Communities and Commons

The local SSE initiatives in exchange

The present and the future of Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) initiatives in Greece was the focus of the event organized on Thursday afternoon, 30 June 2022, by the Heinrich Böll Foundation, Thessaloniki office, the Educational Platform SSE // and the Hellenic Union of Students and Alumni/-ae at MSC. in Social and Solidarity Economy of Hellenic Open University, at the “Oreon Depot” in eastern Thessaloniki and online with members of projects from Athens, Ioannina and Heraklion, Crete.

The discussion, which took place as part of the 10th anniversary events of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Greece, started with a short presentation by Sofia Adam, Associate Professor in the Department of Social Policy, Democritus University of Thrace, and Adjunct Lecturer at the Master Program on SSE, Hellenic Open University. Sofia Adam posed the basic questions that the SSE initiatives are called upon to discuss and answer on a daily level – and as she said at the beginning of her presentation, these are questions and thoughts that help to rethink the collective.

Sofia Adam pointed out that any collective effort is made up of three components: common resources, collectivity/community and common rules. But why, at a time when our everyday life is increasingly pushing us towards individualism, do hundreds of people consider it important to participate in a collective effort? The answer given by Sofia Adam is that otherwise life is not worth living - because we are interested in coming together and sharing thoughts and feelings. What is important for the progress of such an initiative is that its goals and stakes concern everybody, so this need for "sharing" should not be abstract, but should cover some needs, both individual and collective.

A very important element for coexistence in an SSE initiative, according to Sofia Adam, is that all its members can submit their needs. This is because sometimes "the collective effort that makes our life worth living does not always make it pleasant, as there is the difficulty of collective and democratic coexistence with tensions and conflicts". In order to overcome these tensions and disagreements, we need to think about what issues arise from, and above all to find common practices for dealing with them.

In relation to the everyday life that pushes everyone towards individuality, Sofia Adam finds that in every collective effort there are also different speeds of commitment and time, due to family, social and professional obligations. One question for the SSE initiatives is how we overcome and manage these different speeds. For this to happen we need to discuss the experience of each collective project to date. In this strand of many different needs and speeds, Sofia Adam finds that SSE initiatives need to acquire an 'openness' in welcoming new members, avoiding the creation of a closed and perhaps entrenched collective.

In conclusion, Sofia Adam pointed out that many of the initiatives flourished in another era when there was a "burning desire and hope for a broader political change", while the question arising now is where the SSE initiatives stand in relation to the broader political and social context.

After Sofia Adam presented her thoughts and reflections, a fruitful dialogue followed between people from invited initiatives of different maturity levels from Attica, Epirus, Central Macedonia and Crete, who shared their thoughts and experiences to date.

The collective life of Social and Solidarity Economy initiatives, bureaucratic obstacles, the coronavirus pandemic and the lack of financial resources for the SSE initiatives were some of the issues mentioned in the rich discussion.

Among other things, it was highlighted the need for Social and Solidarity Economy initiatives and their members to focus on themselves and their immediate social environment as the field in which we can contribute to immediate social change. According to this perspective, what is needed is a possibly slower but more stable development of SSE, as "we must not forget that we are the subject of change, which will first happen at a low level".

Of particular interest is the admission of a new member of an initiative that is active in the provision of food to vulnerable social groups. "I see that unfortunately many people need us. There are also many volunteers who need help. We are a self-help group that operates with democracy. It is necessary with the crisis conditions that exist to act as a group, to be all together as one fist united. SSE is something that fights to understand that together we can change the world, slowly but surely".

"We participate in all of this because we like it and we have fun. In a successful initiative that has been around for many years, the people involved in it, apart from liking the idea and the vision, I think they are having a good time. We try to create the conditions for having a good time", said another initiative member, pointing out the importance of being part of a vivid and active collective.

At the same time, initiative members noted the obstacles that the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic had caused to the planning process they had prepared. Initiatives that started their plans shortly before the pandemic were 'frozen', and three years later they are at the same point. Despite the departure of several members, there remains a significant core of members who are eagerly planning again to implement the planning of the collective initiative. However, the need to find a model for the operation of the collective initiatives whereby the obligations are shared by all members, without creating 'two-tier' members, is highlighted.

Another initiative member found that SSE has its own pace that is extremely slow and requires a great deal of patience. The factors that lead to slow growth have to do with cooperative education, resources, networking and how internal problems of the groups are resolved, and it is found that there is a difficulty in networking between the different initiatives.

Cooperative initiatives are not 'bubbles', they experience and are influenced by what is happening in society, another member of a SSE initiative noted, stressing that there is a particular value and symbolism in some people managing to survive while working in a different way from the mainstream. It is important to create the environment in which SSE initiatives can grow with financial tools, documentation and community spirit.

During the discussion it was noted that due to the absence of financial tools many initiatives that require high costs to start up are not able to do so, therefore some new methodology is needed to meet these needs.

As was noted, any SSE initiative has to face from the outset a labyrinthine and inhospitable institutional framework. "What we need to be sure we are doing is that we are opening a new road, we are making things that did not exist before. Every initiative invents from the beginning the business model under which it will operate. We are invited to discover all pieces that make up the SSE puzzle. Everyone has to discover them anew for their own SSE initiative", said a member of an initiative, stressing the need for support and communication between the initiatives, so that they can cope with the difficulties they face.

Another representative of a cooperative enterprise, which has been in business for a decade and has not managed to earn the same amount of money as an owner-entrepreneur would have earned from the same activity, pointed out the need for members of Social and Solidarity Economy initiatives not to get used to surviving on low incomes.

During the discussion, special mention was made of the part of the education of society itself in relation to the Social and Solidarity Economy, with particular emphasis on young children, who need to be introduced to joint planning at a very early stage.

The members of the Social and Solidarity Economy initiatives committed themselves to continue, both internally and at the networking level, the fruitful dialogue that started during the event, in relation to the future of collective SSE initiatives throughout the country.


By Iason Bandios / Alterthess

Our event entitled "Communities and Commons - The local SSE initiatives in exchange" took place in the charming place of the cooperative café-grocery shop "To Oreon Depot". The topic of the discussion was the present and the future of Social Solidarity Economy (SSE) initiatives in Greece.
Co-organizers were the Educational Platform SSE // and the Hellenic Union of Students and Alumni/-ae at MSC. in Social and Solidarity Economy of Hellenic Open University. Here Giorgos Melissourgos from Heinrich Böll Foundation and welcomes the participants.
Members from many cooperative initiatives of Thessaloniki and Central Macedonia gathered at "Oreon Depot". However, it was a hybrid event, as there was an online connection with Athens, Ioannina and Heraklion, participating SSE initiatives from Attica, Epirus and Crete respectively.
Keynote speaker was Sofia Adam, Associate Professor in the Department of Social Policy, Democritus University of Thrace, and Adjunct Lecturer at the Master Program on SSE, Hellenic Open University. In her short presentation she raised basic questions that are of practical concern to SSE initiatives.
Sofia Adam pointed out that hundreds of people insist on participating in collective efforts because without sharing, life is not worth living. However, these efforts must meet individual and collective needs and there are often tensions and different levels of commitment and time contribution.
According to Sofia Adam, it is necessary for all members to address the problems of the SSE initiatives together and based on the experience of each one initiative, while it is advisable to be "open" and to avoid the creation of closed and restricted collectives.
A fruitful exchange followed as the members of the SSE initiatives that participated in the discussion shared their thoughts and experiences to date. The collective life of the initiatives, the bureaucratic hurdles, the pandemic and the lack of financial resources were some of the issues raised.
Other issues discussed were the slow pace of development of SSE, the - sometimes - uneven contribution by the members of an initiative, the lack of cooperative education and networking between the initiatives, the chaotic institutional framework, and the low income for the people involved.
At the same time, many positive experiences were highlighted, such as the democratic and collective processes, the building of a community spirit, the sense that each initiative opens a new path, offers substantial help to people in need and contributes, slowly but surely, to the transformation of society.
The members of the Social Solidarity Economy initiatives that participated in the event committed themselves to continue the useful dialogue that has been started about the future of collective SSE initiatives across the country, both within themselves and among each other.