The official side event to the UN High Level Political Forum took place on-line on July 8, 2021 focusing on examples from the social and solidarity economy in overcoming the growing inequalities during COVID-19.
The side event “Overcoming inequalities through the COVID-19 recovery: proposals from the Social and Solidarity Economy and the Right to the City ” was co-organised by RIPESS , the Global Platform for the Right to the City (GPR2C) and Urgenci. The objective was to demonstrate: the diversity and potential of Social Solidarity Economy to overcome increased inequalities that have been caused by the COVID-19 pandemic; and the resilient pathways towards recovery in cities and in terms of urban-rural linkages. The side event brought together around 70 participants from a wide range of actors (local, regional and national governments, civil society organizations, international organizations, academia) committed to SDG17 and multistakeholder partnerships.
The panelists and interventions from the floor also represented all continents apart from Oceania. The side event focused on presenting concrete examples of the possibilities presented by Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) and the Right to the City to contribute to reducing inequalities in various fields, and how they have preserved and rebuilt communities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as a clear illustration of SDG1. The discussion highlighted concrete examples from multiple domains (informal economy, housing, food production and consumption, basic services and others) from a solidarity-based perspective and under the framework of advancing the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.
These examples illustrated SDG2, SDG5, SDG8 and SDG11 in many different ways. A key aspect was the fact that a vicious circle of loss of informal and formal employment leads to loss of other essential human rights (right to food, right to health, right to housing, etc.) whereas women’s and other community-based cooperatives and collectives of various kinds can help formalise essential services that can help uphold these rights. These panelists also emphasized the need for Social Security protection and a food safety net for all, based on healthy, nutritious local and territorial markets. The role of local and other levels of government is also key to supporting the vulnerable.
The panel was moderated by RIPESS’s joint coordinator and URGENCI’s President, Judith Hitchman. The overarching logic of the interventions highlighted the need for a paradigm shift from the current mainstream economic development and growth models to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and advance towards more just, equitable and sustainable communities that respect human rights.
SSE is currently playing a critical role in addressing and mitigating the short- and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 that can significantly contribute to such a paradigm change. In the short term, SSE actors have collective solutions that strengthen public services and complement government action. In the long run, SSE provides economic alternatives, promotes inclusive and sustainable models, and strengthen access to many human rights. These aspects were recognised by the UN Secretary General in his address to the UN Commission for Social Development in February 2021. He stated that “Social Solidarity Economy embodies another model that seeks a new balance between economic efficiency and environmental resilience”.
All these aspects were clearly set out by Nelson Saule, the joint co-ordinator of the Global Platform for the Right to the City in his introduction to the side event.
The first panelist was Sonia Dias from Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO) and the GPR2C, who focused her intervention on cooperatives as a pathway to dignity, highlighting WIEGO’s actions with Informal Waste Pickers in Brazil. She noted that COVID-19 has brought about devastating impacts on the lives of informal workers, who can find a pathway to dignified decent work through cooperatives. She underlined the role played by the informal waste pickers’ cooperatives in Brazil including sharing information and advocacy tools, and advocating for policies and plans that include informal workers. She concluded by underlining the need for governments to ensure that informal workers’ issues are addressed.
She was followed by Simel Esim, a political economist and the head of the Cooperatives Unit at the International labour Organization (ILO). She highlighted examples of women-only cooperatives formed in the informal economy by street vendors, home-based workers, and domestic workers. She indicated how these cooperatives, and other SSE organizations stepped up during COVID19 to support their members and their communities including through keeping work flowing, shifting production lines, and providing PPEs for occupational safety and health purposes. She underlined the need for reaching scale to ensure resilience and sustainability. She noted examples of consortia among social cooperatives in Italy and franchising among domestic worker cooperatives in the US among potential models to explore. Simel Esim concluded by highlighting the critical role played by having a conducive enabling environment and a supportive ecosystem of institutions to ensuring the survival and growth of these initiatives.
These two interventions were followed by that of André Luzzi from Habitat International Coalition (HIC) and representative of the Urban Poor in the Coordination Committee of the Civil Society and Indigenous Peoples Mechanism of the UN Committee on World Food Security and Nutrition, who gave several different illustrations of how urban-rural linkages between small-scale food producers had helped feed vulnerable communities in cities during the pandemic through various kinds of solidarity-based initiatives and Community-Supported Agriculture. The link between health and fresh agroecological produce is an important factor. He emphasized the need to protect peri-urban small-scale food producers and agroecological farmers from industrial agriculture in terms of the right to adequate food and nutrition.
This first panel was followed by several interventions from the floor that highlighted additional aspects from different perspectives.
Ms. Norliza Hasim, from Urbanise Malaysia , was the first speaker of the second panel. She described the work of Urbanise Malaysia in supporting the Malaysian Ministry of Housing and Local Government in their efforts to generate integrated sustainable urban solutions that cover provision of housing and many other services that she shared with the participants in the event, clearly demonstrating through these examples how the links between right to housing and other rights are part of a long-term recovery from the pandemic.
Vic Van Vuuren, who chairs the United Nations Inter-agency Task Force on Social and Solidarity Economy (UNTFSSE) was the final speaker. He focused his intervention on the importance of strengthening international recognition for SSE in contributing to the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. He particularly emphasized how multi stakeholder partnerships such as these are key to creating innovative policies for a much-needed transformation of our economy at different levels, including in local communities. He called for a people and planet-centred recovery, and highlighted the key role SSE can play. The fact that there will be a general discussion on SSE at the International Labour Conference in 2022 is a significant development that will boost recognition that another economic paradigm is possible and that solutions already exist.
The session ended with a second series of interventions from the participants and closing remarks from Nelson Saule and Judith Hitchman, who emphasized the wealth of good practice and existing solutions to move forward to a more inclusive and resilient rights-based society for all.
The side event can be viewed here.