By solidarity economy is understood the series of “processes, be it formal or informal, of production, exchange, consumption, distribution, income generation, saving and investments, that combine economics with solidarity, an ecological perspective, cultural diversity, critical reflexion, participatory democracy and local development.” This is the definition that is expressed in the manifesto of the Portuguese Network of Solidarity Economy (RPES)(1), a project that is in full development and which ECO123 will be following closely.
According to Júlio Ricardo, director of the Terra Chã Cooperative(2) in Portugal “there are huge numbers of solidarity economy events, but people don’t know about them because the network isn’t big enough”. A founding member of the RPES, Júlio Ricardo explains that the project started when a seminar was held about the solidarity economy(3) in the village of Chãos in the municipality of Rio Maior(4) in November 2014. The momentum generated at the event, with a lot of interaction between different working groups, immediately raised the issue that it would be appropriate for there to be a Portuguese solidarity economy network. The network would bring together and give a sense of unity to “all the people and organisations, whether formal or informal, who, throughout the country, were doing different work and work that makes a difference,” he adds.
After several meetings to set up a working group, “the decision was taken to hold the first general constituent or decision-making assembly on 8th August. There, the decision was taken to actually set up the network,” Júlio Ricardo explained. The 27 participating people and organisations established a consensual version of the RPES manifesto and set up a coordinating committee that would prepare the following general assembly on 17th October.
The latter was attended by some 42 people and organisations who formally constituted the RPES. According to Júlio Ricardo, “essentially this meeting led to the creation of three working groups. One that will present proposals to the next general assembly in Coimbra on 5th December, about the prospects for formalising the network. We have to discuss whether we will continue as an informal network of if we will constitute the network formally, in the legal sense. There will also have to be a decision about how a network of this type is structured. It cannot be top heavy, it will have to have regional centres that nurture diversity and stimulate interaction, which, by being contentious, could drive the whole process forward and stimulate interesting discussions.” A plan of activities for 2016 is also being drawn up. Júlio Ricardo says that this will include “as the significant points, the organisation of a summer university for solidarity economy and the holding of an Iberian congress, together with the solidarity economy networks of our neighbouring country. These are two essential points.” With this in mind, the participation of the RPES in the Solidarity Economy Fair in Catalonia on 24th and 25th October, made it possible to work with partners and start to develop initiatives right away because, according to Júlio Ricardo, “there needs to be a context that goes beyond the small scale of our country and an international perspective – not only with Europe but also, possibly, with the CPLP(5)”.
(5) Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries | www.cplp.org
Member of the management of the Cooperative Terra Chã CRL and the Coordinating Commission of the Portuguese Network of Solidarity Economy. Promoter of local development processes, especially in the village of Chãos. Primary school teacher since 1980. Degree in Education Sciences (Adult Education and Local Development) from the University of Lisbon.