PURSUING A SOLIDARITY ECONOMY

The planning system enables developers and landowners to make large profits while the public sector struggles with infrastructure costs and making homes affordable. Any new house building policy should keep control over land and retain its value for the public good. — Steve Bendle and Pat Conaty, In Trust, published in Fabian Review [Summer 2014] posted on PRAXIS [February 2015]

I first met Pat Conaty in the Spring of 1991 at a community development conference in Swansea, Wales. Currently, he is a Research Associate for Co-operatives UK and the Executive Director of the Rebuilding Society Network. He was previously a Research Fellow at the New Economics Foundation, when I had the opportunity in the mid-90s to visit him in Birmingham, England.

Pat has always offered thought-provoking strategies on how we could and should expand our strategies such as pursuing a “Solidarity Economy” based on the shared “values of social justice, inclusiveness, ecological sustainability and deeper, democratic forms of participation.” On April 9, 2013, SHELTERFORCE posted my book review, Getting Beyond Growth at Any Price, on a book Pat co-authored with Michael Lewis in 2012: The Resilience Imperative: Cooperative Transitions to a Steady-State Economy.Resilience Book Cover

Lewis and Conaty challenge each of us to use “Social, Ecological, Economic” lenses to “SEE” change and to fulfill the imperative of seeking strategic pathways by sharing what we are learning in order to secure the innovations that are getting results by scaling up and broadening their applications. They call for “cooperative transitions to a steady-state economy.” As I noted in my review, “We can no longer afford growth at any price.”

The fundamental question that The Resilience Imperative poses is one that the authors credit to ecological economist, Hazel Henderson: Growth for whom and for what? This question has been asked consistently throughout the history of community development in the United States. Given the prevailing aftermath of our global economic crisis and the ignoring of climate change, the authors convinced me it’s resilience that is essential for our future.

Throughout Pat’s work on a range of critical issues, he addresses the contradiction we face around the globe: “What is missing is leadership to bring diverse networks together, forge intensive cooperative links, mobilize a social/ecological justice vision, and develop creative ways to deliver knowledge capital through dynamic services that make money our servant and no longer our master.”

In March, Pat was invited by the Seoul Institute of Social and Economic Support to share lessons learned about Community Land Trusts [CLTs] and their applicability to the future of South Korea. Pat shared with me:

Pat Conaty [center] at  the Seoul Institute of Social and Economic Support

Pat Conaty [3rd from right] at the Seoul Institute of Social and Economic Support

“There is a new cultural perspective underlying this approach that we were talking about in Seoul. The South Koreans are thinking this way about how social solidarity in the civil society sector can be made stronger. It is a different approach to Community Economic Development I think but joining both up could be catalytic.”

Pat has found that land reform is a taboo subject because “developers fear it, there is cronyism as you know that guards against it but also non-profit housing organisations do not know how to do CLTs so they also block the introduction.”

In Wales, where Pat has lived the past nine years, he has successfully forged a partnership between the Welsh government, co-op housing activists and non-profit housing developers to run a national demonstration project on CLTs and other forms of democratic housing including co-op rental, co-op shared equity, community self-build and co-housing. “The civil servants and the professionals in the non-profit housing world are finding that this housing is so popular in the first few areas of Wales,” Pat notes “that they are being converted to a new social gospel.”

Earlier this month, Pat was in Baltimore for the Edge Funders conference and participated in a workshop with Michel Bauwens, founder of the P2P Foundation, who I have previously blogged about. Also participating was David Bollier, who co-authored with Pat, The Promise of Co-ops Connecting with the Commons. This report was posted February 10, 2015 by On the Commons. It explores a new synergy between the emerging peer production and commons movement on the one hand, and growing, innovative elements of the co-operative and solidarity economy movements on the other.

Another report of Pat’s that I find especially interesting is: Sharing Prosperity Enabling Co-Operative Enterprises to Grow the Green Economy. Published in November 2013 and commissioned by the Co-operative Cymru/Wales, it considers opportunities to assist community environmental organisations to expand their provision through the use of co-operative methods. This report was approved by the democratic structures of The Co-operative Cymru/Wales, provided eight case studies, and offered eleven recommendations for the Welsh Co-operative and Mutual Commission to consider in the preparation of their strategic report to the Minister for Business, Enterprise, Technology and Science.

Pat’s current work on deploying a social co-op model to delivering health care is especially timely as non-profit hospitals in the US are now being required to perform community health needs assessments every three years. Pat is assisting in the creation of a new hub to advance social care co-ops in England and Wales, as a response to the growing health care crisis there. The hub’s webpage includes a video interview with Pat on “what is a social care co-op?”

Pat ConatyPat offers this closing reflection:

“I am pushing this message to non-profit educational, social care and environmental organisations that social co-operative inclusive ownership and governance systems are good for everybody including themselves. This way professionals can learn to co-construct the future in participative democracy ways. Wherever I give this talk professionals listen. I keep saying that social co-operatives are an upgrade and by piloting and experimenting we can all build a deeply democratic road as we travel.”

My U2Cando blogs represent my personal opinions not those of the Institute of Cultural Affairs-USA. However, I think this week’s blog, PURSUING A SOLIDARITY ECONOMY, highlighting Pat Conaty’s extensive insights is extremely relevant to ICA-USA’s mission “to build a just and equitable society in harmony with Planet Earth.”

When I hear the word “resilience,” I also associate the word “persistence” required to achieve it. Pat Conaty certainly has been persistent in his messaging and his encouragement to explore cooperative strategies to rebuild society and address our global challenges. This week’s U2Cando lyrics are dedicated to his continued endeavors.

No, I’ll stand my ground, won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down
Gonna stand my ground and I won’t back down

(I won’t back down)
Hey baby, there ain’t no easy way out
(I won’t back down)
Hey, I will stand my ground and I won’t back down

Well, I know what’s right, I got just one life
In a world that keeps on pushin’ me around
But I’ll stand my ground and I won’t back down

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, I Won’t Back Down

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