Social economy's potential for rural development in Europe through 3 initiatives
Social and solidarity economy (SSE) and its central role in the development and appeal of rural communities
On December 2021, the European Commission adopted a new Action Plan on the Social Economy. Simultaneously, the EU commission launched the Rural Pact, based on the long-term vision for the EU’s rural areas up to 2040. Building more resilient rural areas that foster well-being is a priority of the long-term vision for the EU’S rural areas, where 137 million people live, representing almost 30% of its population and over 80% of its territory. The European Action Plan for the Social economy also mention that the Commission will boost the social economy and social innovation in rural areas through the future EU network for the Common Agricultural Policy. A cross-vision between these two roadmaps is essential.
In France, a 3-year project led by Avise and RTES (Network of Territorial Local Authorities for a Solidarity Economy) with the support of the French Rural Network and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) has documented and demonstrated the weight of the SSE in french rural areas. For example, SSE represents nearly 18% of private sector jobs in rural areas. The social economy and its actors, by initiating community-based actions that rely on the power of action of the inhabitants, bring a lot of answers to the challenges and needs of rural territories (characterised, beyond their diversity, by low population density): challenges regarding mobility, food, digital inclusion, sustainable housing, revitalization of territories, maintenance of services, maintenance of the last local shop, functional diversity of territories, etc.
If contexts and backgrounds are very disparate from one territory to another as they are from one country to another, those common challenges faced by rural areas in Europe make it possible to consider targeted actions dedicated to the SSE in these territories.
The workshop organized by Avise, RTES, Diesis Network and Reves network - European network of cities and regions for the social economy - presented three testimonies from both public authorities and SSE actors in order to feed the discussion around the levers of support to develop SSE, the role public actors can have and the European policies that could back these processes.
Three European multistakeholders initiatives contributing to the sustainable development of rural territories
The Cooperative Sociale Cadore in Italy
"At the far north-east of Italy, Cadore is by definition rural", explained Antonio Ferigo, representative for the cooperative. Depopulation, climatic change and a slacking economy are the main challenges faced by this territory - and all the Province of Belluno. In 2008, as a response to the Great Recession, the Cadore cooperative was founded - trying to give answers to all the citizens left unemployed. Its goal was to create new jobs, and value the territory and its local ressources, in the following sectors: global services, environment maintenance, tourism, experimental projects, etc.
"Our members never stopped increasing since 2008", proudly precised Antonio. "We do not seek profit. We try to give jobs and opportunities to all of our members, with a particular attention to the “disadvantaged” ones, as defined by the Italian law 381/99 and the Commission Regulation (EC) 2204/2002. It has to represent at least 30%".
Moreover, some of the members are the municipalities themeselves. The acknowledgment of the Cadore cooperative as a reliable partner comes both from the public and the private sector. "Our experience is proving that only cooperation between all actors involved in the territory can generate an environment where everyone can participate as an active player".
The Rural NEETs network
This Rural NEET Youth Network is a COST-action encompassing the creation of a European-led multidisciplinary network from countries showing higher NEET (young people from 15 to 34 yo who aren't in education, employment or training) youth rates in rural areas.They currently work on unlocking the potential of young people for the future of rural areas.
"This project brings together decisionmakers and researchers", explained Claudia Petrescu, Senior Researcher at Romanian Academy. "Together with more than 33 countries, we established a network with inclusive multi-stakeholder representation in order to foster knowledge, skills and best practice exchange and to develop the rural NEET’s online observatory". Throug scientific articles, events, policy briefs, Claudia and her team are producing evidence to support the decision of a Youth Rural Guarentee (based on the Youth Guarantee recommandation). "Social economy development is an active measure for social inclusion: it provides innovative solutions for NEETs inclusion (rural heritage regeneration, social tourism, traditional crafts, social services, social catering, creative industries, etc)".
The Maison de Courcelles in France
In the Haute-Marne french departement, the association La Maison de Courcelles organizes summer camps since 40 years to help children to reconnect with nature, using educational methods inspired by Maria Montessori works. Since their old building urgently needed renovations, the local authority offered them financial and political support, to completely refurbish the place. A larger partnership was created from that starting point, especially around the food local program (collective plan to relocate agriculture and food by supporting the installation of farmers, short circuits or local products in canteens) - but not only. Indeed, together and for the common interest, they started to:
- develop a food residency program
- employ, thanks to the local authority support, a local gardener and a bee keeper
- organize local events, such as a circus festival
- provide cooked meals for the schools nearby
For Patricia Andriot, the elected representative of the local authorities (PETR Pays de Langres), "the role of the local authorities is to set up good conditions to further develop this social, environmental and economic added-value, supporting therefore the creation of a local ecosystem". In her opinion, the two main levers in order to do so are solid political will and dedicated engineering for public servants - even if the legal framework would need to further evolve to fully allow the development of short supply-chains and social economy. "Another helpful practice is to become a member of networks, such as the French RTES, in order to share best solutions with others and to prevent the feeling of being isolated".