“There are people who are disadvantaged and who need help. In order to close the inequality gaps, and to overcome social vulnerabilities.” That was one of the points discussed in the videoconference on September 22 with Cuban governors and mayors led by President Miguel Diaz-Canel.1 The head of state spoke of directing social work “to everyone who has disadvantages,” particularly pointing out dysfunctional families, women victims of violence, single mothers, young mothers or children who have some social disadvantage due to the conditions in which they live; young people disconnected from study and work; people with special needs due to physical or mental disabilities, the chronically ill, elderly people and those who do not have enough money to buy basic things, the malnourished “who can be in any of these categories.”
“In other words, there are a number of social disadvantages that cause inequalities in society, which we have to immediately face and address; and I believe that the fundamental path is… that of social work,” Díaz-Canel emphasized.
Indeed, social workers can help diagnose these disadvantages, but they can unlikely eliminate the causes. Because eliminating the causes will inevitably require material resources, which are scarce. “The financial resources destined to support the most vulnerable,” based on the budgeted state sector, are very stressed: the fiscal deficit planned for 2021 is already 18% of the GDP. It will require, above all, alliances between the different economic and social actors of the community. Welfare cannot be the only solution against inequality: it is necessary to redistribute resources from other sources or, better still, generate new ones and develop other services to dedicate them to reducing social disadvantages. And it is here where the Social and Solidarity Economy comes to play an essential role.
The Social and Solidarity Economy (SSE) is a system of relationships that contributes to the development of the productive forces. It has the ability to mobilize production processes, creativity and innovation while breaking inertia, alienation and empowering workers. This new form of social relationship has a multidimensional character: political, ethical, economic, social and environmental. It is mainstreamed by cooperation, solidarity and social inclusion.2
The SSE contains Institutional Social Responsibility (ISR), understood as a way of business management and of any other institution, committed to generating value based on sustainable practices and in interaction with its context in favor of equity and social justice. But it goes beyond the ISR insofar as it is about transforming economic-social relations, mobilizing the local economy to generate jobs, promoting productive linkages and empowering actors, since it promotes and consolidates solidarity behaviors. Its logics structurally promote socialist solidarity relations.
The SSE is integrated into the socialist project to the extent that it has the human being as the center of development and seeks to satisfy the common needs of the population. It is at the service of society as it is committed to providing services. It recognizes the different forms of ownership and their articulation, prioritizes the society of people over the society of capitals. It is expressed above all at the territorial, local and community levels, directed by the municipal governments. It is structured in collectives and articulated networks to contribute to local development.
In its relation to local development, the SSE allows:
- Confronting territorial and social inequalities, of access to income and wealth, migratory pressures, all of which require stimulus policies and inclusive approaches, beyond welfare.
- Identifying and putting to work endogenous resource reserves: human, material, financial, natural, patrimonial, cultural.
- Internally reinvesting the taxes collected and surpluses obtained.
How can the SSE help to empower all local economic actors, including the budgeted state sector, to overcome social vulnerabilities and thereby close inequality gaps in territories?
In the first place, the SSE recognizes the Municipal Development Strategy (MDS) as a framework for action to guide neighborhood actions and projects, and therefore the leadership to be exercised by the Assembly and Council of the People’s Power Administration and the People’s Councils. Second, it substitutes the vision of neighborhood intervention for that of community transformation, that is, based on the active participation of neighbors and local economic actors in first diagnosing and then solving the main problems that give rise to social vulnerabilities.
Third, it relies on alliances between all local actors: economic (state-owned enterprises, cooperatives, MSMEs, joint ventures, the self-employed); educational institutions (provincial universities and municipal centers, technical-professional schools, training centers, schools) and scientific research centers; budgeted institutions such as education and health centers that have economic activity (purchase, sale, employment, provision of services); local development projects and programs; and political and mass organizations and civil society entities (associations, community, social, religious groups, NGOs).
The articulation of economic actors from the SSE and the ISR with local development allows identifying vulnerabilities and the resources to face them. Based on:
- Connecting local development projects and the actions of local economic actors with the main needs of the municipality and committing to meeting them.
Local development projects (LDP) are recognized as a set of resources, efforts and actions that have the purpose of transforming an existing situation to a desired one, that contributes to the development of the municipalities, provinces and communities where it operates, and have an impact on the quality of life of the population. In its design and implementation, the criteria of enhancing the capacities of the participating groups and actors must prevail, taking advantage of endogenous resources in solving the problems raised and the participatory nature of their management.3
Municipal governments must have local development representatives in charge of preparing, managing and approving LDP, supported by Municipal University Centers (MUCs), universities, research centers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs), according to the strengths of each territory. Sometimes LDPs arise from the base: cooperatives, MSMEs or community groups that want to promote a particular project.
The LDPs can have as a central objective transforming conditions of vulnerability, eg, creating a workshop to make products from recycled wood and employing disabled people; or having other objectives, but including actions that benefit people with special needs, eg. an agricultural production cooperative that creates with its own resources a Children’s Home to take care of the preschool-age children of its workers, employing retired teachers and young people who are disengaged to take care of the children, at the same time that it has a contract with a nearby coffee shop for their food.
- Creating incentives to carry out ISR actions: reduce/exempt the contribution to territorial development (1%); the application of a tax treatment and differentiated prices.
Continuing with this example, a business unit with working mothers in its workforce located in a town where the capacities of day care centers are not enough could request that the contribution that it must pay as a tax to territorial development (1% of net profits) can be Invested in creating a Playhouse and after-school care space, so that mothers and fathers can work their entire working day.
- Promoting projects/MSMEs/ cooperatives with a socio-environmental impact that favor care for vulnerable people.
The need for plots of land, workplaces, transportation equipment and others, limits the emergence and development of many economic ventures, particularly private and cooperative ones. On the other hand, there are many barren lots, abandoned land, disused premises, underutilized equipment in our neighborhoods and communities, almost always owned by entities and state companies, that rarely want to get rid of them. A policy that, on the one hand, encourages the enhancement of these spaces — through transfer or rental — and penalizes the immobilization of idle spaces, as is done with agricultural lands, while facilitating their delivery to economic actors who can take advantage of them and put them to produce, constitutes a net social gain. If that undertaking welcomed, for example, disengaged young people or students to carry out their productive practices, who must be paid a salary, it could receive – it is an example — an Education or Social Security stipend for its training work, which would help to mitigate its expenses.
- Allowing and stimulating the development of cooperatives and social enterprises in the social and environmental services sector, such as care for minors and the elderly, work with inmates, psychological counseling, environmental services, renewable energy, construction and management of multi-family housing, and food consumption.
There are many more forms of cooperatives than those created in the experimental phase that has just concluded with Decree-Law 47/2021.
The construction cooperatives that were created in the experimental phase worked mostly for state enterprises in which both benefited from the existence of the double currency, hence many cooperatives went into crisis due to the monetary reorganization. Now we can promote housing and habitat construction cooperatives — incorporating water and sewerage services, renewable energy, waste management, roads, public spaces — established in the neighborhoods themselves by the residents themselves — architects, engineers, construction workers — who could build both social housing —subsidized by the State — as well as single and multi-family residences to sell at market price. This way, speculation is controlled while profits remain in the community. The bank could support with soft loans. And the residents of multi-family buildings and citadels could create cooperatives to manage them in solidarity, taking into account the neighbors’ ability to pay.
The elderly and the disabled do not like to leave their home, even when they require life assistance, and the State lacks sufficient facilities to care for them on an outpatient or residential basis, in addition to the cost that this implies for the budget. Why not experiment with home care cooperatives? It is made up of people — almost always women — who go to the homes of the elderly and disabled to help them with household chores, food, health, and provide them with company. They can be compensated by a combination of income sources: a part of the pension or retirement of the beneficiaries, contributions from their relatives, remittances, or direct payments from Social Security. In this way, the more affluent individuals and families would help to subsidize those most in need, a solidarity income redistribution that takes the burden off the State.
An agricultural sector cooperative of producers/consumers favors the connections between both and is the place where the associated consumers converge. Farmers get to have a market guarantee organized from what is sowed and planned, according to the demands of the consumer partners, in quantity, diversity and stability, which considerably reduces post-harvest losses. The cooperative has an area for the sale of food according to the number of associates and the volumes of products. The families go at certain times and days to get their food for the week, previously agreed, or it is taken to the homes of vulnerable people. It establishes a system of differentiated prices for food and basic necessities for groups in conditions of vulnerability. It can provide gastronomic offers and spaces for eventual meetings between associates; productive, demonstrative and educational land for the cultivation of vegetables and condiments in urban conditions, and a nursery/store for the sale of seedlings, pots, tools and supplies. The current spaces of urban agriculture and agricultural market cooperatives would be ideal candidates to become cooperatives of food producers/consumers.4
Banks can provide access to soft loans for the formation of cooperatives/ MSMEs of women, young people and retirees.
- Generating sustainable local jobs for groups in vulnerable conditions.
Expand the service of the employment offices in the Municipal Labor Departments by taking them to the neighborhoods and focusing on the active recruitment of unemployed people, not only waiting for people to come to the offices but also bringing the offers to them and promoting them in a creative way. Create from non-state forms an employment exchange for young people, women, people with disabilities in alliance with MSMEs in the community.
- Promoting forms of collective self-employment where local governments can provide premises or resources.
It makes it easier for people who have idle products, trades, craft skills — particularly women — to find spaces near their homes to work and generate income. There are experiences like the Atelier ¡Atrévete, eres más! from Los Pocitos, Marianao. Productions can be sold at fairs and garage sales, and incorporated into LDPs.
- Building capacities and generating actions in the logic of SSE and ISR that contribute to the effectiveness of Local Development strategies and the training of economic actors consistent with the principles of the Cuban socialist development model.
Students are a great wealth of knowledge and energy, willing to collaborate with social projects and assist the most vulnerable people. We saw proof of this when the 2019 tornado hit Havana, in the confrontation with COVID-19 and, recently, in the transformations in the neighborhoods. In order to support the training of vulnerable young people who drop out of school, suffer unemployment or settle for informal jobs, schools, MUCs, social workers and civic and religious organizations in the community can organize training workshops and lessons, where, for example, university students review pre-university students and technical-professional schools, retired teachers and students of higher intermediate education review primary and secondary school students, retired businesspeople do the same with new entrepreneurs. The creation of interest groups for primary and secondary school students can be supported, not only in the schools themselves but also through community associations and groups, even in the businesses themselves. There are ways in which local governments can foster this solidarity, applying different stimuli, both material and moral.
In conclusion, the SSE, to the extent that it has the human being as the center of development and seeks to satisfy the common needs of the population, constitutes a tool for differentiated care for people with disadvantages and vulnerabilities, complements the action of the State and multiplies its resources, respects the will of the neighbors and incorporates them to the solution of their own problems, and articulates the different forms of ownership and management, collectives and networks, in a common effort. It is expressed above all at the territorial, local and community level, guided by municipal governments and integrated into the Local Development Strategy and the transformation programs for vulnerable neighborhoods and communities.
1 Alina Perera Robbio, “Para que Cuba se reanime y avance ¿Cuánto más hacer?”, Granma, 09/23/2021, p. 4.
2 Red ESORSE – Red Cubana de Economía Social y Social y Responsabilidad Social. “Mapa conceptual de la Economía Social y Solidaria,” September 14, 2021
4 Fernando R. Funes-Monzote and Roberto Sánchez Medina, “Cooperativas de consumidores: Pensando un modelo de mercado justo para Cuba.”. Cuba y la Economía, August 14, 2021. https://cubayeconomia.blogspot.com/2021/08/cooperativas-de-consumidores-pensando.html