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A look at the first ever African ESS Forum in Yaounde, Cameroon

The social and solidarity economy, which is finding fertile ground for expansion in Africa, is benefiting from a number of opportunities favourable to its development, with public policies and new laws to provide a framework for ecosystems already being tested in some countries. This observation alone would not be enough to consider the reality of a transformative SSE that truly drives change in the lives of local and national stakeholders. It was no longer enough to talk about potential, let alone have isolated approaches on the continent and reduce the treatment of the social and solidarity economy to a few “people” who thought they were the best people to talk about it. The turning point came in Dakar during the GSEF international forums, where women’s networks from Central and West Africa decided at the Femm’ESS pre-forum to create synergies that would bring their energies together. The idea of holding an African forum in a single year seemed difficult to many, who seemed to ignore the adage that a woman’s will is her own! There’s always a man in the wings who listens, encourages and joins in the momentum, and so began the commitment to prepare the very first one.

The first African forum on the social and solidarity economy (FORAESS), held in Yaoundé from 28 May to 1 June, brought together participants from 32 countries to share practices, experiences, policies and visions through collaboration and cooperation in building an inclusive, equitable, solidarity-based and people-centred African movement, and to reflect on an inter-African platform to support and promote the SSE through concrete actions. The aim of this first forum was also to give impetus to the development of structuring policies in the regions to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The forum gave rise to a multi-stakeholder continental debate on a social and solidarity-based construction economy. The aim is to share and drive pan-African economic dynamics in different contexts, using a bottom-up approach based on the model of local SSE networks (RELESS) already underway in Cameroon and other models developed in countries such as Senegal, Morocco and others.

The conclusions of the JEUN’ESS 2024 pre-forum (mainly intended for young people interested in SSE) held on 28 May 2024 propose the promotion of inclusive, sustainable and fair economic models that emphasise cooperation, solidarity and social innovation in 7 points, the most significant of which relate to educational policy guidelines, thus integrating the social and solidarity economy into teaching and vocational training programmes. In this respect, collaborative teaching and learning can be essential tools for appropriating these approaches. Facilitating the concept of ” Building Citizenship ” across the territories for young people committed to structuring a cooperative, reliable and viable entrepreneurship ecosystem was also retained by these young people in their reflections.  In conclusion, they agreed to set up both national and pan-African mechanisms for mobilising funding and fundraising to support the initiatives of young people involved in the social and solidarity economy in different countries.

The participants agreed to make FORA’ESS a pan-African mechanism working to strengthen the knowledge, recognition and representation of the SSE throughout Africa in order to take better advantage of its potential for innovation and resilience. The local governments proposed the strengthening of territorial ecosystems favourable to the SSE and the increased involvement of SSE actors in the territorial dynamics of governance and local development. A clear determination expressed in the final declaration of convergence between universities, the world of research and training and SSE practitioners to work towards the co-construction of knowledge and the valorisation of experiences through an African SSE observatory intended, as the technical pole of FORA’ESS, to produce scientific evidence based on ethnographic methodology.

The Yaoundé forum was also marked by a strong desire to create synergies between the support forces that can be mobilised beyond the continent, such as the diasporas, Afro-descendants and Social Solidarity Economy initiatives in African territories. Promoting the conditions for setting up a multi-stakeholder African platform for the social and solidarity economy and providing a forum for exchanging and sharing ideas and systematising the economic models within our reach.

The participants’ immersion in a local social and solidarity economy network (RELESS) enabled several of them to understand the systemic approach adopted by the Cameroon government through the structuring of each locality in the country. This consists of stimulating activities carried out by local stakeholders who structure themselves into cooperatives by industry or by sector of activity. Other models were also visited during the conference, including FODEM (Municipal Development and Solidarity Fund) in Senegal and women’s cooperatives and standardisation in Morocco.

The main post-Forum objective is now to build an inclusive economy in the various African countries, an economy that leaves no one behind and that is within the reach of all actors, even the most vulnerable, in a continent where there is constant talk of economic growth and where, paradoxically, precariousness is rampant. Building means adopting a systemic structure that involves the contribution of all the parties concerned, the institutions for setting up facilitating frameworks, the local authorities for local support and the actors themselves for self-organisation. The proposal to set up a “GOUMI” incubator presented at the forum is a concrete step that is taking shape and mobilising expertise in various fields, starting with those who were present at the forum or who followed it remotely. There are, however, a number of challenges facing this co-construction, including the mobilisation of resources of all kinds to achieve the ambitious objectives set by the participants. The first of these resources is human, and the people behind this initiative are working hard to mobilise all the human potential that can support this construction. Financial resources are also being mobilised, and consideration is being given to mobilising the resources needed to build this kind of continental dynamic.

Africa must capitalise on its abundance of dynamic human capital made up of women and young people to develop economic solutions within its reach, by making the most of the endogenous potential of its territories. The dynamism of women was highlighted throughout this encounter, as exemplified by the women of the Central African Republic who, in the run-up to the Forum, launched a convergence movement based on the rallying call “IGWE”, which means “let’s go”. It’s worth noting the particular context of this country, which has just emerged from several years of armed conflict, and which is basing its resilience on the SSE to rebuild cohesion and an inclusive economy. Another example of this female determination is Myriam, a young woman from Cameroon who, braving the extreme insecurity in the North-West region of Cameroon undermined by secessionists, has managed to set up RELESS in localities where armed gangs are rife.

Special mention should also go to the women and men who came together from other continents and countries as far away as Costa Rica, Colombia, Brazil, Canada and Europe to enrich the work of this Premiere in Africa, proof that the SSE sets no limits and invites solidarity and cohesion beyond borders!

FORAESS has shown us that.

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CIRIEC-International CIRIEC-España Social Economy Europe Ministerio de Trabajo y Economía Social Unión Europea