Raj Patel was both charming and self-deprecating as he took the stage at the National Summit for a People-Centred Economy in Ottawa last Sunday night. Briefly addressing the crowd of about 200 in French, he apologized for his "accent incomprehensible," before continuing his keynote address in English. Once he made the switch, even those French speakers wearing translation headsets had no trouble understanding his message.
Pulling largely from his New York Times bestseller, The Value of Nothing, Patel spoke about "the commons" and notions of private ownership versus communal property. The argument against commonly held assets is that we are a selfish and greedy species by nature so it couldn't work. This is referred to as "the tragedy of the commons," yet there is no evidence to support this. As Patel asserts, yes, we as humans are selfish and greedy, but we are also something more. We have the capacity for altruism; we have the ability to put the common good before our own. This, in essence, is what a people-centred economy is all about.
You might say Patel was preaching to the converted - those working in co-operatives, community economic development, social enterprises, social finance, social economy. They had all gathered for two days of learning and discussion around the idea of an economy centred on people rather than profit. And all the big players were there: John Anderson from the Canadian Co-operative Association, Rupert Downing from the Canadian Social Economy Hub, Tim Draimin from Social Innovation Generation and Causeway Social Finance, David LePage from Enterprising Non-Profits, Mike Lewis from the Canadian Centre for Community Renewal, Michael Toye from the Canadian CED Network, and the list goes on...and on. Pretty much everyone who is attached to this movement was there, along with lots of new faces eager to learn more about it.
And learn we did. On Monday we rolled up our sleeves and broke off into six summit workshops to discuss such issues as finance and investment solutions for social economy, enterprise development, local revitalization, the social economy marketplace, strengthening the movement, and taking it global. The conversations weren't always easy - it seems we still can't completely agree on who "belongs" in the movement and who doesn't quite make the cut - but despite our sometimes differing views, the mood was positive and there was no lack of enthusiasm about what the people-centred economy is trying to achieve: a more just, equitable and sustainable world. But don't take my word for it.
Read the draft declaration developed during the summit workshop to find out exactly what this movement stands for and where it's heading. http://www.ccednet-rcdec.ca/en/node/9495
By Nicole Zummach