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Enabling social and grassroot innovations (CSOs)

Why and how Civil Society Organisations can scale-up ecological and social innovations.


Why grassroots inititiatives are key actors to tackle the social and ecological crisis?

There are thousands of grassroots initiatives either economic or satisfying necessities orientated taking by civil society that open new fields of building up solutions in front ecological and social crisis. They endorse some comparative advantages related to business projects given the community support of these projects, the low investment that allows them to be highly experimenting, the motivation richness of community lead initiatives, etc. 


What did the session aims at?

The main objective of the session was to promote the role of CSOs as eco-social pioneers in terms of creating bottom up initiatives of new models of production and consumption as seed of new economic models by:

  1. Getting to know the CSO framework towards Sustainable Consumption and Production
  2. Making visible some different experiences or initiatives
  3. Discussing the role, potentialities and limitations of CSOs towards SCP

Round table: summary of the session 


Main moderator: Andrea Calsamiglia (SwitchMed Civil Society Team)


Rubén Suriñach. CRIC (Opcions magazin, Xarxa d’Economia Solidària. Catalonia-Spain)

 Grassroots initiatives representing the main topics of SwitchMed project:

Uygar Özesmi: Good 4 Trust (Turkey)

It is a platform of prosumers, people that try to transform by using products and services from producers who are socially just and environmentally friendly. 

Haddad Naoufel: Tunisie Coop (Tunisie)

 A consumer cooperative that aims to promote short circuits in commercialization of agricultural products to help developing sustainable production and responsible consumption.

Juan José: Som Energia (Spain)  

Som Energia is an electrical power distribution and generation consumer union, born in 2010, and with 22.000 associates, 28.000 customers.



Getting to know the CSO framework towards Sustainable Consumption and Production, by Ruben Surinach (CRIC)

Which aspects are embedded in grassroots initiatives?

  • Individual and collective needs (set the frame for these needs)
  • Family and community networks, which were actually the focus of his presentation
  • Self-production
  • Goods and services offered in the market
  • Goods and services offered by the public sector


What are grassroots innovations and community economies working on?

Those initiatives are self-organised community projects (collective experimentation spaces) aiming at constructing sustainable and alternative means of need satisfaction, based on:

  •  Community supported agriculture
  •  Barter markets
  •  Community gardens
  •  Local exchange networks, time banks, local currencies …
  •  Co-housing and community living
  •  Community energy projects or composting
  •  Cooperative financing

What are their main characteristics ?

1) They are organisational structures created to satisfy needs in an alternative way

2) They are based on community leadership, regardless of their legal status (most of the time it would not work without volunteering and community support)

3) They have a social transformation perspective and democratic decision making

4) They embody an experimental or innovative dimension


potentialities and challenges:

  • It entails a change of values and lifestyles:  To change behaviour you need a place where you can dismantle and change old behaviours and renegotiate new ones. Strategies based in the community do exactly that: provide a space where you can renegotiate standards.
  • It requires social empowerment and cohesion
  • New economies are created for needs satisfaction: grassroots innovations are fed by past experiences, but are innovative because they merge values and give a new meaning to their development. 

The way for these initiatives to grow:

  • Getting bigger, thus growing in the number of member
  • Replicating
  • Upscaling: begins small scale but users increase
  • Translating: it translates in own functioning, which actually entails has big challenges.Discussing the role, potentialities and limitations of CSOs towards SCP


"Trust and transparency are the basis for this union. There are no leaders and they trust each other, furthermore they are autonomous." Juan José, Som energia

Discussing the role, potentialities and limitations of CSOs towards SCP 

Which are the limitations?

Haddad Naoufel, Tunisie Coop:

  • The small farmers are old and analphabetic
  • Usually we are talking about small exploitations
  • The quality products are exported. The poorer products are left for Tunisians.
  • There are also long distribution chains

How to leverage?

Haddad Naoufel, Tunisie Coop:

    At the national level it has been an increase of the demand for sustainable products. So, how is it possible to adapt to this demand change?

    • Better paying the producers
    • Reducing  the number of intermediaries
    • Making the consumer an actor of change for the increase of sustainable agriculture 


    Som Energia has the commitment to produce in small units. They invest in small and medium sized factories to produce renewable energy, this way the cooperative also contributes to rural development. 

    Uygar Özesmi, :

    What we need to do is to change the growth economy and consumer economy to a prosumer economy. Also important is to create a happiness maximisation.

     Values are at the core of everything à increase the goodness and the ethical behaviour


    experiences or initiatives

    Haddad Naoufel, Tunisie Coop:

      Currently there are already in Tunisia some initiatives to promote this change:

      • LAB’ESS  is an incubator for social enterprises and capacitates social entrepreneurs to work on their social business ideas
      • “Le souk de la Coop?, is a consumption cooperative


      Let's continue the discussion

      You can join and contribute the discussion on social and grass-root innovations continuing in the session community here. You can also download the presentations here. In that community we encourage you to post your own reflections, experiences and questions. Keep engaging and shaping the content of SwitchMed Connect 2016.