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Future of work

"ILO needs to act as a catalyst to advance social and solidarity economy"

The new Director of the ILO’s Enterprises Department, Vic van Vuuren, answers questions on the role of sustainable enterprises and social economy for the future of work.

Comment | 14 September 2016
Vic van Vuuren, Director, Enterprises Department, ILO

In the world of work today, what are the main changes impacting sustainable enterprises development?

There are a number key factors that impact on sustainable enterprise development. Future scenarios for successful enterprises will require a “package deal approach” rather than focusing on one or two key business principles.

In order for enterprises to be sustainable in an ever increasingly competitive global market they need to be viable. This includes ensuring and maintaining high levels of productivity and being able to embrace continual technological advances. Furthermore with the emergence of the importance of value chains, both globally and nationally, enterprises will have to develop and continually revise strategies to position themselves as a player in these ever changing market systems.

Equally important will be the ability of enterprises to manage both human resources and environmental matters. People can no longer be regarded as a commodity but rather as human beings who need to be treated with respect and human dignity. The identification of future needed skills and the education and training of existing and new employees to meet market demands is going to be crucial. Underlying all of this are increasing demands on the way we manage the environment, as is often stated there is no “planet B”.

Looking at the path ahead holistically it should be recognized that social drivers need to be factored into enterprise business strategies as value-based enterprises will be the “enterprises of the future”. The social and solidarity economy is becoming increasingly important in dealing with poverty alleviation and the creation of jobs through sustainable enterprises and it is therefore no surprise that social innovation will be necessary in mapping out future paths. Governments and social partners will be the key players and they need to jointly engage at all levels in creating an enabling environment. It will need commitment and compromise from all sides to create a space for the disenfranchised, as failure to do so will be at the expense of all.

Lastly it is important to recognize that it is not one size that fits all. There is a huge chasm between the developed and developing economies where in the latter enterprises are mostly informal. This requires a specific approach aimed at a progressive but sustainable move from informality to formality and in doing so addressing the key aspects of the “package deal”.

To better engage with the future of work challenges and opportunities, what initiatives can the ILO take in the field of sustainable enterprise development, particularly considering social innovation and creative business solutions?

Process is equally important as content. The ILO has at its core, standard setting (content) and social dialogue (process) and both of these components must form the basis of all future ILO service offerings. Society is calling for values to be entrenched into the business arena as well as calling on enterprises not only to become more engaged with all role players but to also set future standards at levels that enhance the decent work agenda.

The ILO needs to be a catalyst and facilitator in the creation of an enabling environment for the social and solidarity economy. The ILO has the expertise and global footprint to facilitate tripartite, and wider, debates in imparting knowledge and best practices in developing a social and solidarity enabling environment that will play an increasingly important role in poverty alleviation and job creation.

At the macro level the ILO can advocate and provide policy guidance that will influence national strategies whilst at the same time managing and implementing programmes that will create best practices providing a platform for up-scaling activities. Furthermore research needs to be increased which in turn can be a catalyst for creative solutions to new challenges through social innovation. Partnerships with other international role players will be key in order to increase impact.

How do you see the role of values-based enterprises, including social and solidarity economy enterprises such as cooperatives in better preparing for the challenges and opportunities in a changing world of work?

Existing value-based enterprises, including social and solidarity enterprises such as cooperatives need to take the lead and to start “showcasing” their successes in order to encourage new entrants into the social and solidarity economy. Initially this means stronger engagement with governments in encouraging them to create an enabling environment, as well as engaging with the other social partners and community leaders. Up until now players in the social and solidarity economy tended to focus inwards – the time has now arrived for an external focus and new accelerated growth path. This calls for strong and visionary leadership and proactive interventions that will lead to national and regional policy changes encouraging value based sustainable enterprises. Cooperatives are well placed to play a lead role in taking forward some of these initiatives.

Platform cooperatives

Loomio is a web based, open sourced worker cooperative from New Zealand providing a communication and decision making infrastructure for individuals and organizations. It enables collaborative decision-making and offers a space for people to interact and cooperate regardless of their location.

Fairmondo, from Germany, is a cooperative online market place that is owned and managed by its buyers, sellers, workers and investors. It sells ethically-sourced products from producers and small fair trade companies including cooperatives. As such it is an example of cooperative to cooperative trade and a fair trade alternative, providing users transparent product sourcing.