Entrevista a Patrick Duguay, President de Le Chantier de l’Économie Sociale du Quebec

Patrick Duguay

“Agree on something, but we can not agree in the rest, it’s okay. This is diversity, and I don’t know why everybody has to think in the same way. Probably this is a great challenge we’ve got placed. I think it’s the future of cooperatives that we are dealing now. If we lost democracy, it will be no difference between the cooperative and the regular companies. That’s for me this is the great challenge that we are facing now”

Is it a good moment for social economy in Quebec?

Yes, I think so. And with the crisis of public finances even more. Each time that there was a crisis, the social economy has gone forward and it proposes new solutions to the needs of the people. Rahm Emmanuel (mayor of Chicago and Obama’s former chief of staff) said something interesting: “You must never waste a good crisis. Crisis is always the opportunity to move forward”.

I thought that Quebec was the perfect place to see what social economy could become?

No, there are huge problems. For the cooperative movement almost everywhere it’s the same.

You’ve got the opportunity to learn about the social economy movement here in Barcelona.  Could you explain to us some of the differences between Quebec and Catalonia in terms of social economy?

For example, we have more associations than cooperatives, and the work cooperative here in Catalonia is huge while in Quebec it is really small. Another one is that in Quebec we don’t put foundations in the social field because it’s more like a tool for the private sector.

With all the interviews we have done and the conference, there’s a feeling that here in Barcelona social economy is still unknown for to a big part of society. What do you think is the problem? Don’t the media pay much attention to social economy? Do the companies that practice social economy fail to carry out an effective communication strategy?

I think it’s both. And you know, it’s the same in Quebec.

Really? All these years, Quebec has been the paradigm of the good work in this area

If you pay attention to the real situation and analyse this entire sector, you would realise that the social economy field is huge but really unknown. We said that “it is the best kept secret”, and that’s the problem.

“The best kept secret”… excuse me if I am wrong but how could this happen? As I said before you are an example for all the countries that want to build effective social economy structures. You are not working in the right direction?  

Yes, but the problem is that we were a lot involved in organizing the enterprise to respond to the society needs that we forgot or we have not dedicated enough time to build the movement in the general public. And I think here is the same. From the Le Chantier de l’Économie Sociale we will focus on that issue. It’s one of the new strategies. 

Tell me what you think about this sentence: “The bigger the co-operative, the more difficult it is to manage, to make a decision. And at the end, if we increase our business, it’s probable that we will lose our moral values.

The first few weeks I was here I saw those kinds of concerns in the cooperatives. When we are dealing with a problem in cooperative the response always seems to be less democracy. And I don’t know why. It’s true that it is more difficult to make a decision with everybody (since each member has one vote and therefore their opinion must be heard and taken into account) than just have one person making the decision about any question.

It’s tougher?

But I think it’s healthier, it’s stronger for the future. Catalonia and Quebec have the same problem, not exactly in the same level, but almost the same.

And at the end, a bigger cooperative just requieres more work

Yes, but one of the problems that involves the growth of a cooperative is that you have to hire a new manager, and this manager has gone to the same school as the managers of the big corporations. And he will bring to the cooperative the manners that he learned from the big corporations…

And at the end the lack of specialization of these managers could change the way of work of the cooperatives? 

Exactly. For that reason, the universities have to teach the singularities that the different economies have. We need to have a better balance between all those kinds of economies.

From your answer I assume that you agree with the necessity to incorporate new materials and classes to bring the social economy closer to the students.

For sure. Some times you find courses that talk about that but it’s in masters degree, and therefore you have to be really interested in it to choose these superior studies.

So this makes it difficult to achieve one of the main goals of the people who work in social economy: make it known to the whole society

Yes, it’s a huge mistake because when it’s really important to explain it and get to know all the oportunities that the social economy provides to its workers is in the beginning, while you are studying. We need to increase the effort to make the students aware of the importance of the social economy.

 Money will never be the motivation to create a co-operative. In social economy field, money is not the objective; it’s the tool to build something. If you want to become a rich person, don’t even think about creating a co-operative

Throughout your life, you have had the opportunity to meet the cooperative movement in Catalonia. Could you give us some advice to improve and strengthen it?

I think one of the greatest things we’ve done in Quebec and therefore it has make a big difference in the social economy was found Le Chantier de l’Économie Sociale. And I don’t say this because I am the president, but because I think it was the greatest idea we’ve ever had.

Could you tell me some of the highlights of Le Chantier de l’Économie Sociale?

Le Chantier put the transversal approach. Usually people are working on a pyramidal way. And we’ve changed that. And that was the moment when the social economy blew up. That was the biggest innovation we’ve got in the last twenty years.

Maybe here in Catalonia it’s necessary to join all the forces and create a strong structure?

You know, here there is a good experience in this field like the XES (Xarxa d’Economia Social), it’s really interesting but driven by the association people. Almost no one else. And that is not transversal. And I think maybe there are people that are jealous of their power. You must go beyond that. You have to put aside your differences and work together to achieve better things.

Some people in the social economy demand greater involvement of the administration. With the change of mayor, we may see changes in this direction.

Yes, I think so. Moreover, I think there have already been changes. The new mayor, Ada Colau, hired a commissioner of social economy, Jordi Via. This is really something important. But I wonder if he will have enough power to influence the entire administration. Personally, I think that in the near future we could see some changes in this area.

Mireia Martínez

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