12th Academy on Social and Solidarity Economy - Study visits at SSE Portugal (II)

News | 14 January 2022
On November 24th the participants of the Academy virtually joined a study visit to two experiences of the Portuguese SSE. The first experience to be visited was the Agricultural Cooperative CooperFrutas, based in the city of Alcobaça. The second experience was the Academy of Activism managed by the Portuguese Association for Local Development (ANIMAR). The session was moderated by Ms. Bethania Pagin (União das Misericórdias Portuguesas) and facilitated by Mr. Fernando Baptista (ITC-ILO).

The agricultural cooperative CooperFrutas was presented by Mr. João Silva, Responsible for management, IT and investment projects of the organisation. CooperFrutas is a cooperative of agricultural producers based in Alcobaça, Portugal. As explained by Mr. Silva, working as a cooperative in the agricultural sector has many advantages, that are becoming more evident in the current crisis. Thanks to the cooperative structure, the producers gained competitiveness by pooling their knowledge and resources. During the crisis, Mr. Silva continued, the cooperative implemented various strategies to raise awareness among local producers and to convince them to join the cooperative. They stressed in particular the importance of promoting professionalisation, of investing in certifications and labels and of promoting their products in national and international markets. Being present in foreign markets is a priority of CooperFrutas. He noted certifications, targeted advertising and participation in international fairs are among relevant strategies to boost such international presence.

Mr. Silva also outlined the activities of CooperFrutas and their commitment to SSE principles. On average, the cooperative employs between 80 and 150 workers for every production campaign that it implements. As stated in the Statute of the cooperative, a part of the profits must be distributed among the members, and another part must be invested on the territory. To fulfil the latter, over the years the Cooperative created several facilities for the local community.

CooperFrutas has invested part of the profits to improve the work of the cooperative itself and of the partners. Mr. Silva mentioned as an example the investment that they are currently doing to establish a refrigerated warehouse. Nonetheless, their attempt to generate a positive impact for the community does not stop here. In fact, as Mr. Silva explained, CooperFrutas is committed also to pursue environmentally friendly productive strategies. First of all, the Cooperative has established a production line that prepares compost for sale, out of the organic waste of the agricultural activities. Furthermore, the organisation is trying to become energetically independent thanks to the use of technologies generating renewable energy.

Answering questions from the audience, Mr. Silva addressed the importance of developing multi stakeholder partnerships and networks with the involvement of other actors, such as public institutions and universities. When asked about how they faced the COVID-19 pandemic, he explained that they never stopped working during the crisis, and that they had very few cases among their staff because they managed to implement protection systems as requested by the government. The COVID-19 crisis also forced them to explore new business models, such as e-commerce, he noted. In conclusion, Mr. Silva addressed the fiscal advantages of being a cooperative in Portugal: the products are taxed less, and the taxes associated with energy consumption are lower, thanks to the use of renewables and the partial energy independence that they have acquired over time.

The second study visit was led by Ms. Olga Fernandes, Technical Coordinator of the Academy of Activism managed by the Portuguese Association for Local Development (ANIMAR). Following a video, she presented the work of the Association ANIMAR that aims to motivate and activate people towards active citizenship, focusing on sustainable development and young people.

Ms. Fernandes noted that ANIMAR created the Academy of Activism in 2020, which aims at “creating leaders” by informing young people and activists on topics such as migrant rights, women rights, climate issues, digital and technological challenges. She indicated that the Academy is structured to give space to youth to provide their opinions and feedback on the topics of interest. So far, Ms. Fernandes explained, ANIMAR’s approach has received positive feedback from the youth involved. Another instrument put at the disposal of young activists by ANIMAR is a learning platform, containing organising and sharing tools, aimed at helping the users to think in terms of impact and results, she pointed out. The Academy, Ms. Fernandes stated, has created a “safe place” for young activists and leaders to share and network with each other. The creation of a “network of trust” was the clearest result of the academy. This was particularly evident during the COVID-19 crisis, when social relations were limited, she noted.

When asked about the balance between theory and practice, Ms. Fernandes explained that the Academy started as a small initiative within a big “system”, motivated to influence the mindset of the participants through sharing and exchanging of ideas. Over time they managed to emphasize the practical aspects of activism, for instance focusing on tools for social action, she noted. The challenge now is to follow up on the support to the participants, especially those who operate around more challenging topics. For this reason, ANIMAR is working to develop connections with other stakeholders that can offer mentoring on specific topics requested by the participants, she underlined. In the last part of the virtual study visit, Ms. Fernandes reflected on how the Academy addresses SSE topics. Many participants of the Academy come from SSE organisations, and they bring valuable contributions to the sessions, she suggested. Furthermore, she concluded, the partnerships currently under development on specific topics include many people from the SSE.

At the end of the session, Ms. Bethania Pagin, Communication Manager at the União das Misericórdias Portuguesas drew some relevant conclusions from this second study tour and the previous virtual study tour conducted during the SSE Academy. Ms. Pagin reflected on how these four projects showed the diversity and richness of the Portuguese SSE landscape.

She concluded by thanking all the participants and hoping that the experiences presented during the sessions could inspire SSE practitioners all over the world.

Click here to watch the recording of the session with the original audio, or interpreted in English, French, Spanish and Portuguese.

For more information on the 12th edition of the SSE Academy, click here.