In Social Ecosystems, Research


Year: 2015
Published in: ICSEM Project
Cited as: Hillenkamp, I. (2015). Social enterprise in Bolivia: Solidarity economy in context of high informality and labour precariousness. ICSEM.


The ICSEM project aims at producing a typology of social enterprises at the international level. Carrying out this task in contexts of high informality and precariousness, as is the case of Bolivia, supposes to take into account specific models of economic organization and institutional frameworks. The social and economic context of Bolivia is characterized by a large number of economic units that do not meet all the requirements of the national legislation nor have internal processes registered in business records. Similarly, the majority of the Bolivian population is employed outside the labor regulations and outside short-term (health) and long-term (retirement) social security. This labor situation is even more striking among workers who generate their own sources of employment in small-sized economic units. These units take different organizational forms and are characterized by different types of ownership and labor relations, based on family, individual, associative and community modalities. The motivations for their creation combine income generation and the creation of spaces for sociability and members’ protection, among others. In order to highlight the specific logic of these economic units, Latin American sociologists and economists have proposed the concepts of “popular” economy, understood as “a set of economic activities and social practices developed by the popular sectors in order to ensure, through the use of their own labor and available resources, the satisfaction of both material and immaterial basic needs” (Sarria Icaza and Tiriba 2009: 101, authors’ translation from Spanish; see also: França Filho 2002 and Gaiger 2013). One of the most important features of the economic fabric formed by small-sized economic units in Bolivia refers to the interaction between ethnic cleavages, gender and social class. No less important is the historical trajectory of representative organizations with a long collective memory of questioning the State and development models. The emergence of the movement of “solidarity economy” in the 1990s was established in this context of strong tradition of associativity and labor precariousness. In the first decade of this century, Bolivia has experienced a process of social and political mobilization against the neoliberal model, which had been hegemonic during the 1980s and 1990s. This process led to the election of Evo Morales in 2006, whose government has proposed ambitious policies and institutional changes. Since that time, Bolivia has been experiencing a historic moment of legal and policy innovations in the economic field, which implied the recognition of the plural economy in the Constitution and of solidarity as a principle for regulating economic practices. Solidarity economy organizations in Bolivia may be considered as a specific form of social enterprises according to the ICSEM definition, as they combine the production of goods and services with the primacy of “social aims”, in the broad sense. Yet a precise typology of these organizations should consider their specific logic of solidarity and their political dimension. Solidarity in a context of high informality and labor precariousness means a high responsibility given to collective action at the level of workers’ organization as well as a risk of selfexploitation and reproduction of socio-economic exclusion. Exclusion from the main institutions of labor regulation and social protection further confers solidarity economy with an important political dimension.