Marguerite Mendell
Director, Karl Polanyi Institute of Political Economy, Concordia University, Montreal (Canada)
Marguerite Mendell is an economist and Professor, School of Community and Public Affairs, Concordia University. She is also Director, Karl Polanyi Institute of Political Economy, Concordia University. She has published widely on the social economy in Quebec, local development, social finance, economic democracy and on the work of Karl Polanyi, especially as it relates to contemporary democratic economic development strategies. She has collaborated with social economy actors in developing public policy proposals at the provincial and municipal level in Quebec.
Professor Mendell co-founded the first microfinance organization in Canada, the Montreal Community Loan Association (ACEM) in 1990 and collaborated recently with practitioners to establish CAP Finance in 2009, a network of solidarity finance and development capital, following several years of partnership research (ARUC en économie sociale). Professor Mendell has written extensively on the evolution of “socially responsible finance” in Quebec and on the evolution of “social finance” internationally. She is a member of the Board of Directors, Chantier de l'économie sociale, the Advisory Committee of the Social Economy Partnership for Community-based Sustainable Development for the City of Montreal and the Advisory Policy Committee for the development of the social economy, Government of Quebec. Professor Mendell’s recent international research includes a study on “Improving social inclusion at the local level through the social economy” (OECD-LEED) that examines public policy enabling the social economy in South Korea, Poland, France and Slovenia. She is also a co-founder of ReCo, a continental network of researchers, practitioners and policy makers on the social economy in Quebec and in Argentina, with participation by other Latin American countries. Margie Mendell co-directed the CURA-Social Economy partnership research on finance and on the Montreal region and is currently co-directing the Impact investing stream of a CURA partnership on Responsible Investment. Professor Mendell was awared the inaugural Prix Pierre-Dansereau in 2012 from the Association francophone pour le savoir (ACFAS). Sponsored by Radio-Canada, the prize is awarded to an individual or organization that best exemplifies a commitment to improving society.
“The Role of the Social Economy in Urban Regeneration and Its Impact on Societal Well-Being”
The social economy is embedded in ethical values of citizenship, democracy and sustainable livelihood; it is contributing to institutional transformation by realigning relations between government, the market and civil society. Many scholars refer to the social economy as part of a ‘plural economy’ that recognizes the complementary roles of the private and public sectors and the social economy. But the social economy has much greater heuristic and theoretical relevance. It refers to the “social organization of an economy” or the “substantive economy”, in contrast to a market driven economy that is dis-embedded from society. (Mendell)

Dis-embedding has greater significance today as financial markets are dis-embedded from the real economy, which is itself increasingly dis-embedded from society. The consequences of the financial crisis of 2008 and the ongoing economic crisis are felt in many regions throughout the world. This is the context in which creative counter-movements are emerging, as the credibility and efficacy of the dominant paradigm is tested by its continuous failures. This is the context in which many countries and regions in the north and in the south are recognizing the capacity of the social economy to contribute to a new model of wealth creation.
While often associated with social services, social economy enterprises exist in all sectors including manufacturing, natural resources, media, telecommunications, culture and the arts, to name a few. Cooperatives and non-profit enterprises are very present in agriculture in the south and increasingly in local food production and distribution – the growing food sovereignty and community supported agriculture movement (CSA)- in the north. Indeed, many social economy enterprises respond to needs that are not met by the public or private sectors. But they are also responding to an increased desire to work collectively. The diversity of the social economy confirms this growing trend, especially among young people.
Several forces are driving the growing interest in the social economy today: (1) the crisis of 2008; (2) the search for alternative forms of economic production and service provision committed to societal well-being; (3) the democratic governance of social economy enterprises and organizations and, finally (4) the proven viability of collective enterprises.
We have learned from the Québec experience that for the social economy to achieve its objectives of democratic socio-economic transformation through the development of new sectors of activity producing goods and services, it requires institutional innovation. This calls for many levels and layers of innovation, not the least of which is an enabling policy framework at all levels of government. It also requires dialogue between all social actors, including the private sector. It requires deliberative processes, in which actors participate in designing strategies of transformation.
In Québec, alliances between the labor movement, the cooperative movement, the environmental and women’s movements and the community or popular sector and, most significantly, an institutional context for multi-stakeholder partnerships and distributed and democratic governance, have been critical to the development of the social economy. The strength and resilience of the social economy is grounded in the capacity of its practitioners to work inter-sectorally, collaboratively and to negotiate with different
levels of government.
The sources of economic growth and decline of cities have long been debated by geographers, economists, urban planners and political scientists. Major cities have undergone significant transformations, particularly in recent years. They are increasingly the sites of creativity and dynamic socio-economic development. This is as true for smaller municipalities as it is for large metropolitan centers. Many innovative cities are capturing the imagination of municipal governments throughout the world as they collaborate with citizens in designing new approaches to urban planning. Cities are also struggling with high levels of poverty, unemployment and social exclusion. The social economy is and can be a key partner in designing a new framework for urban regeneration in cities in the north and in the south that can reduce social inequalities in cities by integrating the social economy into a strategy for urban regeneration. This breaks with a historic trend to separate strategies to increase the competitiveness of cities from strategies for poverty alleviation and social inclusion. A competitive city cannot bear the high cost of social inequality.
Cities have been subject to different approaches to economic development over the last three decades, from the more traditional “big city” development plans to the more current focus on social issues as cities are faced with greater responsibilities, often without corresponding resources. Today, the need for integrated urban planning to address social, economic and physical objectives is increasingly acknowledged, as is the benefit of collaboration between municipal government and all social actors. A comprehensive approach to urban regeneration requires deliberative processes. In Québec, the social economy is inspiring innovative collaboration with municipal governments in large, medium and small cities and towns. This collaboration is transforming relations between municipalities and civil society and is, I believe, a template with even greater potential impact on regional and national governments. Unlike national and regional governments, municipalities are obliged to work across boundaries and apply integrated approaches to development. Separating economic from social objectives is not only more difficult in an urban context, but the peril of doing so is felt immediately. Today, the city is a template for regional and national governments, as they have to increasingly adopt a more comprehensive and integrated approach to socio-economic development. The social
economy provides important lessons in the efficacy of such an approach. It is in this context that I wish to address the role of the
social economy in urban regeneration and its impact on societal well-being.
2013. Prix du Quebéc. The highest distinction awarded by the Gorverment of Quebéc to recognize individuals whose innovative spirit and work has contributed to the development of Quebéc society.