non-human; that our interconnections-sometimes profoundly unequal and oppressive-demand conscious action and transformation. Through solidarity, we recognize the diversity, autonomy, power, and dignity of others. We come to understand that our struggles to be free and joyful are not as separate or distant from one another as we may have thought. We begin to develop an ethical practice of shared struggle."

- Ethan Miller, GEO (Grassroots Economic Organizing)
"Solidarity Economics: Strategies for Building New Economies From the Bottom-Up and the Inside-Out".

"Solidarity Economy is a strong tool of empowerment and social change that starts from the initiatives of responsible citizens that want to keep control of the way they are producing, consuming, saving, investing, exchanging. It is a model of community-based and locally-based people's economy. We may call it grassroots economy. Solidarity Economy constructs a sustainable development from civil society taking State policies and resources only as complementary to their own actions and resources. It makes economy accountable with ethical standards."

- Carola Reintjes, REAS (Network for Alternative and Solidarity Economy Networks, Spain)
"What is a Solidarity Economy?"

"Solidarity Economy" is one of terms used to describe all those economic activities and regulations which are based upon cooperation and solidarity, so as to place human beings and social relationships back at the core of the economic activities."

- Asian Forum for Solidarity Economy
"What is Solidarity Economy?"

"Solidarity Economy is fruit of the organization of workers in the construction of new economical and social practices based on relations of solidarity partnership, and inspired on cultural values where men and women are protagonists and the purpose of the economic activity, and not the private accumulation of wealth in general and capital in particular."

- Brazilian Forum of Solidarity Economy
"The Management and Organization Experience of the Solidarity Economy Movement in Brazil"

"The term solidarity economy is interchangeable with social economy, popular economy and labour economy. But the word solidarity - [which I define as] unity (as of a group or class) that produces or is based on community of interests, objectives, and standards -- describes the processes involved in the best possible way. Coming together of people as a cohesive unit working to serve common vision and interests form the foundation of these initiatives."

- Manish Verma, AWID (Association for Women's Rights in Development)
"What is Solidarity Economy?"

"Parallel to the neoliberal model, exists another model known as Solidarity Economy, and its concept of development is based within the liberation of the potential of humanity."

"In the Solidarity Economy market, the market is a space for the interchange of goods at a fair price with just relationships and constituting a means of creating development. Technology and the financial resources are instruments for work and production. Natural resources are raw materials for production, the basic means to contribute to the development. Within the model, exists a consciousness of respect for nature and the knowledge that natural resources aren't of an unlimited supply; therefore they require planning, preservation and sustainable use so they can be used by future generations."

- Alma Cecilia Omana Reyes and Jorge Santiago Santiago
Si Uno Come, Que Coman Todos, Economia Solidaria, trans. by Chris Treter

"A new form of organization of economic life, from local to global. It is an ethical, reciprocal and cooperative way of consuming, producing, financing, exchanging, communicating, educating, developing which fosters a new way of thinking and living.

- Emily Kawano, CPE (Center for Popular Economics, U.S.)
"Social and Solidarity Economy"

"We understand the Solidarity Economy to be the socioeconomic system made up of the multiple associative forms of production and service, of solidaritous enterprises whose goal is not profit, based on universal principles and values of mutualism, cooperation, the worker's movement."

- COLACOT (Latin American Confederation of Cooperatives and Worker's Associations)
"Solidarity Economics: An alternative for development, equity, social justice, and peace in Colombia"

"Solidarity economies are those in which local production for local needs employs democratic and often non-market forms of manufacture, distribution, savings, and investment."

- Bob Stone & Betsy Bowman, GEO
"The Meek Want the Earth Now: the Solidarity Economies of Brazil & Mexico"

"Solidarity economy" names not just participatory budgeting but any economic activity--co-ops, fair trade, ethical consumption, credit unions, local currencies, micro-finance, socially conscious investment--that democratizes an economy, subordinating profit to human ends. It includes: ethical consumption, fair trade, local currencies, micro-finance and credit unions, socially conscious investment, and co-ops of all kinds."

- Bob Stone & Betsy Bowman
"The World Social Forum at the Crossroads in Caracas: The Solidarity Economy and Other Options"

Solidarity Economy Principles

"The Solidarity Economy is a broader [than the social economy] development vision and actions that seek to contend with the powerful international neo-liberal vision on all levels and in all sectors, that is gaining recognition by leaders from the market, state, and civil sectors in all societies globally. It is anchored in the following values and priorities:

1) Economic, social, and environmental development that is truly sustainable and restorative to society and the planet;

2) Profoundly internationalist in seeking development that builds communities and human capacity as a principal objective; is based on understanding and applying best international practice from the developing and developed world; is based on active international exchange and the creating of common projects that reflect High Road development.

3) Reflects a positive and comprehensive development vision and plan that will successfully compete with the current and dominant Low Road development trend in communities, regions, countries, and internationally. Scale is important.

4) Accepts the urgency of addressing the urgent crises such as the looming ones in relation to water, climate, food, and Peak Oil;

5) Promotes solidarity and common action with community, labor, business, government, and educators towards these objectives both in the design as well as implementation of programs; and

6) Is premised on the fundamental assumption that true social, economic, and environmental change is finally a product of a broad informed and powerful mass movement."

- Dan Swinney, NANSE (North American Network for the Solidarity Economy"
"Defining the Social Economy, the Solidarity Economy, and NANSE"

"[Solidarity Economy is that in which:]

  • Civil society, especially the working sectors, empower themselves to be the subjects of their livelihood and of their own development. The State, capital, economic and technical development are conceived as means for enabling social and human development.
  • Cooperation in solidarity is the prevailing form of social relationship.
  • Sharing and co-participation in production, distribution and consumption are the emotion and the action.
  • The democratic State is a common project, whose role is to foster a system of conviviality based on cooperation, mutual respect and fulfillment for each and every citizen and community.
  • Democracy is made real as a collective construction of a social human system, a socioeconomic, mental and psychic space of sharing, of mutual respect, of cooperation and co-participation.
  • The cultural matrix is that each and every worker - the social individual - is the legitimate leader and, therefore, share the power and the responsibility of decision-making. In one expression, a culture of social individualism or collective personalism, or individual socialism."

- Marcos Arruda
"Solidarity Economy and the Rebirth of a Matristic Human Society"

"Basic values of solidarity economy include:

  • Unity-in-diversity
  • Shared power (as opposed to power-over)
  • Autonomy (always both individual and collective)
  • Communication (horizontal, not top-down)
  • Cooperation and mutual-aid (shared struggle)
  • Local rootedness, global inter-connection"

- Ethan Miller
"Solidarity Economics: Strategies for Building New Economies From the Bottom-Up and the Inside-Out".

"[Solidarity Economy is defined by:]

1) Solidarity, cooperation, and democracy as norms that all people and organizations have to follow if they are to be a part of the Solidarity Economy.

2) The supremacy of labor over capital. Labor is the core of economic life and human development. It is to be rescued from the slavery of capital and returned to its proper dignity.

3) Worker's association as the fundamental basis of the organization of enterprises, production, and the economy in general. This is to be substituted for the waged work of capitalism that is the principal cause of social disparities, the unjust distribution of wealth, poverty, and social exclusion.

4) Social ownership of the means of production by the workers who, as direct producers, are owners and managers of the enterprise as a community of workers and beneficiaries of the work. This eliminates the exploitation of people by other people, of people by the state, and the cause of the class struggle itself.

5) Self-management as the best form of participation of workers in the management of enterprises, of the economy, and of society and the state. This eliminates marginalization and constructs and consolidates real democracy.

6) The supremacy of service, social welfare, and equity over individual accumulation, profit, and 'added-value'

7) The integration of the solidarity economy and the conformation of the macro-economy with the solidarity economy."

- COLACOT (Latin American Confederation of Cooperatives and Worker's Associations)
"Solidarity Economics: An alternative for development, equity, social justice, and peace in Colombia"

"[With Solidarity Economy,]

    • Processes involved utilize the resources available to fulfill social needs rather than those dictated by the market

    • Cognizance of value of labour and finding ways for its maximum utilization and preservation

    • Focus is on self-sufficiency and cooperation rather than dependence

    • Prudent use of resources based on needs rather than over-consumption

    • Management strategies/systems are based on democratic processes like cooperation and participation rather than on control and decision

    • Values and ethical principles play an important role in developing the models

    • Sustenance of the culture, language and customs of the community"

- Manish Verma, AWID (Association for Women's Rights in Development)
"What is Solidarity Economy?"