The Social and Solidarity Economy in the 3 Maghreb countries

As a result of the economic crisis and the liberalization of markets due to globalization, individual countries are less able to deal with challenges like unemployment, new types of poverty, and environmental degradation. This situation has spawned the emergence of another sector working outside the state and private sectors that attempts to help resolve social and economic issues. This is the so-called social and solidarity sector – workers’ cooperatives, mutual organizations, activities related to social insertion, human services, etc. – which are characterized by democratic governance, ethical management and fair division of salaries and/or profits.

The social economy takes a number of names depending on context and cultural references. The United States uses the term “non-profit organizations” compared to the United Kingdom’s “voluntary sector”, whereas Francophone countries and Latin America use names like the social and solidarity economy, people’s economy, or community development economy. The same sector is sometimes referred to as a social-based third sector, a local economy-based third sector, or a sector to accompany private and public sectors. All of these definitions designate a range of economic and social activities carried out by civil society organizations, some of which are cooperatives.

This type of organization has evolved throughout the world, both in developed and developing countries, and makes a non-negligible contribution to national economies.
Islam is also a major reference for numerous initiatives in this sector. So-called Islamic banks attempt to develop non-capitalist practices and reject the principle of interest on capital. This approach is very similar to what the West generally calls the social economy. Grameen Bank in Bangladesh is a good example of a project with a Muslim focus. The bank’s philosophy is an emancipating reading of Islam that underlines the central development role that women can play, especially those who are economically fragile.

In the Maghreb countries, solidarity, mutual aid and collective work have always been part of the traditions and practices of local populations. However, the emergence of a social economy in a structured, organized form, particularly its association aspect, is relatively recent in the 3 Maghreb countries. In Morocco and Tunisia, the sector dates from the 1980s and early 1990s following the application of structural adjustment programmes. In Algeria, the social economy in its modern form emerged in 1996, as an attempt to reduce the impact of the transition towards a market economy, which saw an increase in exclusion, poverty and unemployment.

Social economy organizations, particularly associations, have developed in the Maghreb and gained ground in several domains previously reserved to the state, such as: supplying services and basic equipment, particularly in rural areas; combating illiteracy; creating and supporting development projects; promoting and integrating women into the economic circuit; promoting revenue-generating activities, etc. Social economy companies’ major strong point is their proximity to inhabitants and their knowledge of the field.