by Benjamin R. Quiñones, Jr.
Chairman, CSRSME Asia
November 9, 2011

The Third Asian Solidarity Economy Forum (ASEF) held in Kuala Lumpur on October 31 – November 2, 2011 was a turning point for a number of reasons.

First, ASEF KL 2011 was marked with great diversity in participation. In terms of country representation, ASEF KL 2011 gathered delegates from 33 countries compared to 27 in ASEF I and 18 in ASEF II. Cheaper airfares and room sharing in an affordable hotel helped attract a great number of participants from neighboring countries. This was the first time in the short history of ASEF that foreign participants outnumbered the local participants, at a ratio of almost 3 to 1. The largest foreign delegation came from neighboring Singapore, followed by Indonesia, and the Philippines.

Women comprised some 44 percent of the total number of participants.
Around one-third of the 353 participants were young people, mostly university students. The large turn out of youth delegates provided ASEF a fresh supply of potential advocates and practitioners who could continue to build alternative economies and sustainable societies in the future.

Second, ASEF KL 2011 marks the first occasion when participants had the opportunity to share with one another individual reflections on the thematic issues of the day right after the plenary sessions in the morning. Resource persons elaborated six (6) thematic issues in 6 plenary sessions. Seating participants in a roundtable provided a convenient arrangement for a group of eight (8) people to reflect and share their thoughts on each thematic issue. While the theatre type of seating arrangement constrains people from engaging in dialogue and discussions, the roundtable encourages people to talk to one another.

Third, ASEF KL 2011 envisaged a semi-structured learning journey where a participant can follow through a thematic issue from inception, to elaboration and understanding, to proposal generation and action planning. Thus, participants at registration were asked to choose the thematic workshops they prefer to join, viz: microfinance/social finance, fair trade, value chain development, green initiatives, Islamic initiatives, and CSR & Community based enterprises.

During the first three sessions, the desired progression of the learning journey did not fully take off as planned inasmuch as resource speakers focused on describing what they do while participants wanted to get a better understanding of the projects or programmes being described. This was corrected in the subsequent sessions when moderators introduced the methodology of ‘dotmocracy’ where participants identified the constraints to the development of solidarity economy initiatives and proposed actions to overcome them. The ‘dotmocracy’ method allowed participants to prioritize the constraints according to their perceived importance as well as to streamline the proposed actions. It helped focus the reflections of workshop groups on the steps forward that may be undertaken individually or collectively towards advancing solidarity economy in respective countries.

Fourth, on a more fundamental note, ASEF KL 2011 ushered in a much deeper reflection on what keynote speaker Pierre Calame calls the “great transition”, which requires a more participatory development model towards the co-creation of sustainable societies. There was a general realization that the world has reached a crucial crossroad, where the development initiative and growth potentials have shifted to Asia and yet the dominant development model generally known and widely practiced even in Asia is outmoded. More significantly, such outmoded development model is precisely the one that has brought the world to the global crisis it is currently reeling from.

ASEF KL 2011 raised greater awareness of the reality that solidarity economy initiatives at the micro level are not enough to overcome the overarching and constraining framework of the old development model. The solidarity economy movement, represented in Asia by the newly established Asian Solidarity Economy Coalition (ASEC), must forge alliances at the local, national, continental and international levels to bring about a paradigm shift in people’s perception and application of solidarity, interdependencies, and responsibilities.

The culminating session in the evening of the third and last day of the forum pointed the way to the alliance building work of ASEC in the coming years. Pierre Calame highlighted four major components of the “great transition” that need to be acted upon:

First, we need to build greater awareness of the interdependencies of people in various parts of the globe. Such awareness of interdependencies must be strong enough to overcome our prejudices or to accept sacrifices in the name of the interests of others. We need to contribute to and help sustain a global dialogue of all stakeholders of our societies towards this end.

Second, we need to create the concepts, the culture and the institutions of interdependence and a way of life of inter-relatedness to manage our global society. ASEC is a modest step forward. Linking ASEC to RIPESS (Inter-continental Association for the Promotion of Social and Solidarity Economy) is a leap forward.

Third, we need to heighten people’s awareness of the fact that the UN Charter which mainly deals with peace and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights do not provide sufficient framework for building and strengthening interdependencies of people. We need a third pillar that focuses on responsibilities, inasmuch as responsibility is the direct corollary of interdependence but also the corollary of freedom, power, knowledge and rights. We need a Charter of Universal Responsibilities.

Fourth and finally, we need to rise above the concept of sustainable development and focus on the concept of sustainable societies. ‘Development’ implies an ongoing progressive movement which requires a given amount of resource to sustain. This is a central concern because the very concept of development predisposes peoples and nations to compete for precious resources, a good portion of which are non-renewable. In contrast, many indigenous societies have remained sustainable even at near zero economic growth. We must learn from the local people how to build sustainable societies and be happy.

At the closing session, we have outlined a three-point action plan which we hope to revisit on the occasion of ASEF 2013.

First, we agreed that partner organizations of ASEC should organize and conduct their own local/ country level solidarity economy forums. In designing these local forums, we need to take into consideration the above 4 components of the “great transition”.

Second, we agreed that ASEC partner organizations should compliment their joint reflections (through the solidarity economy forums) with action research aimed at integrating solidarity economy initiatives. Notably, the integrative action research projects would inevitably require the development of multi-level governance/ management of production and exchanges.

Third and lastly, we need to exchange information and experiences to deepen awareness of our interdependencies. We must always strive to strengthen our interdependencies in order to overcome our prejudices or to accept sacrifices for the sake of others. We need to contribute to each other’s reflections and help sustain a global dialogue of all stakeholders of a sustainable society.

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