“Business women? They are storefront owners, cookie makers, and beauticians, they are not business women,”stated the Mayor. The woman business leader responded, “If nacatamales do not work, they do tortillas filled with cheese, and if that doesn´t, they do something else, they search carefully, they are business women!
Note that the Mayor uses the concept of business to discriminate, and the woman leader to extol the storefront owners… but both read them and interpret them from a certain approach of what business is better, and boxed in by this concept alone they do not see the wealth of the activities and logics that the women can have with their businesses. What is the gravitational force that pulls us toward a certain understanding, preventing us from seeing other realities? In this article we discern the force of ideas, the irruption of new forms of organization, and the need to rethink even in opposition to the pull of gravity.
“There is no such thing as society, there are individual men and women, and there are families” said M. Thatcher in 1987, coinciding with the Reagan era, a time in which the world was marked with the “brand” of neoliberal ideas: the “invisible hand” of the market, that previously was only attributed to God, governed the economy, and democracy was derived from it. Private enteprises gave shape to that market. The “carrot” and the “stick” backed these ideas that penetrated our minds. So those in the past who cried out against the IMF and the World Bank, now seek them out, and if they antagonized large private enterprise now they are eating together. It happens on all levels; for example, a good part of the cooperatives dream of looking like a company, seek to be a “cooperative enterprise”; the microfinance institutions that started so that the producer families excluded from the private banks might scale up, say that “there is no mission without (financial) sustainability.” All rivers lead to the sea: the organizations, whatever their origins and nature, seek to be an enterprise lowering their costs, seeking subsidies, seeing only individuals, and at any cost. This is the angle from which situations are seen, like the storefronts.
Another force is the “aid industry” or international aid, begun to provide a “human face” to the neoliberal policies. So the Rio Convention in 1992 or the Paris Declarion of 2005 put their “brand” on how to achieve development. Apart from the discourse, in practice they revived the theory of modernization: the developed countries are presented as the road that the rest should follow. From here they see that those of us from the south are “their past” which is why they now know what we should do. This road inverts the focus: the processors, the merchants and the consumers focus on the peasant product, while in the aid chain (aid agencies, intermediate and beneficiary organizations) their focus is outside, from where “the treasure” is coming. Consequently, the organizations and institutions adapt their discourse and talk about adaptation to climate change, gender, governance, food security – with the S of sovereignty if they are seeking resources from ALBA, and without the S with other international organizations. So, while the size of the state was being reduced to the song of neoliberalism, the NGOs were emerging and the organizations were creating their technocratic “bureaucracy” based on engineers and college graduate experts in negotiating external resources.
Silently another wave is approaching, it is the approach of the solidarity social economy (SSE). It starts “swimming against the current.” Ethical banks, fair trade organizations, networks of small producers, self managed workshops, progressive churches, networks of solidarity economies, solidarity cooperatives, women entrepreneurs, associations, informal collectives, exchange clubs, rotating funds, communal banks, supra-family collectives, landless workers movement are emerging. They are moving into production, service provision, commercialization, finance, consumption, asset use and exchanges. This movement seeks to reconceptualize business and the economy including self management, cooperation, solidarity, sustainability and community commitment. Also in the US, in reaction to the C type Corporations reduced to profit, and “trickle down” through “Corporate Social Responsibility”, B-corporations are emerging, B for benefits; they are businesses that recover a public purpose, of having financial profits and at the same time being vigilant that their decisions contribute to their workers, communities and the environment. The strength of this wave is now making SSE a part of the legislation in Latin America, and the B-corporations are already in the laws of 13 states in the USA.
Neoliberalism cast our minds in the mold of the economic element and an individualistic vision, so we lit a candle to business. “Aid” persuaded us to be governed by a technocracy, and we changed our focus without a future of our own. The SSE “shook the ground” beneath us. Not everything should be seen with the lens of “business”, nor from the “developed” box seats; B-corporation is a recreation of another “enterprise” with a public purpose. The economy moves in a social space – incrusted in society. More than individuals, there are networks that are “walking uphill.” Re-conceptualizing these processes is not on the official agenda, but it is the challenge, we feel it like when you walk into the ocean, while our eyes and hands are on the waves, another current of water is pulling at our feet. Maybe it is time to pay attention to our feet.