Athabasca University Press (AU Press) has just released the book, Scaling Up: The Convergence of Social Economy and Sustainability, co-edited by AU’s Dr. Michael Gismondi. The book examines the potential of the social economy to transform the systems that make our current ways of life unsustainable.
Gismondi, the book’s lead editor, is a professor of sociology and global studies in the Centre for Social Sciences, within the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences. He sat down with AU Press Acting Director Megan Hall, to talk about the book and the inspiring work currently being done by communities and co-operatives throughout Canada.
AUP: Your recent book is titled Scaling Up: The Convergence of Social Economy and Sustainability. Can you briefly explain what the social economy is?
MG: Most of us know the social economy best as the third sector. It’s a sector that uses neither state nor private capital, and it operates as co-operatives, non-profits, credit unions, and community economic development agencies.
Scaling Up introduces a range of newer social economy projects and animators who are bringing together the ecological and the social to make positive change for disadvantaged groups. In it you’ll read about bike and car co-ops addressing sustainable transportation and social inequality; local food initiatives providing food security and community resilience; First Nations communities that are reshaping the arts, tourism, and resources in positive ways; community-owned and controlled low-carbon green energy projects, and much more.
AUP: I wanted to ask you about the dedication page which reads, “For those seeking transitions to socio-ecological sustainability, thanks for your inventiveness. This book is for the rest of you.” This suggests that you intend the book to be used as a tool and a resource for Canadians. How do you imagine people might use the book?
MG: The editors and contributors to the book believe that many Canadians are searching for alternative economic futures that bring together social and ecological concerns. The book introduces a range of tools, concepts, and ways of seeing that illustrate the convergence occurring from those in social enterprise movements to those working in environmental and cooperative movements across Canada and worldwide.
I think the book identifies important strategic directions that will advance the transition to, not only sustainability, but also to new forms of local ownership and organizational governance, new models for federation and coalition building at the regional and national levels, and to political directions (at once local and global) that offer a means to scale up social justice and ecological sustainability.
We call this convergence ‘social economizing sustainability,’ and we explore ways and means to spread or scale up these pockets of resistance into true alternatives that can withstand the pressures of capitalism.
AUP: We might assume that organizations participating in the social economy are also committed to the environment, but how surprised were you and your colleagues to find the very direct correlation between these ideas?
MG: Scaling Up grew out of over a decade of research by the British Columbia–Alberta Social Economy Research Alliance (BALTA)—one of the many Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council-funded regional nodes examining the importance of the social economy across Canada. A number of us in BALTA had worked as activists and researchers on environmental issues for many years. BALTA brought us into contact with leaders in the not-for profit, social enterprise, co-operative and community development movements, who had been building the social economy since the 1960s. The meeting was fruitful. The surprise was not so much how many of these leaders and movements were engaging in ecological issues but how much we could learn from each other, and how rich the practitioner-based learnings had been.
AUP: Does the convergence of the social economy and sustainability happen organically or is it an intentional component of the social economy?
MG: Intentional change is in the air. The idea of intentional change is inspiring many social and ecological innovations. We recover our agency and purpose, and see ourselves as partners in the future. So yes, it is very much intentional. The twist is that when we social-economize sustainability, it becomes deeply democratic, with decision-making and even ownership-controlled and directed by clients, families, workers, and community and municipal partners.
AUP: Where can we go to find out more about the social economy in our own communities? How can we support these initiatives?
MG: This book is a good place to start because it’s a unique collaboration between social economy practitioners and academic researchers. Each chapter will direct readers to a wide range of Canadian and international sources, some academic but many applied. But I would also suggest that we all consider joining the social economy practitioners in our own communities and see what we can build together.
For more information on Scaling Up: The Convergence of Social Economy and Sustainability, or to order a copy, visit AU Press