Spotlight Interviews with Co-operators

GSEF: Promoting the social and solidarity economy for human-centred development

“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, ILO interviewed Ms Laurence Kwark, Secretary General of the Global Social Economy Forum (GSEF), an international association of local governments and civil society networks engaged in the promotion of the SSE as a means of achieving inclusive and sustainable local development. GSEF is also one of the observers of the UN Inter-Agency Task Force on SSE (UNTFSSE) that is currently chaired by the ILO.

Article | 28 March 2019

Could you tell us a bit about yourself? How did you get involved in GSEF?

Ms Laurence Kwark, Secretary General of GSEF
I left Korea in 1987 after a long struggle for democracy that resulted in the direct election of the National President. Since then I worked as a human rights promoter and trainer and as an international solidarity activist. I first worked as the Vice President of the International Movement of Catholic Student (IMCS) Pax Romana, which has more than 80 national constituents around the world, in Paris. From 1998 to 2008 I worked as the Project Officer at the Terre d’avenir-CCFD, a French development agency. I served as the General Secretary of the International Catholic Movement for Intellectual and Cultural Affairs (ICMICA) Pax Romana, a Geneva-based human rights NGO (2008-12) and then as its UN Representative (2012-16).

While working for the protection and promotion of human rights and sustainable peace, I focused on socio-economic and cultural rights, including through the Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE). The SSE was attractive to me in the sense that it often served as a key strategy among those who were left behind in the fight for social justice. In recent years I got interested in the Global Social Economy Forum (GSEF), an international network that brings local governments and SSE networks together for the co-creation of public policies to better respond to the pressing needs of citizens.

I was attracted to GSEF, particularly because of the growing role and responsibility of local governments in dealing with and responding to pressing global issues such as the urbanization, climate change and sustainable development. GSEF functions as a platform of concrete experiences of SSE enterprises and organizations responding to these challenges by sharing not only their success stories and good practices, but also their trials and errors and lessons learned.

What is GSEF? How it works?

Mayors' Podium of GSEF2018 in Bilbao
GSEF was founded in 2014 following the Seoul Declaration adopted in November 2013 by eight local governments and nine SSE organizations during the first GSEF held in Seoul. GSEF secretariat is hosted by the Seoul Metropolitan Government. GSEF is co-chaired by both a mayor of the chair city and a representative of SSE networks. The current co-chairs are from the Seoul City and the Seoul Social Economy Network. GSEF is committed to systemic changes at the local level based on a partnership between the civil society and the public and private sectors. As of February 2018, GSEF brings together 56 cities and SSE networks from 29 countries around the world, encouraging exchanges among members to better promote the SSE and develop a conducive eco-system in favour of the SSE.

Participants of GSEF2018 in Bilbao
GSEF organizes biannual international fora with its member cities which bring together all stakeholders from international organizations, local/national governments and civil society networks concerned with the SSE. GSEF fora serve as a platform for mutual learning, agenda setting and knowledge exchange. The last edition of the forum took place in Bilbao in 2018 bringing more than 1,700 participants from 75 countries and 327 cities. Among the participants, more than 200 were representatives of local governments.

Besides organizing a biannual forum, GSEF also participates actively in international conferences, regional dialogues, workshops and capacity building sessions to promote measures for SSE development to different stakeholders. On these occasions, GSEF focuses on the role of policymakers and SSE networks in contributing toward a favourable social, economic and political environment for SSE development.

What challenges and opportunities do you see in SSE to respond to emerging social and economic issues and challenges in the world of work?

Despite the steady growth of the SSE, many SSE enterprises and organizations remain small or even informal particularly in developing countries without proper support mechanisms. They often need to develop technological, managerial and financial capacities to transit to decent work and scale-up their businesses. Moreover, many may be dependent on subsidies and grants from international organizations or governments. Although direct subsidies are crucial for start-ups, such subsidies can impede sustainability and long-term development.

In this regard, we see a growing number of new financing sources such as social impact funds, private social investments and crowd-funding as innovative solutions. SSE enterprises and organizations should take these new funding opportunities, raise awareness around their products and services and strengthen collaboration among them to become more competitive in the market.

Another major challenge for SSE organizations is attracting workers with middle and high-level education and skills, especially among youth. Although average remuneration paid by SSE enterprises and organizations to low-skilled workers is higher than the market rate, for middle and high-level skilled workers this rate can be less than the market rate. In addition, except for a few countries, the co-creation of public policies for SSE development is not yet a priority for many governments despite a proven record of the SSE’s contribution to job creation and people-centred, inclusive and sustainable development.

With respect to opportunities, interest and demand around the SSE is growing worldwide, not only among local and national governments and international organizations, but also among citizens in local communities. This trend is seen in an increasing number of countries enacting national and local legislation and public policies such as public procurement programmes to promote the SSE, and in numerous conferences and workshops on the SSE organized by different stakeholders including policymakers, academics, NGOs and social enterprises.

In GSEF, we have been receiving more and more requests from local governments to organize workshops for policymakers. This request bolsters our determination to create an enabling environment for the SSE worldwide through public-private-community partnerships. The role played by local governments is especially important in this process.

What is the work plan of GSEF in 2019 and beyond?

GSEF2018 in Bilbao
In 2019 GSEF is organizing capacity building workshops and regional policy dialogues with its members and partners in Africa and Latin America. Details of our events can be found here. In addition GSEF also works with various research organizations to identify and collect data on SSE development in various countries and develop policy modules on SSE for local governments.

In 2019 GSEF will continue to take part in discussions and activities of the UNTFSSE which is currently chaired by the ILO. We will be at the UNTFSSE conference on 25-26 June 2019 in Geneva. We will organize a special session with OECD on the role of local governments and regional partnerships in promoting the SSE and localizing Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We will also support the efforts around the adoption of a UN Resolution on SSE.

GSEF acknowledges the important role played by the ILO and the Global Commission on the Future of Work in identifying emerging issues in the world of work. Although the Report of the Global Commission published in January 2019 calls for a human-centred agenda for a decent future of work, there is no specific reference to the role of the SSE. At GSEF we believe that the SSE can be a viable option in responding to recommendations stated in the report of the Commission including on social protection, life-long learning, gender equality, and investments in the care, green and rural economies. GSEF will continue to engage with various stakeholders including the ILO constituents to ensure that the SSE can be clearly placed in the ILO’s agenda for the next 100 years.

The next edition of our biannual international forum (GSEF2020) will take place in Mexico in 2020. In order to mobilize more support from national and local governments in Latin America region, we will organize local training workshops in Colombia during the Regional Forum of Local Economic Development (LED) in May 2019 and in Argentina during the 5th World Forum of LED in September 2019. These will provide opportunities to engage and discuss with the ILO constituents and the SSE enterprises and organizations in the region on the role of the SSE in the future of work.

Spotlight interviews with cooperators is a series of interviews with cooperative leaders around the world, whom ILO officials have encountered in the course of their work with cooperatives. This article does not constitute an endorsement by the ILO.