Participation of People in Developing Sustainable, Social & Solidarity Economy: ASSEFA, India

Summary :

Association for Sarva Seva Farms (ASSEFA) – India -50 years of Sustainable Development Since 1968, ASSEFA has helped create thousands of self-sufficient villages in Tamil Nadu (the majority), but also in 6 other states. Even if the association uses the expression Community Development, the similarities with Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) are striking. The ASSEFA leadership is aware of SSE and they are at ease with the concept. From its origins until today, the approach is to fulfill Gandhi’s teaching that uplifting the situation of the hundreds of millions of poor people in India. To achieve this goal, the first task was having land for farming, under collective ownership, for the landless. This was possible with land given for this purpose, and later, by small farmers pooling together their land to create such villages. The SDG’s were adopted in 2015.

The 50 years of community development is a great feat. It confirms that people-based development, development from below, is the path to change the world. Top-down development does not work. Outside institutions such as government departments, development agencies and international NGOs, need to be in a support role of what people undertake.

The ASSEFA practice also confirms the importance of organizing in federations, associations, large sectors. ASSEFA with 10 000 villages and 1 million families involved, with its 160 organizations, is in a capacity to learn, develop projects, and interface with public administrations.

There are few examples of such organizations that have the capacity to interact with governments. The examples this author knows best are the Federation of Community Forestry Users of Nepal (FECOFUN), the National SSE Network of Mali (RENAPESS), the Chantier de l’économie sociale (social economy network) in Quebec province in Canada and Bina Swadaya in Indonesia. In all cases, the organizations are networks or organizations linked to the grass roots, they have a long track record (20 years of more), they are very representative, and they are non-partisan politically. They all have influence.

However, ASSEFA is probably the only large-scale organization that includes all aspects of development within its regular work. In most other regions of the world, one finds organizations that promote women’s empowerment, organizations that create cooperatives or similar businesses, environmental organizations, human rights, housing, food, etc. Often, all these separate organizations in a same territory collaborate, and sometimes not. In other words, ASSEFA has the characteristic of a holistic and integrated approach of all aspects of life.

On the other hand, it is very hard to imagine duplicating such an approach in large metropolitan areas. There is a limit to the size of meetings. However, the ASSEFA approach can in part inspire a developmental approach. It is possible to organize meetings in smaller neighbourhoods. Experience shows that it’s also possible to create development organizations and activities in some neighbourhoods. For example, in some cities, like Seoul and Montreal, partnerships to develop social solidarity organizations (cooperatives and other types of non-profit entities) exist.

In order to achieve sustainable development, we need organizations in all countries and regions in the world to embrace as much as possible a holistic approach to sustainable development.

We can consider this vision a dream. There was such a dream in 1969 when the first ASSEFA village was created!