ILO and partners launch report into the Social and Solidarity in Economy in South Africa

The results of a South African study conducted during consultations for the Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) Policy process, was launched by the ILO on the 28th March 2022 together with the South African government’s Department of Trade Industry and Competition, the Industrial Development Corporation and the Government of Flanders.

News | 01 April 2022
Opening the online event, the General Representative of Flanders in Southern Africa Dr Geraldine Reymenants, emphasised the urgency that exists to build economies that put people first, ahead of capital, profit and consumption. By putting inclusive models like the SSE at the forefront of the global agenda to build back better, meaningful steps can be taken in addressing inequality, unemployment, poverty and the climate emergency. Mr Vic Van Vuuren, chair of the UNTFSSE and the ILO’s Enterprises Department Director, outlined the role the SSE has played in the ILO since the founding of its COOP Unit in 1920. He highlighted how the SSE is gaining global attention: African Union member states are discussing an SSE strategy in April 2022 and the ILO’s International Labour Conference is holding a general discussion on it in June 2022. Both acknowledged the work of the South African government in leading the policy process, and in supporting the development of the SSE, through its recently launched USD70million public employment programme The Social Employment Fund.

Highlights of the report

Report authors Ms Kerryn Krige and Mr Fouche Venter presented its key findings. Ms Krige summarised the process of collecting data from SSE practitioners living and working in districts across South Africa’s poverty dimensions. Using social media and local government networks to reach people, and in hosting events in community halls across the country, the research team were able to canvas the experiences of SSE practitioners working in the country’s poorest regions. Ms Krige emphasised the importance of gathering data outside of existing networks, particularly in contexts of high inequality, recognising that in these environments diversity must be understood, as there is no ‘one size fits all approach’

Mr Venter presented the research results of the final sample group (n=506) which found that organisations were:
  • Micro in nature, with 86 per cent employing less than ten people.
  • The majority (98 per cent) are registered organisations: as for-profit companies (33 per cent), Not for profit companies (31 per cent), and Co-operatives (34 per cent).
  • Only 6 per cent are hybrid enterprises, validating earlier South African studies (see Hanley et al., 2015; Lovasic & Cooper, 2020; Myres et al., 2018) which also found low hybridity for the hybrid social enterprise model.
  • A majority (85 per cent) have organizational bank accounts and those who are not registered, are the least likely to have bank accounts.
  • Financing remains the primary barrier for SSE organisations in South Africa, with 81 per cent having only one source of funding, and 43 per cent not making any money the previous month. This financial insecurity tops a list of barriers and constraints (26 per cent), and is followed by the need for a helpful, and supportive eco-system (9 per cent) and access to practical skills related to operating and managing a business (7.4 per cent).
Ms Krige then presented a model of the enabled ecosystem, which was developed from open-text answers to the question What would you ask the president. Three pillars of support were identified for the SSE in South Africa: Creating a helpful environment, Expanding Access to Resources and Enabling Access to initiatives, such as skills development programmes, and market-led opportunities and information.

Pillar 1: A supportive enabled ecosystem acknowledges the work of SSE units and in doing so, they are considered to be part of the mainstream economy recognised across the formal and informal institutional dimensions.

Pillar 2: SSE units are able to access resources, not just financial resources but also subsidized infrastructure (for example, electricity, transport and warehousing), buildings and land.

Pillar 3: SSE units have access to a range of support services that enable their sustainability. This includes practical training programmes, that support SSEO leaders to manage their organisations well, recognising the benefits of stability to sustainability.

Facilitator and Senior Enterprise Specialist within the ILO’s Decent Work Team, Mr Jens Dyring Christensen fielded questions from participants focusing on the implications of this research for the SSE environment. Emphasis was placed on the need to build networks at a local level, that would help give the SSE voice, and a ‘seat at the table.’ The need to continue studies of the SSE was raised, particularly as unemployment and exclusion of young people from the employment market is increasing as a result of Covid-19. The work of the ILO’s COOP unit in developing statistical measures for co-operatives was acknowledged, recognising the importance of quantitative measures to policy development.

The ILO’s COOP Unit Manager Ms Simel Esim, provided concluding thoughts bringing a global perspective that summarised milestones in the SSE’s development. She highlighted the importance of the upcoming SSE discussion at the International Labour Conference, and the ripple effect as the principles that underpin the SSE gain greater recognition, and policy attention.

You can see the report here.