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Interview
Rural development

Empowering rural communities through social and solidarity economy

Senior expert at DIESIS Network, an organisation specialised in supporting the development of the social economy, social entrepreneurship and social innovation, Anastasia Costantini conducted a research, published in 2021, investigating the potential contribution of social and solidarity economy (SSE) in empowering rural communities.

What are the missions of DIESIS network, and why did you decide to realize a study on SSE and its potential for empowering rural communities in Europe? 

Founded in 1997, Diesis Network is the widest European network specialised in supporting social and solidarity economy and social enterprises covering more than 20 countries through major national federations and support networks associating over 90,000 organisations and 1.2 million workers. 

While I was exploring social economy's place in rural areas at the European level, I identified a lot of interesting initiatives, in diversified sectors, witht the help of our network's reponses to my survey. After researching the role of social economy in the empowerment of rural communities, especially regarding the green transition and sustainable development, I spent around one year verifying what I learnt on the ground (realizing a map of best practices, and interviews).

This research was also a way to redefine rurality (representing 83% of the total EU area), and explore the new rurality with the perspective of its innovative solutions, in a more comprehensive way. 

What are the key messages of this study? 

In each case study, I realised that the key aspect of social economy in rural areas is its network-based approach. It creates a bridge between the local needs and ressources and the external actors (cities, organisations outside the local community).

"Building strong, mutually supportive linkages between rural and urban areas can foster sustainable development in both regions and enhance collaboration, interconnection and mutual support", explains Anastasia Costantini in her paper through the example of Tagurpidi Lavka social entreprise in Estonia, which aims at confronting people who live in urban areas with where their food comes from and create opportunities to allow people to remain living in the countryside, to counter the desertification of rural areas. 

8 key messages can be underlined. Empowering rural communities can be done through : 

  • Fostering inclusive local development
  • Delivering social services and job creation for disadvantaged group
  • Emerging and diversified rural economy
  • Young green social entrepreneurs
  • Active community participation, active civil society and networks
  • Fostering sustainable urbanisation and vice-versa

What are the main remaining challenges? 

A lot of problems remain in rural areas (accessibility, connections, etc.), therefore it is still very difficult to scale up the best practices

The next step would be to change the reputation of rural areas, especially among young people, by talking about it and making more link between rural and culture, for example. 

What will be your next research projects? 

I would like to further explore the potential of rural areas, especially related to the New European Bauhaus. I am as well currently exploring good practices about young entrepreneurs coming back to their homeland, aware of the potential of their local communities. 

As social economy actors, we have a role to play in the rise of awareness about the potential of rural areas. 

To learn more

> Visit DIESIS Network website
> Read Anastasia Costantini's paper : Empowering rural communities through social and solidarity economy: observations and case studies (March 2021)

> Discover the Handbook : The social & solidarity economy and rural communities
> Read two articles : Social economy's potential for rural development in Europe through 3 initiatives and Social and solidarity economy solutions for small towns of tomorrow

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