2.3 Democratizing the Economy (Social Economy)

We are a private, public and community investment friendly movement. We encourage creativity, entrepreneurship and innovation in all sectors of society, including in the private sector.

We will ardently promote the Social Economy sector. The concept of social economy neatly fits in with economic democracy concept as well.

We reject the notion that for Sri Lanka to thrive, its growth will inevitably be generated only by a handful of entrepreneurs, or that wealth needs be inevitably concentrated in just one corner of the country. We will build a democratic economy which creates growth and jobs in every community, makes the most of the skills of all, and whose rewards are delivered fairly in every region of Sri Lanka.

The requirements of a successful social economic entity are as follows:

•  Primacy of people and social purposes over capital;

•  Sharing of economic activity results;

•  Promotion of solidarity;

•  Independence from public institutions; and

•  Promotion of democratic principles: one worker member – one vote.

Worker Self-Driven Enterprises (WSDE) is the more modern and more democratic version of the old concept of cooperatives.

The traditional cooperative societies of Sri Lanka have been for distribution of consumer goods, supply of essential consumer services and agricultural inputs, promotion and marketing in agriculture, fisheries, industry and rural banking services. These cooperatives do not have a direct ownership of stocks by their workers or a requirement for democratic and participative governance. The top organisation managing these cooperatives is run by a board of directors of nine multi-purpose cooperative societies and representatives.

WSDE is different and it is an autonomous enterprise in which:

•  Worker/members own stock;

•  Ownership is widely distributed among worker members who own much of the voting stocks;

•  Worker members participate in the enterprise’s management and control;

•  They share in the distribution of the surplus, usually on the basis of work, rather than stock ownership; and

•  Democratic Governing structure with one member – one vote.

The workers in a cooperative have their say in the first instance through its General Assembly (made up of all worker members), where the performance of the cooperative is discussed, and its policies determined. The General Assembly, which is the highest authority within the cooperative, is required to convene at least once a year, and also often meets for information and discussion sessions.

The workers are also elected to the Governing Council, together with its president. The Governing Council conducts the affairs of cooperative between assembly meetings and oversees the performance of the cooperative and its senior management. Only members of the cooperative – all of them workers – are eligible to stand for the Governing Council. Voting will be on one member – one-vote basis. Successful candidates hold office for a period of time determined by the General Assembly and continue to be paid their normal salaries but receive no compensation for their council responsibilities.

The Council appoints a manager for the cooperative for a specified period of time, who may be subject to a mandatory performance review by the Governing Council. There is a separate Management Council where the top executives and other officers of the cooperative liaise with one another on a monthly basis. An Audit Committee, elected by the worker members, monitors the cooperative’s financial operations and its compliance with its formally established policies and procedures.

We will work on setting up a community bank to finance the social economy units in the community.

The government will also set up a Work Self Driven Enterprise Authority to promote and oversee the operations of the WSDE sector commonly known as worker cooperatives sector.

The government’s overarching policy position would be that no company could be sold off, closed off or embark on an initial public offer (offering its stock on a public stock market for the first time) before giving the first right of refusal to their workers. If the workers take the offer, then the WSDE Authority will work with them to reach their objective. A local or foreign company has to inform WSDE Authority if they have an intention to sell off, close off or increase capital in the stock market before taking any initiatives. The WSDE Authority will work with the company through the process.

There are other sectors such as not-for-profit social enterprises, mutual organizations (member driven), labour societies (like cooperatives but small professional type organizations), especial employment centers (provide employment for disabled and disadvantaged) that constitute the social economy.

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