The role of territories in economic transition

Since the end of the 20th century, institutions have responded to globalization and market homogenization and the ensuing social and environmental consequences by promoting the notion of local sustainable development. A local territory, the geographical basis of social existence, could now once again take on an important role:

• on the human level, by forging human relationships and cultural and social dynamics;

• on the economic level, by enabling a group of actors working together coherently to create supply and demand, by channelling different energies and helping them complement each other, and by serving as a wellspring for innovation and economic dynamism;

• on the political level, by highlighting the importance of relations that could exist between civil society and local authorities, and by serving as the building block for strong democratic governance wherein the process for social change is expressed by social actors’ local actions;

• on the ecological level, by properly managing resources.

Thanks to its dual economic and social missions, collective and participative socio-economic operation, challenging of the way the economy functions and, more broadly, goal to create alternative economic practices, the solidarity economy is part and parcel of this increasing focus on territories; it generates locally-integrated value and wealth, calls on skills in terms of economic development and social action, and incorporates socio-economic initiatives launched by civil society into the creation of goods, services and jobs that meet the needs of local populations and strengthen social cohesion. In addition, the democratic governance of solidarity economy initiatives is similar to the notion of local democracy or even participative democracy, a notion that introduces an important political dimension between local authorities and civil society. Closely involved in a given space and drawing on local actors and a network system, territories seems to provide an ideal field of action for solidarity economy projects.

Territory-based solidarity finance that uses local savings, the development of short circuits between borrowers and investors, creation of mutual guarantee funds, support for project promoters, economic exchange systems between consumers and agricultural producers within a short circuit context, such as the AMAP system in France, participative budget initiatives in Africa and elsewhere, local currencies just about everywhere in the world and local pacts on social cohesion and employment in France and Europe are all interesting developments. They can usefully be linked up to the joint construction of public policies for promoting and supporting the SSE, supporting networks, creating jobs and activities, funding and providing access to public procurement in order to build up local solidarity. They can also be part of bringing together expertise and skills, partnerships between social actors and the seeds of a new economy, more respectful of the planet and its inhabitants.

One case study