FacebookTwitterRSSContactStaff Directory
About Tamarack Learn Events Join a Community
  The Social Economy

The growth of the social economy movement in Quebec represents a deliberate attempt to renew citizen participation and fundamentally redefine the relationships between the public, private, and civil sectors of society.

The social economy, writes Nancy Neamtan, has been at the forefront of new and innovative ways to create wealth, produce goods and deliver services, while integrating social or environmental goals into the very act of production.

Neamtan, a leading expert on the social economy in Canada, is CEO of the Chantier de l’economie sociale (Task Force on the Social Economy), which acts as a “network of networks” to promote the social economy within Quebec, encourage multisectoral collaboration, and ensure that the social economy movement remains one of the “most visible progressive movements in today’s Quebec.”

On this page Nancy shares the importance of this emerging movement for change.

On this page you'll find:

Nancy Neamtan

Nancy NeamtanNancy Neamtan is President/Executive Director of the Chantier de l’économie sociale, a non-profit organization administered by 28 representatives of various networks of social enterprises (cooperatives and non-profits), local development organizations and social movements.

The mission of the Chantier de l’économie sociale, a Quebec-wide organization that emerged from the Quebec Summit on Economy and Employment in 1996, is the promotion and development of collective entrepreneurship.

Neamtan is also Vice-president for Strategic Development of RESO (a community economic development corporation devoted to the economic and social renewal of southwest Montreal) after having been Executive Director from 1989 to 1998.

She is the founder and President of the Board of Directors of Réseau d’investissement social du Québec (RISQ), a $10 million investment fund dedicated to the non-profit and cooperative sector. Since 1999 she has been Co-Director of Alliance de Recherche Université/Communautés (ARUC-ÉS).

Prior to this, she held the positions of Director at IFDEC (1988-1989), President of the Point St. Charles Economic Program (1986-87), and Director for Community-Development at the Point St .Charles YMCA (1984-1986).

Back to top.

The Social Economy

Chantier de l’économie sociale

The Chantier is a network of networks - networks of cooperatives and nonprofit enterprises, networks of community economic development and local economic development organizations, and social movements coming together so that we have a territorial basis, an enterprise focus, and a larger vision of how we want to work together.

The Chantier is a Quebec-wide organization that emerged from the Quebec Summit on Economy and Employment in 1996. The network's mission is the promotion and development of collective entrepreneurship.

Back to top.

The social economy and how it differs from the mainstream economy

The word "economy" is derived from the Greek and means "order of the house." The economy refers to how we produce and exchange goods and services. Most people consider the economy as the private sector, the stock exchange, etc. But there is a private economy (privately owned companies producing goods and services), a public economy (government-run enterprises and services), and the social economy which is a collective economy based on collective, nonprofit, mutual principles.

Though the "social economy" is a new term, the social economy itself has existed in Canada for over 100 years. Examples of the social economy include co-ops, parent-run daycare centres, food cooperatives, YMCA, caisses populaires, etc.

Nancy believe we will never solve social problems if we do not deal with economics - we have to democratize our economy.

The social economy is therefore rooted in the realization that the economy isn’t someone else’s business - there is another way to organize the economy besides a neo-liberal approach.

The ‘narrow definition’ of the social economy includes five main features:

  1. legal structure is non-profit mutual & cooperative enterprises
  2. have certain rules about who controls use of capital
  3. independence from government
  4. democratic form of control
  5. based on principles of collective and individual empowerment

The social economy is still evolving – it’s beginning to include others who have a triple bottom line vision of how development should be taking place. That triple bottom line includes an assessment of the environmental, social and economic impact.

The social economy is there to respond to the needs of our society. Those needs can include quality of life, job creation, respect for the environment, use of natural resources, and access to communications, among others. For example, in many regions of Quebec, the community newspaper, television and radio stations, are the only way to get local news. Many don't have access to new technologies.

Back to top.

The Size of the Social Economy

It's difficult to track this, but a rough estimation for Quebec sees the social economy as 4% of the GNP. That does not include the big cooperatives or the agricultural and financial markets. Add these in and the social economy sits at 7 or 8% of the GNP in Quebec. There are 6,000 enterprises in Quebec, employing about 120,000 people.

It is difficult to get a handle on the size of the social economy in the rest of Canada, but as with Europe and the rest of the world, we can observe the growing trend of the social and solidarity economy. For example, in Italy, municipal and regional governments have preferable procurement policies for social enterprises because they address employment and economic concerns for vulnerable populations.

Back to top.

The Social Economy as a Movement

A non-profit or cooperative on its own is not a movement, but when it is linked to vision and values it starts to evolve.

The social economy is not a fad, it is an international trend, a paradigm shift from old models and the old social context into a new way of looking at the world, one that considers society's social, economic and environmental needs.

To build a social economy movement a system needs to be put in place where goods and services are produced, not in isolation, but by a broad spectrum of players and society as part of a broader vision for the environment and the social impact.

The government wants to make the social economy into a program, but it’s not a program. When you have a strong movement, strong networks will be able to respond in a way that is less programmatic, seeing a program as a tool for the broader needs of the movement.

Back to top.

Rethinking our Economic Lives

The version being fed to us by neo-liberal economists isn’t working. The gap between the rich and poor even in Canada is widening, let alone what is happening in Africa. As consumers, the environment is becoming a huge issue. Globalization makes some communities winners and some losers. Ethical scandals like Enron are raising consciousness, particularly among young people. All these things make people realize that the way we’ve been working isn’t giving the results we need.

Consider the globalization movement – first people were against it, then realized nothing they could do nothing to stop it. People then began to say, well, is there another way to do it? Economic development within the social economy looks at different, socially innovative ways to do this.

The economy is not a mathematical science with “one right way” – it is a social science based on choice. It is easy to mobilize people around this – they know it’s not working but haven’t been aware there is another way.

We currently operate under a social contract that evolved just after the second world war. That contract sees private enterprise as the creator of wealth. Enterprise is then taxed by the government to support the programs required as a result of the gaps private enterprise leaves. But the social economy considers a new way of doing business - it fills those gaps.

Part of economic democracy is making the right choices about how we produce goods and services. The social economy makes sense because it often offers the best way forward and should be a legitimate choice.

The new social economy is being driven by two basic dynamics:

  • dynamic of need (e.g. first cooperatives developed because no one would loan to them)
  • dynamic of vision (e.g. young professionals creating worker coops because they want to work collectively in a democratic environment – not with a boss, also not alone, and want to work based on their values).

Back to top.

Organizing the Movement

The movement has affirmed itself and is recognized not only by government but by other important movements like the union movement as part and parcel of any debate on economic development (primarily in Quebec). Key factors in organizing the movement include:

  • Development of a common language and vocabulary
  • Promoting the work - It's critical to understand how each smaller piece adds to the bigger goal of building democracy and a more inclusive economy. Showing how the social economy can respond to societal questions like child care, housing, environment, creating employment in rural communities – that it is not just a program or a sector, but a way of responding to challenges - is critical to the movement's advancement.
  • Access to tools - Developing tools - financial, analytical, evaluative, training, and otherwise - that take into account the mission and reality of the social economy, is important in propelling the movement forward. It is important not to use tools adapted from a for-profit logic.
Back to top.

Related Resources and Links

Chantier de l’économie sociale

The Social Economy in Quebec
  • The Social Economy in Quebec - This story by William Ninacs, and published by the Caledon Institute of Social Policy is an edited excerpt from a chapter in a forthcoming book by Eric Shragge (ed). (1998). Social Economy: Critiques and Perspectives. Montreal: Black Rose Books. The entire chapter is available in French from the Caledon Institute of Social Policy.
  • The Social Economy in Quebec - This paper by Margueritte Mendell provides a valuable history of the social economy including the sector’s origins in Canada.
Resources on the Social Economy

Back to top.

Additional Links:

Back to top.































Audio Description

Interview: The Social Economy

Run time 00:36:20







Audio Description

Q&A: The Social Economy

Run time 00:30:20







Access the Movements for Change report