GSEF2018 central theme - challenges for the growth of SE institutions

'Challenges for the Growth of Social Economy Institutions' 

The YMCAs and Social Economy for Economic Emancipation

Duncan Chowdhury (Executive Secretary for Programmes, Asia Pacific Alliance of YMCAs)

Social Economy is considered as an alternative economic system today, when the market economy has completely failed to bring economic emancipation for the marginal people in both developing and developed world. The outcome from the Bretton Wood institutions, established in the last century after the WW2, never brought any good news for the mass people of the countries of the global south. The market economy dwelt on the values of profitability only, which made the world divided between the rich and the poor and the gap ever widening. 

In such a situation, there was a need for an alternative way to nurture the economy, based on the values of cooperation, mutual respect, social entrepreneurship and social welfare. The social economy, is termed as ‘third sector’ and ‘non-profit sector’, this usually refers to the various organizations between the state and the market, fulfilling both economic and social welfare objectives.  

It is a wonderful co-incident that the YMCA movement and the first cooperative movement were established same year 1844 in England, one in London and the other in Rochdale. Both the movements were formed as an alternative response to the counter the drawbacks of the Industrial Revolution. 

The YMCA being a social organization, can also be termed as a social enterprise. This is because, the YMCAs especially in Asia and some other parts of the world have been resorting more on social enterprises for their sustainability as well as fulfilling their social responsibilities. In addition, these social enterprises also channeled resources for the YMCA’s social oriented programs for the communities. The YMCAs are popularly known for hospitality industry and healthy living programs, have developed a host of hotels, resorts, campsites, swimming pools, gyms and other health programs. Similarly, the YMCAs also run a good number of educational institutions likes, schools and colleges. A large number of YMCAs in the developing world are involved in micro-finance activities through forming self-help groups. All these social ventures are involved in service for the society but also bring surplus finances for the YMCAs for reinvestment for the common good of the communities. As such the YMCAs can undoubtedly be categorized as social enterprises.

The YMCAs are working towards youth empowerment, and creating employment for them is one of the focus areas of YMCA work. The Asia and Pacific YMCA   accepted ‘social and solidarity economy’ as one of the main thrust areas for the following quadrennial plans at the 18th General Assembly in 2011 and at the 19th General Assembly in 2015. Hence, the first APAY Regional Workshop on Social Economy was held in Seoul, Korea from 27th to 30th June 2013. At this conference the YMCAs were encouraged to initiate small and medium scale social enterprises to promote organic farming, alternative tourism, fair trade, handicraft productions, online-stores etc, underscoring the need of creating job employment for the youths through these initiatives. 

A vast number of YMCAs are now involved in social entrepreneurship programs. The Bridges Project of Victoria YMCA of Australia is a half way home empowering youths for job creation after the completion of their terms in the prisons. Another example is the Project PRISM, where the YMCAs  aim to train thousands of kids to know the art of swimming, in order to  avoid the danger of drowning, a common threat for kids in Australia. The Chinese YMCA of Hong Kong trains youths to run café and bakery and also trains them to run balloon-art enterprises, who supply balloon decorations to social and corporate events. The Chiang Mai YMCA of Thailand runs social enterprises in handicraft production, where the majority of the products are exported to foreign markets. The Batticaloa YMCA of Sri Lanka  is supporting thousands of borrowers for self-employment through their micro-finance operations. The Korean YMCAs are involved with cooperatives and had been instrumental to promote them throughout the country. This is how the YMCAs, especially in the Asia and Pacific are increasingly engaging themselves in social enterprises with an objective to support people for their economic emancipation.


As described in the beginning of this essay, social economy could be considered as the ‘third sector’ for economic emancipation of the people on the onslaught of the capitalistic hegemony. This could be the solution, however there are a host of hindrances which poses as an impediment for the growth of social enterprises. 

There is a sort of ignorance about the concept and understanding of social economy enterprises. The youths do not know that social enterprises can be a pivotal vehicle to create employment for them. The governments as well as the civil societies movements need to work towards promoting social economy enterprises.

Investments are not so easily available for the social enterprises. Young people inspired in the spirit of social entrepreneurship, finds no easy way to get investments for their social ventures. Usually, they come from impoverished families who do not have much capital of their own, nor can they get loans from the banks, primarily, because in most of the countries there is no legal framework for social enterprises. The governments of Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea are pioneers in enacting laws for regulation of social enterprises, moreover, to promote such social endeavors, they have set aside government funds for investing in social enterprises. Countries need to work in formulating legislations for social enterprises and liberal tax regulations for them. In the absence of any legislation, the social enterprises cannot enjoy tax benefits, which are commonly expected for the growth of social enterprises in a country.

There is lack of role-models in this area. There are not adequate business models on social enterprises, which could inspire youth to get involved in these ventures. Adequate trainings for social entrepreneurs are pre-requisite for a healthy growth of social enterprises. Social movements can initiate programs to train youths and getting them engaged in social enterprises, and providing information about financial resources and technical knowhow.

It is understood that Social Economy is the answer to bring down disparity in the world and economic emancipation of the marginal communities. All it requires, is the concerted efforts of our civil society organizations to effectively advocate for the promotion of social economy and involve the people to participate. There are a lot of good stories in the Global North that these initiatives have changed the fate of common people, and this too will happen in our Global South in the days to come, if we can effectively promote social economy and bring end to the vagaries of neo-liberalism.

Duncan Chowdhury

Executive Secretary for Programmes at the Asia and Pacific Alliance of YMCAs (APAY) based in Hong Kong.

The GSEF CWG (Communication Working Group) will explore the four central themes of the ‘GSEF2018 – Values and Competitiveness for Inclusive and Sustainable Local Development’ to highlight the significance of the topic and to provide background information for readers. Four CWG members will take on four topics respectively, and the writing will be covered via the GSEF newsletter featured article section.

Plan for covering the GSEF 2018 central theme

  1. Co-creation of public policies by RIPESS (Newsletter June edition)
  2. The contribution of the Social Economy to the Transformation of the territory by Montreal City and Chantier de l'économie sociale (Newsletter July edition)
  3. Challenges for the Growth of Social Economy Institutions by APAY (Newsletter Aug edition)
  4. The future of work and employment: the role of the Social Economy (Newsletter Sep edition)