We often talk about the solidarity economy as being a global movement of people, organisations, economic initiatives, projects and activity all committed to building a better world together and transforming our economic system. In reality, it’s made up of a wide range of local and regional activity (think community farms, co-operative housing, swap shops, migrant savings clubs, informal childcare circles, neighbourhood initiatives, alternative currencies, community land trusts…), which can look different depending on where in the world they are, and the context in which they have been created. One of the most important things to understand about the solidarity economy is that no matter where it is, or what it looks like, it can be identified because the actors within it all share a commitment to pursuing a set of values.

A commitment to:

  • Equal decision-making: Everyone can meaningfully take part in decision-making, without one person’s opinion or status having more weight than anyone else’s. This is often referred to as ‘participatory democracy’ and can be put into practice in different ways.
  • Active opposition to all forms of oppression: This includes imperialism & colonization; racial, ethnic, religious, class, LGBTQ+, and cultural discrimination; and patriarchy. Everyone should be able to play an active part in society, regardless of their race, class, gender, or any other part of their identity.
  • Ecological sustainability: Nature and the environment is not seen as something for humans to own and/or exploit, and everyone strives to be part of creating sustainable alternatives to our extractive and harmful economy.
  • Acting in solidarity: Actively upholding, supporting, and promoting co-operation, sharing, reciprocity, altruism, love and caring over individualism, competitiveness, and division.
  • Fostering a variety of approaches: There are different ways of meeting our needs depending on the situation in which we operate and that there isn’t a single ‘right’ way to create a just and sustainable world.
  • System Change: Consuming responsibly and improving our own organisations are essential, but not enough. To create a world that upholds these values we will need to work together to transform the systems that are currently undermining them.

Why do we need a solidarity economy?

Whether we understand it or not, the economy is present in all parts of our everyday lives. From the moment we wake up in the morning, we make economic decisions that affect not just us, but the world around us. How we feed and clothe ourselves, where we live, the work we do, and the things we buy all have an impact. As the threat of climate change looms, and we become more aware of how the things we produce and consume can harm people and the planet – from child labour and worker exploitation in the name of fast fashion to the growing amount of discarded plastic in our oceans – it’s clear that something major needs to change.

Whilst it’s positive to see more and more people taking personal action in the areas they care about – like ditching single-use plastic or cutting down on meat consumption – we believe that unless there is a genuine transformation of our entire economic system, it won’t be enough to combat the devastating effects of pursuing profit and growth at any cost.

The solidarity economy offers us a real alternative.

It’s about making sure that all people – regardless of where they happen to have been born in the world, their race, class, ethnicity, gender identity, how rich or poor they are – can meet all their needs in ways that don’t exploit anybody else or irrevocably harm our natural environment.

Examples from around the world: