Spotlight Interviews with Co-operators

Interview with Beatrice Alain, General Director of the Chantier de l'économie sociale in Quebec

“Spotlight Interviews with Co-operators” is a series of interviews with co-operators from around the world with whom ILO officials have crossed paths during the course of their work on cooperatives and the wider social and solidarity economy (SSE). On this occasion, the ILO interviewed Beatrice Alain, General Director of the Chantier de l'économie sociale in Quebec.

Article | 18 October 2023

How did you first get involved in SSE work?

In 2010 I had just moved back to Québec after many years living abroad, and started working for the Chantier de l’économie sociale to organize the International Forum on the Social and Solidarity Economy (FIESS) that was held in 2011, and focused on the coconstruction of public policy. It allowed me to see the breadth and importance of the SSE worldwide, but also to get to know the organizations and actors in Quebec that work on the SSE, and the importance of their work. More broadly, the SSE really answers an epiphany I had shortly after my undergraduate degree in economics and political science, that regardless of how educated and well-intentioned experts are, the solutions to local problems should primarily be identified by local people, who must be part of the solution and entrusted with the means to contribute significantly.

What is the Chantier de l'économie sociale about?

The Chantier brings a variety of actors together to promote and develop the social economy in Québec. It is about collective intelligence, specifically the crossing of sectoral and territorial knowledge and social movements’ aspirations, and also about alliances: how working together on specific goals and projects brings us collectively more than what we would be achieved than if we worked alone.

How does the Chantier de l'économie sociale work?

The Chantier gathers networks of SSE enterprises –sectoral networks and regional networks, present all through Quebec- alongside other stakeholders that support the development of these enterprises as a means to democratize our economy. Together, these actors work to identify needs within the SSE, or opportunities for the development of SSE, and develop answers, whether that’s a new financial investment tool, a training program, public policy that should be advocated for, etc.

How has the social and solidarity economy of Quebec evolved in the past decade since the adoption of its SSE legislation?

The SSE in Quebec has evolved mostly in function of the needs on the ground, rather than legislation, though we did recently celebrate the 10-year anniversary of our framework legislation on the social economy, that was adopted unanimously by our National Assembly in 2013. Currently some of the bigger issues in Quebec are the environmental degradation, and the interests in developing new, more sustainable processes to manage our waste; an aging population, and all that this means in terms of labour shortage and a need to rethink our systems that ensure care for vulnerable populations and those (mostly women) that care for them; the devitalization of certain regions and how to maintain an adequate quality of life for all Quebecers; increased interest on questions of diversity and inclusion within the social economy movement, including how to include and ensure a voice for youth and for individuals from different ethnocultural backgrounds, and questions around the transmission of knowledge within enterprises and the ecosystem that supports them. 

More concretely, since the legislation passed in 2013, we have had one governmental statistical portrait (published in 2018 with 2016 data) and they are working on producing a new one. These kinds of exercises allow us to track, very tangibly, the evolution of the SSE in certain sectors, regions, in terms of working conditions, etc.

What is the relevance of the UN resolution on the promotion of the SSE for sustainable development for Quebec?

The resolution is a good remind for Quebec actors and the Quebec government that the SSE is not a local or exceptional reality, but a global force that is increasingly recognized by governments as useful to achieve SDGs. It is also interesting for us to note that the resolution was supported by the government of Canada, which otherwise generally does not use this vocabulary to frame its actions, mainly because the terminology is not used elsewhere in Canada. So going forward one question will be to interrogate what it implies for the Canadian government to have supported the resolution.

How do you see yourself, the Chantier de l'économie sociale and the SSE movement in Quebec helping advance the recommendations of the UN resolution on the promotion of the SSE for sustainable development?

The SSE in Quebec has benefited greatly from learning from other SEE actors worldwide, and has always been open to sharing our experience, in the hope that our successes and errors can inspire others. We will continue to do so, alongside UN actions in favor of the SSE when appropriate.