Social and Solidarity Economy: A Path to Inclusive and Sustainable Development in India 

India has one of the youngest populations in the world, with 1 million young Indians entering the employment market every month [1]. By 2027, India is projected to have the world's largest working-age population [2]. Its demographic dividend and huge economic opportunities offer immense potential for economic growth and job creation in the coming years. However, to fully realise the benefits, there is a need to build a more inclusive, equitable, and sustainable economy that not only leads to economic development but also simultaneously addresses social, economic, and environmental challenges.

Although India is one of the fastest growing economies, with its gross domestic product (GDP) touching $3.5 trillion, it falls behind in other socio-economic indicators. India has been a victim of jobless growth, high migration rates, low female labour force participation rate, and inequality, among other factors. Estimates suggest that India will need to create 70 million new jobs over the next 10 years to solve the job crisis; however, with the current growth rate of 6.5%, only 24 million jobs will be created, leaving behind ‘46 million missing jobs’ [3]. In addition, female labour force participation is as low as 30% and has remained fairly constant for the last three years (Need citation). The usual strategy towards growth has crippled India’s overall development and is indicating a new economic paradigm that emphasises inclusive growth and equitable distribution of resources and opportunities, making a transition towards a social and solidarity economy (SSE).

SSE, also known as social economy, is an alternative economic model that prioritises social well-being over profit maximisation. Globally, the social economy accounts for about 7% of the GDP and up to 12% of the employment rate in some countries [4]. Owing to its growing prominence in recent years, the United Nations General Assembly has adopted a resolution on promoting the social and solidarity economy for sustainable development, as this can also contribute to the achievement and localization of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) [5]. India has been one of the pioneers in innovating significant and influential solutions in socio-economic empowerment models based on principles of solidarity, as evidenced by the emergence of community enterprises, associations, self-help groups (SHGs), and producers’ cooperatives. Successful demonstration of these models influenced other organisations to recognize and adopt social practices. Over the last few years, these models have provided institutional structure for equitable economic activities, serving as an instrument for government agencies to tackle issues of poverty through economic and social empowerment.

The three critical pillars of the SSE include inclusive economic growth, job creation, and social cohesion and empowerment. Development Alternatives Group, since its inception in 1982, has been contributing to the promotion of SSE in the country by focusing on developing inclusive and sustainable solutions to the challenges of poverty, unemployment, and the environment and applying at scale through multi-stakeholder partnerships. Development Alternatives has adopted a unique social innovation approach that is ‘social in purpose, systemic in nature and inclusive by design’. This approach is based on collaboration, community-led, and bottom-up action principles.

Through its flagship programme, Work4Progress (W4P), Development Alternatives is enabling under-represented groups such as youth and women to access entrepreneurship opportunities, thereby leading to social inclusion, quality employment, and sustainable economic growth. It has also led to the development of advanced tools and methodologies for key processes of listening to multi-stakeholder perspectives, co-creating solutions with the communities, prototyping these solutions, and sharing learning to accelerate impact at scale.

This initiative has contributed towards different indicators aligned with SSE in terms of bringing inclusivity and diversity in the enterprises, unlocking barriers in enterprise support services, and enhancing the sustainability of enterprises in 350+ villages of Uttar Pradesh. The programme has brought 5000+ individuals from the most marginalised communities into the purview of opportunity-driven entrepreneurship, enabling them to make a shift from need-based income generation activities. Furthermore, W4P has helped co-create a diversity of enterprise models with communities, contextualised based on local requirements. In the last five years, 120+ enterprise models have been identified, and validated in seven districts of Uttar Pradesh and are now replicated in states like Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Maharashtra, Bihar, and Andhra Pradesh under various other entrepreneurship development initiatives.

A social and solidarity economy can foster a fair, adaptable, and sustainable future for everyone. Development Alternatives remains committed to spearheading the advancement of SSE by mainstreaming bottom-up action, catalysing entrepreneurship as a pathway for job creation at scale and prioritising the integration of women and marginalised rural communities into the economy. Going forward, a crucial aspect of this effort will involve building solutions that unlock macro-level barriers while being cognisant of the social and environmental fronts.

1 World Economic Forum, 2023. Strategic Intelligence.
2 Ernst and Young, 2023. India@100: reaping the demographic dividend.
3 Reuters, 2023..Where are the jobs? India's world-beating growth falls short. Reuters
4 World Economic Forum. 2023. Why UN resolution on social and solidarity economy matters.
5 United Nations. 2023. Promoting the social and solidarity economy for sustainable development.

Shabnam Durani

Muskan Chawla

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