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Public Seminar “Social Economy in Africa”

story from Tokyo Development Learning Center

A videoconference-linked public seminar on the social economy in Africa was held at Tokyo Development Learning Center (TDLC) on November 25, 2009.

Jointly organized by the International Labour Organization Office in Japan(ILO) and TDLC, the event brought together experts in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and TDLC with foreign diplomats, government, development, research and corporate officers assembled in Tokyo. Various themes of the social economy were covered—microfinance for “decent work”, cooperative development and microinsurance in Africa, social enterprises and JICA, and the Japanese Consumers’ Co-operative Union.

So what is “social economy”?

The Geneva-based ILO first provided a working definition: “A concept designating enterprises and organizations which have the specific feature of producing goods, services and knowledge while pursuing both economic and social aims and fostering solidarity,” ILO Tanzania COOP Africa Chief Technical Advisor Philippe Vanhuynegem explained from Dar es Salaam. He said these entities were designated as cooperatives, mutual benefit societies, associations, foundations and social enterprises, and went on to outline a conference held in Johannesburg in October on the social economy in Africa.

Microfinance Expert Judith van Doorn talked about a global project of the ILO, “Microfinance for Decent Work”, aimed to determine how microfinance can contribute to the realization of “Decent Work”. Decent Work is defined by the ILO as “opportunities for women and men to obtain decent and productive work in conditions of freedom, equity, security and human dignity”.

Presentations continued back-to-back, and Ethiopian Cooperative Expert Abey Meherka explained that cooperatives were “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through jointly owned and democratically controlled enterprises”. Meherka discussed cooperative development in Ethiopia and its penetration into the international coffee market, indicating the economic and social benefits.

Yoseph Aseffa, Micro Insurance Expert of ILO Regional Office for Africa, also spoke in Addis Ababa about developing the new concept of microinsurance in Africa. “Microinsurance serves as loan collateral for the working poor and low income businesses, encouraging more secure credit, entrepreneurship and innovation, thereby lifting them out of poverty,” he said.

In Tokyo, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) Senior Advisor Takafumi Ueda gave a presentation on social enterprises.
He described a “One Village One Product (OVOP) Movement” with origins in Oita, southwest Japan, energizing communities through the promotion of social enterprises focusing on unique local products which can be marketed externally for their added value. “These social enterprises include cooperatives, enterprises, self-help groups, NGOs, and any producer groups,” Ueda said as he outlined JICA-supported OVOP efforts in Africa.

“Co-op” was presented by Japan Consumers’ Co-operative Union International Department Manager Haruyoshi Amano.
Amano talked about its difference from corporate enterprises and how it supports members in essential areas—food, nutrition, health, environment, and community networking.

Following the presentations and participants’ questions, ILO Office in Japan Director Shinichi Hasegawa wrapped up the event. “A good session that covered various themes of the social economy”.

TDLC will continue to organize video conferences and events with more international expertise to come.

For related entries, see:

Public Seminar “The Social Economy in Africa”