Building back better: the social economy as a driving force for change

In a session of the OECD event “The Social and Solidarity Economy: From the Margins to the Mainstream”, ILO Enterprises Director and the Chair of the UNTFSSE, along with actors of the social and solidarity economy (SSE), envisions a human-centred recovery with the SSE as a driving force.

The OECD’s first high-level virtual conference “The Social and Solidarity Economy: From the Margins to the Mainstream” was held from 13 to 16 September 2021. The UNTFSSE actively participated in this event. The Director of ILO Enterprises Department and UNTFSSE Chair, Mr Vic Van Vuuren, participated as a panellist at the “setting the stage” session “Building back better: the social economy as a driving force for change” on the first day.

The session “Building back better: the social economy as a driving force for change” brought together international SSE networks to discuss what policy actions are needed to ensure the social and solidarity economy contributes to recovery. The session was opened by Mr Nadim Ahmad, Deputy Director of Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs, Regions and Cities of OECD. The panellists of the session are: Ms Laurence Kwark, Secretary-General of Global Social Economy Forum (GSEF); Mr Víctor Meseguer, Director of Social Economy Europe (SEE); Mr Shigeru Tanaka, Joint Coordinator of Intercontinental Network for the Promotion of Social Solidarity Economy (RIPESS); Ms Diana Wells, President Emerita of Ashoka; and Mr Vic Van Vuuren. Ms Antonella Noya who is the Head of the Social Economy and Innovation Unit of OECD moderated the session.

During his intervention, Mr Vic Van Vuuren addressed three questions using examples and experiences from the UN Inter-Agency Task Force on Social and Solidarity Economy.

Q1: What is the UNTFSSE and what are the main role and main tasks of UNTFSSE? 

A1: The UNTFSSE creates partnerships with actors and movements of the SSE, in order to accelerate the achievement and localizing of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) Agenda 2030. Established in 2013, it is comprised of 17 UN agencies, the European Union and the OECD as members and 14 civil society organizations as observers. With its unique structure it recognizes the importance of SSE as an innovative development approach to tackle issues such as job creation, fighting social exclusion and inequality, and the promotion of gender equality. The UNTFSSE also focusses on the lack of a global platform with a common understanding of the SSE, the lack of education and awareness and the lack of frameworks for SSE particularly in the developing economies. The potential of the SSE to play a greater role in attaining the SDGs is being acknowledged through examples of OECD and EU who are taking the lead in research and action. It is encouraging to see that but we need to move forward to a concerted and joint global implementation. We identified some “low hanging fruit” that can easily be addressed in promoting the SSE: the recognition by all governments of the importance of SSE and mainstreaming SEE in national policies and strategic plans, and brand management and education pertaining to the SSE. Consideration also needs to be given to an internationally accepted definition of the SSE.

Q2: How can policy makers better link social economy with SDGs for a sustainable recovery? And with green economy?

A2: We need to mainstream the debate on SSE and consciously address its link to the environment. There are instances when addressing social challenges can also take away some of the pressures around environmental challenges. SDGs will not be realized by 2030 if we continue business as usual. Efforts are needed to accelerate the pace and scale of action. Regarding SDG 8, it is important to mention a recent UN DESA report that states that social enterprises can create 600 million jobs over the next 15 years and support sustainable development challenges. Some governments are talking about creating an UN resolution on SSE, which is also a good way to start with.

Q3: What is the next frontier of SSE and where do you see it in 2030?

A3: Scaling up and education. In the context of a global social deficit, which has dramatically been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and coupled with climate change, new thinking and coordinated global action are required. The SSE is well positioned in this regard. We need to take the momentum to scale up our actions and strengthen public education on SSE.

The panel also shared insights on the following key questions. Some main takeaways from the session are outlined under each question.

Q4: How concretely can the social and solidarity economy help build back in a more inclusive and sustainable way?

A4: Social entrepreneurs are the researchers and developers of the society. They recognize change is possible and they create new organizations and institutions, roles and jobs. They inspire and drive systemic changes.

The democratic nature of SSE helps fighting against inequality. This can be seen from the pandemic where workers from SSE have the right to voice out their challenges and discuss and accommodate working hours and working conditions to their needs.

Even before the pandemic, SSE had been transforming our society through enabling systemic changes on market dynamics and value chains, industry and social norms, and through developing scalable solutions to social problems.

Q5: What policy actions are needed to support and stimulate the social and solidarity economy going forward?

A5: Policy actions on laws and legislations, access to finance, capacity building for SSE are needed for SSE to develop. Providing an enabling environment for SSE by strengthening democracy and civil society is also an important aspect.

International norms such as guidelines, legal frameworks and public policies on SSE are needed to provide standards and policy recommendations to governments and policy makers.

Increasing visibility and common understanding of SSE is important and urgently needed to promote the legislation of SSE and to modernize public policies related to SSE. We need to collaborate with mass media and communication sector to achieve this.

Q6: How can policy makers and social and solidarity economy networks work together to unleash the transformational power of the social and solidarity economy?

A6: Policy makers and SSE need to actively engage in dialogues and knowledge sharing. Social entrepreneurs should be integrated as stakeholders rather than providers. The process of co-creation of policies will be a crucial condition to build a more inclusive and sustainable society. Governments can institutionalise strategic collaboration with SSE to address complex local challenges. A new paradigm of evaluating and measuring the contribution of SSE also needs to be explored with a focus on process-oriented evaluation.


To watch the full session: Building back better: the social economy as a driving force for change (

For more information on the event: The Social and Solidarity Economy: From the Margins to the Mainstream (