With today being International Co-Operative day we spoke to a Unite member who was involved in the recent launch of the cross-Europe youth project “Challenging the Crisis”. With this years Co-Op theme of Equality the CtC project is particularly relevant.

Challenging the Crisis

So tell us a little about the project?

Challenging the Crisis is a 3-year development education project led by IDEA in Ireland with partners in the 5 other countries in europe hit hardest by austerity: Italy, Greece, Spain, Slovenia and Portugal. We operate as a network of “Young Global Advocates” (YGAs) across these 6 countries as well as both in each of our own countries and at a European level. The European Commission is the main funder of the project.

Challenging the Crisis focuses on young people in particular, why? 

The group is made up of young people aged between 16 to 30 years old, which means that some of us where only children when the financial crash happened in 2008. Austerity is all we have known. And for others of us, we graduated into the worst economic crisis since the 1920s.

We did not cause this economic crash but we are determined to find a way out of this crisis which is fair, just and which tackles inequality. In times of austerity in Europe it is easy to focus on the crisis at home and not consider the wider global issues. Part of the projects aim is to build critical awareness amongst young adults, enabling them to see the unfolding European debt crisis. Through development education we have identified a potential way out of this crisis which is widely used across the developing world – Social and Solidarity Economy.

What exactly is Social and Solidarity Economy and how did you end up picking it as a campaign goal?

Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) puts people first. It encompasses cooperatives, Fairtrade organisations, social enterprise, community currency and micro finance groups. SSE leads to an inclusive economy based on social justice. Without knowing it many of us practice SSE everyday by saving with the credit union or buying Fairtrade.

SSE is already contributing to economic growth and development in the EU. It integrates 10% of the two million European companies (over 200,000 co-operatives) and employs 11 million people or 4.5% of the working population in the EU. It has proved to be economically viable across the developing world, particularly in South Asia and Latin America.

It was during the YGA “Global Youth Forum” in Brussels in 2014 that SSE was selected. Many ideas were discussed and debated but this was the one chosen as a workable joint campaign and in May this year we had “Challenging the Crisis” launches in all 6 participating countries.

Do you have any examples of SSE in action?

Cloughjordan Eco-Village and the Dublin Food Co-Op in Ireland are SSE based, as well as Banca Etica, a bank based on ethical finance in Italy. The Grameen Bank in Bangladesh created by Mohammed Yunus has been very successful and Fairtrade is the biggest international example. There are loads more but it could take a while to list them all!

Give us a bit of  context, what is happening that makes now the best time for this kind of project?

2015 is the final year of the Millennium Development Goals, the beginning of the Post-15 agenda, European Year for Development and the introduction of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is a crucial time to engage the public and particularly young people on development issues. The key concept of the SDG’s is universality. This means that it is applicable to everyone across the world.

This campaign is very aspirational and it may be difficult to achieve all of our goals. But Social and Solidarity Economy is about tackling the ROOT CAUSES of poverty and inequality; without which we will never achieve equitable human development.

So what are your campaign goals?

Our goals are many and we have been working on most of them non stop since the campaign launch! Our main one however is getting the European Parliament and Council to agree to a European Year for Social and Solidarity Economy in 2017.

How do you plan on achieving this?

We raise awareness in public, political and NGO/CSO sectors about the concepts of SSE and ways in which to better incorporate SSE into each of these sectors. We ask the MEPs in each of our countries to join the European Parliament Social Economy Working Group or participate in meetings by March 2016.

We also do a huge amount of lobbying to get European institutions to find a unified definition of SSE, to get the European Commission to write a Green Paper on SSE as well as holding meetings with schools and universities to encourage the inclusion of concepts SSE in the economics curriculum. Finally, we ask our Government Ministers to become member states involved in the UN Inter-Agency Task Force on Social and Solidarity Economy.

How does a person help or get involved?

How a person can really help is through awareness raising. You can get in touch with the project on twitter or facebook, and like or share posts. We are happy to hold workshops and training sessions for groups or organisations that want to know more.

Keep an eye on the website www.challengingthecrisis.com for our up coming petition and sign it. You could also write to your MEP or TD and ask them to support CtC and SSE. Finally, you can help by making really small changes in your life – buying fair trade and supporting co-op’s, credit unions and other SSE’s in your local area.

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