Latest CIRI Working Paper on ‘Dutch social entrepreneurs in international development’ now available

We are pleased to provide an update on the CIRI Working Paper series. The fifth working paper, by Bert Helmsing, Peter Knorringa and Daniel Gomez Gonzalez on ‘Dutch social entrepreneurs in international development’, was published in December 2015 and is available here.

Please find below a list with links to the other papers in the series.

CIRI Working Paper update

Publish your Civic Innovation Research in the CIRI Working Paper Series!

We would like to re-issue our call for proposals for papers to be published in this series.

The CIRI Working Paper series is part of the well-known ISS Working Paper series. It is intended to make research papers available to an audience both within and outside the ISS, with the purpose of inviting comments and provoking discussion. For papers yet to be submitted for publication, this discussion might assist in developing the paper into an improved final manuscript.

We welcome submissions that fall within the broad scope of the Civic Innovation Research Initiative, i.e. exploring how organizations and individuals mobilize to change their societies. We particularly welcome submissions that treat the methodological challenges of conducting research in this area, i.e. inter-cultural dialogues, engaged research, activist research, participatory research, actor self-reflexivity, and multi-stakeholder encounters and exchanges.

We also encourage submissions of non-academic writings such as in-depth interviews and conversations with ‘civic innovators’ and dialogues on ‘innovative’ ideas related to the CIRI research agenda.

For more information, including the author guidelines and the paper template, contact the editor Sylvia I. Bergh at


Have a look at the CIRI Working PapersCIRI-logo-RGB

CIRI Working Paper No. 1: A.H.J. Helmsing (Bert): Analyzing Local Institutional Change: Comparing small farmer participation in high value export chains in Uganda and Peru (September 2013)

CIRI Working Paper No. 2: A.A. Corradi (Ariane Agnes): The building blocks of a resource-based theory of business start-ups: A mixed methods approach to investigate the interaction between markets, institutions, and entrepreneurial learning (March 2014)

CIRI Working Paper No. 3: A.F. Fowler (Alan): Innovation in institutional collaboration: The role of interlocutors (April 2014)

CIRI Working Paper No. 4: K.A. Siegmann (Karin Astrid), J. Merk (Jeroen)1 and P. Knorringa (Peter): Voluntary initiatives in global value chains: Towards labour-led social upgrading? (May 2014)

CIRI Working Paper No. 5: A.H.J. Helmsing (Bert), P. Knorringa (Peter) and D. Gomez Gonzalez (Daniel): Dutch social entrepreneurs in international development: Defying existing micro and macro characterizations (December 2015)

One of my most successful strategies of translating feminist visions into economic policy is simply doing it without spending too many words on the why I do this. I am a feminist. And an economist, scholar, critical thinker, activist, lobbyist, teacher, writer, mother, partner, daughter, sister, rower, reader, home-owner, board member, and learning to become a very basic level drummer. That’s enough words on the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of me. Let me explain rather the ‘how’. How I translate my feminism, connected with or disconnected from my other identities, through my economics, in teaching, lobbying, advocacy, and non-academic writing.

First, I will publish an economics book on the very day that we will have this seminar about feminist visions for economic policy, on the 15th of February at the ISS. In Dutch (sorry). I have opted to write an accessible book for a general public, including policy makers and students and fellow economists, because I am frustrated by the lack of depth and width in economic policy debates. As if there is not a rich history of economic thought from Adam Smith to Amartya Sen.


As if we have to learn time and time again to prevent crises and to get out of them from scratch. As if Marx was only a revolutionary whose ideas have been proven wrong by the fall of the Berlin wall. As if Adam Smith was really the father of neoliberalism. As if Keynes can be reduced to overspending governments. I am angry about such a violation of the history of economic thought. This reductionism seems a strategy to prevent students of economics to learn about other theories than the mainstream, to learn about qualitative methods in economic research, and to learn about the ethical foundations of various economic theories (yes, also utilitarianism as the ethics on which neoclassical economics is founded). To provide a tiny little bit of a balance to this bias, I have decided to explain the basic lessons we could have learned to prevent the 2008 financial crisis, in ten chapters, each dedicated to an innovative insight by a key economist. My book includes two female economists. And it discusses feminist themes of equality, diversity, and caring in the chapters on male economists who dared to talk about these issues. Such as Adam Smith in his Theory of Moral Sentiments (not read by economists), and John Maynard Keynes who wrote about gender equality, and Gunnar Myrdal who explained the persistence of the discrimination of blacks in the US economy in the 1940s. I have not labelled a single chapter “feminist”. But I have written one chapter on a founding mother of feminist economics, Barbara Bergmann, explaining the importance of her work.

lagardeSecond, I have analyzed the Lehman Sisters Hypothesis, put forward by high-level women such as Christine Lagarde and Neelie Kroes, right after the crisis. I found that there is a grain of truth in it, both on the ground of gender differences in the average financial behavior of men and women and, more sensitive in feminist debates, because of biological differences that mediate the behavioral patterns. For example by discussing research on testosterone, cortisol and oxytocine and their two-way relationship with economic variables (including the German Bond rate!) and economic behavior (in particular risk taking and stress-resilience). That research has resulted in invitations as keynote speaker at interesting events. Such as the OECD Head Quarter in Paris, in a seminar series attended by OECD ambassadors or their deputies and OECD staff. And an invitation to Reykjavik, where a female banker whose investment fund was the only one that did not go bankrupt in Iceland in 2008, had organized a conference in order to get the lessons from Lehman Sisters out to an audience of business people, women and men. That was a very inspiring event, where business leaders, from the CEOs of banks to CEOs of global fish exporters, were eager to learn about balancing biased male behavior in finance jobs and leadership positions. And where actress Geena Davis made an insightful and sometimes hilarious speech about her own experiences with gender biases in the film industry.

davisThird, I have done a survey among Dutch bankers on banking culture. My key finding is that the average bank employee is client-oriented but banking culture is not. They do value caring, but their bosses care more for profit. They are generally service-oriented, but the bank leadership focuses on shareholders. To my own surprise many ordinary bankers agree with these findings. And they ask me to train them on how to understand the dominant banking culture and how they can make a contribution to make it more caring. I have done several trainings now with small groups of bankers. One such training took four hours with 22 Amsterdam-based investment bankers (20 male, 2 female). After having explained the ethics of care and how it differs from both utilitarianism and deontology (a rights-perspective), I handed out big sheets of paper and color pencils. I asked them to make a color drawing to illustrate what these ethical approaches mean to them in their daily work. This resulted not only in very creative and sometimes also very funny drawings. But it also led to extremely interesting discussions among the bankers themselves, talking for the first time in their lives about the meaning of serving clients. The same bank has now asked me to repeat the training for another group and not in four hours but in eight hours. I should get canvass and oil paint.sheila e

In conclusion, for me, feminist economics is about doing it, showing how diversity, equality, and caring matter for economic life, and pointing out how policy makers, business people, and others can “do it” as well, integrating these three key feminist themes in their policies and activities. Without having to go through debates about feminism. Remember that economists value efficiency: we like to get straight to the point of ‘how’. Simply doing it, not talking about it. Like my heroine Sheila E on her drumset (for this link you really need to switch on the sound of your device and put it at the max!).

Wendy Harcourt & Saskia Vossenberg


The next session of our Dialogues on Civic Innovation research on 15 February 2016 will be looking at: How do we translate feminist visions on the economy into viable options for action and policy influencing? What openings do we see and what feminist dilemmas do we face when negotiating and debating new forms of economic life and what strategies do we use to counter these?

In an interactive form of dialogue – a fishbowl conversation – we will reflect on these questions by putting the feminist dilemmas and innovative practices of ‘interlocutors’ in the spotlight. These women and men working from a gender lens at the interface of the market and government, actively influencing their economic policy debates, agendas and instruments will begin the conversation and then we will invite the audience to join.

In bringing people from the academe, civil society and government together, we aim to create an open space for scholars, policy makers, activists, development practitioners, students and lobbyists to share in and reflect on our diverse efforts to aim for different and more gender just economic policy and pathways in the Netherlands and beyond.

We would like to open up the conversation by asking four questions that will guide the fishbowl conversation:

Why? What ‘feminist principles’ are important to you and what are the ‘gender just economic alternatives’ that you aim for?

Where? In what spaces, with what audiences, do you try to create openings, debate or negotiate for new forms of economic life?

How? Which activities and strategies do you use?

What? What dilemma’s do you encounter and what innovative practices do you use to counter these?

Democratisation in Indonesia

Democratisation in Indonesia

By Kristian Stokke/ Department of Sociology and Human Geography, University of Oslo

Recent decades have seen a global spread of democracy and increased attention to decentralisation in discourses, institutional arrangements and practices of governance. At the same time, economic globalization and the global spread of neo-liberalism have pushed public administration towards market and network forms of governance. Taken together, these processes have created new and widened spaces for different actors with very diverse interests, capacities and strategies, but also reduced the public affairs that come under democratic control and limited the substance of popular participation. Most post-transition states have thus not achieved well-functioning democracy but can be more accurately described as flawed democracies.

These problems of weak popular influence on public affairs means that it is necessary to ‘bring politics back in’ – to politicise democracy – both in academic analyses and through political struggles and broad alliances. This means to draw attention to and further the ways in which people participate or are represented in the governance of public affairs, and to enhance the strategies and capacities of various actors to use and transform minimalist democratic institutions in a more substantive direction.

But how will this come about? In a recent anthology on democratization in the global South, Olle Törnquist and I argue that it is possible to make advances on the basis of formal democratic institutions, even in deeply flawed democracies (Stokke & Törnquist, 2013). While acknowledging the importance of structural constraints on democratization, we insist on the centrality of ‘transformative democratic politics’. By this we mean political agendas, strategies and alliances that use formal and minimalist democracy to introduce politics and policies that may enhance people’s chances of both using and improving democracy.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of political and developmental approaches to democracy assistance and how can they be further developed to promote substantive democracy and citizenship?

Carothers (2009) points to a divide between political and developmental approaches to democracy promotion among aid organizations. The two approaches hold distinctly different views on the value and concept of democracy, the understanding of democratization and the means for democracy assistance.

However, recent years have seen a convergence between the two approaches in the sense that both have come to place a strong emphasis on state building as a precondition for democracy. This convergence on state capacity building accentuates these critical questions. While there is general acceptance that functioning state institutions are crucial for democracy, peace and development, the mechanisms whereby initial state building is followed by political liberalization and substantial democratization remain unclear at best. In fact, it may be argued that such institution building in the context of authoritarianism may be more likely to consolidate and legitimize semi-authoritarian forms of rule.

This danger of institutionalizing minimalist and illiberal democracies supports the argument in favor of a gradualist or transformative approach to democracy, whereby pro-democracy forces are empowered to use minimalist political spaces to push for more substantive forms of popular representation and to promote policy making towards people-centered social and economic development. The implication of these critical remarks is that international democracy assistance needs to balance developmental state building with political assistance to pro-democracy forces to ensure substantive democratic transformations in terms of representation, justice and welfare.

I am looking forward to your comments and to discussing the potential of Transformative Democratic Politics of Citizenship during an ISS Dialogue on Civic Innovation Research on 1 February 2016.

Will Derks / Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD)


Representative democracy is deteriorating. It seems unable to live up to the expectations we once had and meets increasingly with scepticism from citizens who feel detached and disenfranchised — it is, in short, in a crisis of legitimacy. Something similar, no doubt, could be said about the political party, which today is among the world’s most distrusted institutions, often lacking in vision and ideology and no longer able to aggregate the aspirations of the citizenry in an era of much less conformity than the one in which this institution was once conceived.

There is a whole range of responses to this major development. Political populism is now discernible all over the world, to some extent providing a valid diagnosis though without offering a feasible remedy. Technocratic “solutions” are rife as well — meant to enhance representative democracy’s efficiency but at the same time invigorating its legitimacy problem. Think of so-called “quangos” which implement legislation without being democratically accountable. Some see the answer to representative democracy’s ailment in sortition (rather than, or in combination with, elections): a means to select citizens for public office that was used in classical Athens. Numerous initiatives are also being taken to involve citizens directly in political decision-making, even in connection with constitutional drafting processes.

All this may be bewildering, but what seems certain is that we are on the brink of a new era and that democracy is on its way to becoming more direct, deliberative and participatory. The technology that today is changing the world so profoundly and quickly is coming to democracy’s aid in this respect, as more and more (free and open source) software is becoming available that facilitates what has been dubbed “strong democracy” — a democratic system in which citizens govern themselves to the greatest extent possible.

In the last few years, a growing number of initiatives have been taken across the globe to set up platforms for collective, on-line decision-making. Amongst these are Airesis, Loomio, DemocracyOS, YourPriorities, IserveU, LiquidFeedback and MyMadison. These platforms constitute a fascinating development and a most promising technological break-through. They are all sophisticated and visionary tools for solid participant-driven proposition development and decision-making processes — also for users that are not very tech savvy. Small wonder that they have already acquired a certain international reputation and are now being used to facilitate democratic processes in various countries, in diverse contexts and in a variety of organisations, including political parties. In The Last Vote; The Threats to Western Democracy, his recently published analysis of the trials and tribulations democracy is presently going through, senior journalist Philip Coggan states: “If there is one region of the developed world where democracy seems to be most threatened, it is Europe.” The coming into being of these digital platforms suggest that we need not despair, that help is under way and that there is hope for democracy, even in Europe.

Let’s discuss the future of democracy! Leave your comments on this blog – or join our ISS Dialogue on “Transformative democratic politics of citizenship” on February 1, 2016!

We Are Here Academy, Amsterdam


The We Are Here Academy is an educational initiative offering university-level courses for undocumented individuals, taught by professional lecturers on a voluntary basis. The We Are Here Academy upholds the rights for any person, whether or not in possession of legal status, to pursue an education. It gives voice to people who have been silenced. All the courses taught at the academy are designed to enable students to make their voices heard, and to facilitate their protest.

  1. It’s important to consider how WAH* connects to research. In many cases, students or researchers that do research about WAH just ‘take’ knowledge without giving something back. Therefore we believe it’s important that researchers think about how their study can benefit and/or support WAH. How can the knowledge produced in these studies be useful for WAH? What is it in for them? For example, legal research that examines the possibilities of entrepreneurship for refugees in limbo, so they can generate income in legal way. Or, an analysis of the strategies of other protest groups and social movements that could serve as an example or inspiration for their own movement.
  1. Introduce new practices and vocabularies. Such new practices create space for change by expanding the ‘holes’ in the existing framework and raising awareness. This is also how the WAH Academy was established: refugees in limbo are not allowed to register at universities, but they are allowed to learn. This way, we create possibilities for learning and we create visibility and awareness about the restrictions/shortcoming of the current Dutch policy.
  1. Consider how to establish relationships in research. Making connections and initiating collaborations are very important for We Are Here because researchers can help develop a new imagery and vocabulary around refugees in limbo, and describes the presence of the ones that are being denied in their existence. In our experience we continuously need to redefine and renegotiate the existing frameworks in solidarity with the collective struggles we support. How to have relationships based on equality in a society that excludes, divides and produces inequality? How do you position yourself as a researcher? Here, things to consider are for example; how to collaborate when the law doesn’t allow your companions to work?
  1. Reserving space within universities where social movements can propose research, and can connect with researchers that conduct this research for/with them. Such research can arm them with theoretical tools and knowledge that strengthen their movement. For example, researching possibilities for lobby and political campaigning, by combining state of the art knowledge about current political decision making and public opinion with historical perspectives. Or analysis of existing frames and vocabularies, the consequences of those frames for WAH, and possibilities to introduce counter-frames.

* these proposals/statements are not limited to We Are Here, but, naturally, they also apply for groups and movements in similar situations of (political) exclusion.


We are looking forward to your comments – and to discussing our and other examples of doing critical civic innovation research during an ISS Dialogue on Civic Innovation Research on January 18, 2016.

What is required to produce, heed and mobilize anti-hegemonic knowledge? If systems, symbolic realms, and power structures are inherently conservative, then one of the hallmarks of progressive knowledge will be its near impossibility to be mobilized. Attempts at radical insurgency have occasionally made the ineluctable system shudder, rarely make even semi-permanent fissures in the edifice. Nevertheless, some tenuous change has occurred, often localized and driven by marginalized groups who patiently and thoughtfully navigate the perils of the prevailing hegemonic discourses.

We attempted to generate such anti-hegemonic knowledge through our Border Justice series at Arizona State University between 2003 and 2011. These 3-5 day long events included public art, film screenings, theatre performances, panels of activists, scholars and writers, student poster sessions, candlelight vigils, and musical performances. These were grassroots efforts led by a group of faculty, students, and staff with cooperation from community agencies, elected representatives, businesses, and activists.

Our evolving objective was to contribute to the creation of an anti-hegemonic discourse on U.S.-Mexico Border issues by providing forums where we privilege the voices of those marginalized by predominant discourses. Our initial event, back in 2003, focused on the killing of young women and girls (the famous femicides) in Ciudad Juárez and was very successful in bringing attention to the real world problem. The experiences of marginalized groups when it is presented through public art, theatre, or testimonies, or through audience participation in art workshops, moot courts, and interactive art exhibits, serves as a shock or frisson that interrupts the predominant discourse if even for a moment. It is in these moments that more traditional discursive practices such as town halls, panel discussions, and poster sessions can make the most impact.

Dream Act Street TheatreRicha Nagar’s recent works detail the challenges faced in generating and mobilizing anti-hegemonic knowledge by critically reflecting on her decades-long solidarity work with a mostly lower-class women’s group in India. To co-author feminisms across borders involves thousands of decisions, building relationships, learning from, listening to, admitting mistakes. This is a journey of radical vulnerability and love, of telling stories, of poetry, of tears and smiles, of trust and hope, distrust and hopelessness. This is not done in an instant. It is done knowing it will probably need to be re-done, that no step is final. It is creation, continuous critical creation.

To produce anti-hegemonic knowledge requires multiple platforms, multiple partners, and multiple roles. A new platform developed to privilege often unheard voices in human rights discourses is the website Global Human Rights Direct, to be launched in mid-January. Global Human Rights Direct was originally designed to connect human rights stakeholders from around the globe via videoconference. It has morphed into an all-purpose social media site for human rights. Our goals are quite ambitious and include: 1) to revolutionize how human rights is taught, how it is conceived, and what counts as expert knowledge in rights discourses, 2) to empower local activists and survivors as they engage in meaningful dialogue with students, instructors, and community groups worldwide, and 3) human rights discourses will be enriched by considering voices that are not normally heard and publicizing issues that are often ignored.

The design of the website is evolving into the creation of a continuing shifting canvas on which users can organically create the website. We are now negotiating numerous difficult issues, such as how a platform designed to empower marginalized voices can simultaneously go viral and remain anti-hegemonic.

I am looking forward to your comments – and to discussing these and other examples of doing critical civic innovation research during an ISS Dialogue on Civic Innovation Research on January 18, 2016.

William Paul Simmons, Gender & Women’s Studies, University of Arizona

by Constance, Wendy and Daniela, with comments by the participants in Italic, Bolsena 16 July 2015


Good food, good conversations, inspiration, welcoming, warmth, encouragement, intellectual luxury, exchange of economic(s) insights and perspectives and alternative practices, sharing (personal/academic) research experiences …

Over the first weekend in July, students and faculty from the Economics department at La Sapienza, Rome, and the Civic Innovation Research Initiative of the International Institute of Social studies, Erasmus University (ISS/EUR)came together, along with members of  the Lazio community based organization Punti di Vista and Tuscan  Hirschman Institute, to rethink economics with a focus on alternatives. Though coming from contrasting disciplinary backgrounds, the summer school was designed to explore how to address the political issues of equity and justice within economic theory and practice. The first day laid out and discussed key concepts underpinning political economy before moving on to discussions of alternatives in the second day.

I think it is interesting that things that are obvious in one discipline are not in another. Why are some things not obvious?

The morning began with a ‘back to basics’ discussion of Keynesian economics led by Claudio Sardoni of La Sapienza, the group opened up a discussion on how Keynesian principles play out outside of Europe/North America. Questions were raised about how to account for environmental degradation and informal economies. This was complemented by a mapping out of the history of money/currency as a means of exchange as an integral element to capitalist economics, led by the Modern Money Economics Theory Group. The discussion highlighted the importance of forms of taxation and central banking on monetary systems. Participants during the debate pointed out the absence of a discussion on the interplay between colonialism and the precious materials used as currency (or to guarantee the worth of currency, i.e. the gold standard).

Georgina Gomez of ISS broadened the morning’s discussions by discussing a Polanyian perspective on what constitutes the economy from the position that all efforts made to survive, be they included in GDP calculations or not, should be understood as part of the economy. With this in mind, she provided a detailed introduction into social and solidarity economies with examples of community currencies in Argentina (Redes de Trueque), Spain (Pumarejo) and Kenya (Bangla-Pesa). Georgina challenged the idea that mono-currency economies are ‘natural’ or most effective to meet people’s needs, these examples offer lived alternatives.

Rethinking economics

Capital markets and wage labour

A late afternoon discussion of the state led to questions about encroachment on civil society spaces and the failure of movements and civic action to propose alternatives.

Day two began by picking up on the previous evening’s conversations about civil society. Kees Biekart of ISS led a discussion comparing 1968 social actions with post 2010 actions. Building on  conversation about participants’ experiences, the discussion looked at the deep ideological roots of 1968 and the global reach of social media of post 2010 organizing.

Offering the contours of a place-based analysis, Wendy Harcourt of ISS and Punti di Vista spoke of the importance of the local and its relations with the questions on democracy, equity an as a concrete example of implementing alternatives within NGOs, Nathan Morrow of Tulane University and Punti di Vista discussed his work on rethinking wellbeing in the context of monitoring and evaluation. Pointing out the failures of conventional indicators to capture complex and difficult to quantify people’s understandings of their own wellbeing, Nathan explained the wellbeing framework he helped to develop for World Vision that captured some of this complexity. While offering examples of his work in Louisiana and community forests in Ethiopia, Nathan also spoke to the great potential of technological improvements that allow for constant, sometimes crowd-sourced, information about the state of natural environments.

I was exposed to many practical studies. When studying it is important to get our hands dirty like some of the alternatives we discussed this weekend

The summer school culminated with an afternoon session, led by Sabrina Aguiari of Punti di Vista, which explored lived experiences and possibilities for alternatives that allow for a sense of justice and equity within economic thinking. The exercise allowed participants to speak to their ‘alternatives’ work. Groups discussions took place along four broad themes: awareness and information; economic and social sustainability; care, consumerism and wellbeing; and governance, democracy and power.

I am thinking about the importance of imagination, when we are criticizing we forget to image what we would like.

As a recurring theme throughout the weekend while thinking through the unfolding situation in Greece, was what do alternatives look like and will they be ‘allowed’ by powerful states and hegemonic capitalist power?

We brought together different worldview in a beautiful place. Seeing common problems allows us to see how to move forward.

If I had any doubt about the contribution of our paper on “Towards new perspectives on work precarity and decent work of sex workers” to feminist debates, the key note lectures of the 9th European Feminist Research Conference “Sex & Capital” at the University of Lapland, Rovaniemi (Finland) made it very clear that many feminists would not be ready to accept sex work as work, let alone support the labour approach to sex work that Silke Heuman and I propose in our paper that was co-authored by the Empower Foundation, a sex worker organisation from Thailand. In her keynote address, Suvi Ronkainen, University of Vaasa saw the idea of reconstructing prostitution as sex work as one more argument for limitless commodification of women’s bodies.

I have been aware of the silences surrounding sex work in discourses about and interventions for decent work. If at all, prostitution is mentioned as a hazardous occupation in the context of the worst forms of child labour, of forced labour and as an issue for HIV prevention. Advocates and scholars of labour rights do not seem to take much interest in ordinary sex workers’ labour conditions and how they could be improved. Working together with Silke during the past year, I have started seeing this as an expression of the implicit refusal to see work and employment to be related to people’s sexuality – and vice versa.

blog foto KS 2Yet, I was surprised to see many fellow feminists’ faces freeze when you refer to ‘sex work’ rather than to the term prostitution. In our paper, we refer to sex work as the explicit exchange of sexual services for material gain. The term ‘sex work’ acknowledges the provision of such services as work, entitling sex workers to labour rights’ guarantees in principle. According to an abolitionist feminist stance, however, this acknowledgement brushes under the carpet that men’s paid access to women’s bodies forms an extreme expression of patriarchy and violence against women.

No doubt, sex work takes place in the context of patriarchy. But: are women the only providers of paid sexual services and are all customers men? And, true: sex work is often associated with violence and very hazardous working conditions. Yet, is this inherent in the occupation or rBlog foto KS 1ather a result of sex workers’ social and legal stigmatization? I asked Suvi Ronkainen whether the features and risks of sex work that she highlighted were not very similar to the conditions in domestic work, especially regarding the involvement of body and emotion as well as concerning the occupational hazards involved. Domestic workers have successfully fought for recognition and rights as workers, recently culminating in the ratification of an international convention on domestic work. Her answer was brief: The forms of commodification in domestic work and sex work cannot be compared.

I have yet to understand, why not.

The paper that Silke and I presented during the conference is based on the analysis of debates at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) around new regulatory instruments for forced labour. We argue that dominant discourses about ‘prostitution’ and ‘trafficking’ silence sex workers’ legitimate demands to implement policies that really end exploitative labour conditions in the sex industry. We propose an alternative labour approach to sex work that acknowledges sex work as work and argue that this helps strengthening sex workers’ agency and improving their working conditions. This acknowledgement alone is not sufficient, though. We point out that sex workers’ precarious labour conditions need to be understood in the context of a global (neoliberal) political economy that marginalises the majority of workers world-wide. Only then would action to empower them economically and socially succeed.

The concern for sex workers’ precarious labour conditions motivates antagonistic feminist discourses and policy prescriptions. We left Rovaniemi with the impression that a labour approach to sex work has the potential to help bridging this divide and setting modest steps towards decent work of sex workers.

Karin Astrid Siegmann, with Silke Heumann


This is the first blog of a CIRI roundtable on Complementary Currency Systems and South-North knowledge transfer. The event got together 25 academics and practitioners from several generations and European countries.

by Georgina M. Gómez

The meeting was an invitation to re-think the differences between the CCS in the developed and developing countries, and to explore learning from each other. While in Europe and North America the schemes with complementary currencies focus on promoting a sustainable economy and enhancing social cohesion, in Latin America they are mainly seen as tools for income generation and the improvement of welfare. The differences in terms of motivations are clear in the economic daily practices in the North and South, and have made the transfer of knowledge among practitioners quite slow. Attempts to reproduce in the North the methodologies of the South have been extremely rare, possibly because of the conception that the contexts are too different for those experiences to be useful or perhaps because they are not sufficiently well-known. In contrast with the geographical compartmentalization of CCS experiences, researchers in the academic field have studied CCS in the North and the South with the same theoretical tools and frameworks, which are almost invariably designed in the North, as if context need not affect the research tools and instruments. We started the meeting with two presentations of the largest scale CCS in the South.

blog georgina foto 1

Voices from the South

The first speaker was William Ruddick, from the Kenyan organization Ruddick presented the case of which he was one of the main organisers, Bangla-Pesa, the first community currency implemented in a slum in Mombasa in 2012. A legal battle occurred then between the organisers, who were accused of currency forgery, and the government, until the later understood that the notes were similar to business vouchers that circulated within a closed network. The Bangla-Pesa has been used without problems since the courts’ allowed it in 2013 and the scheme has been replicated in two informal settlements in Nairobi in 2014. This year the Bangla-Pesa model has been implemented and expanded upon by in South Africa, in the area of Bergrivier.

The Bangla-Pesa, is based on building a closed currency circuit of approximately 100 users to lock in production, circulation and consumption in the territory. Potential members are introduced to the scheme by four existing members who vouch for the new one. The organisers then issue the equivalent in complementary currency of 400 Kenyan Shillings or 500 Rand in the South African programmes, of which roughly half are given to the new entrant. The rest is a contribution fee of the new member to a community fund and will be used to pay community service work, like garbage collection done by youth. The daily value traded is about 10,000 Kenyan Shillings (1000 Rand in South Africa) and engages daily about 100 businesses. That means that Bangla-Pesa enables an extra 100 Kenyan Shillings worth traded daily per businesses.

blog georgina foto 2

The second speaker was Carlos de Freitas of the Brazilian Palmas Institute. Similarly to the Mombasa case, the financial activities of Palmas started in an undeveloped and poor informal settlement called Conjunto Palmeiras in the North of Fortaleza, Brazil. The aim was the same: to retain as much value as possible in the neighbourhood, so that local needs could be satisfied with local production, and to support local entrepreneurship. However, in the case of community Banco Palmas the physical currency was created in 2002 as a spin-off of a pre-existent micro-credit programme and not primarily as a means of payment. Banco Palmas bank provides small loans in palmas (not in the official currency) that allow the community enterprises and individual firms to start their production, which they would never be able to obtain from a regular bank. Much of their start-up capital is spent locally in wages, inputs, and space rent, so it generates local economic effects.

Banco Palmas is not a pure credit system as defined by Wicksell (1898) in ‘Interests and Prices’, because every palma in circulation has a back-up in official currency. Credits offered do not require collateral, because neighbors vouch for the person receiving it. Producers may obtain interest-free small loans in Palmas currency or regular money loans with a small interest rate. The approach of Banco Palmas articulates several projects to tackle social inequalities, participatory education, community organization and a general territorial development approach. In 2011 there were around 270 businesses using the Palmas currency and 46,000 Palmas in circulation (around 20,000 Euro at that time).  The scheme has created 1300 jobs but is presently in decline due to the availability of other welfare protection policies in georgina foto 3


To wrap up, around 2000 experts on CCS were avidly looking at the case of the Argentine Redes de Trueque for an example of scaling-up, around 2007 they were looking at Brazil and the Community Banks, of which Palmas was the first and most prominent. The focus is now shifting to Africa with the examples of Kenya and South Africa, in which a number of the problems experienced in the other two are working to be corrected.

International Institute of Social Studies

CIRI aims to scale up and identify synergies between existing research at ISS on civic agency and change agents, as drivers of societal change and development. This blog is a forum on which to share and discuss themes and issues which fall within the broad framework of the programme.

  • Paula Sánchez: I will be very happy to bring to the discussion also the current movement nuit debout that is spread [...]
  • Sanne Taekema: It is also helpful to consider some historical examples of mobilizing law for social purposes. It i [...]
  • 4 April 2016: prof. Taekema speaks at ISS – INFAR: […] Read the whole abstract of prof. Taekema on the blog of ISS, by clicking here. […] [...]
  • Jeff: Here is a more concrete example: If you are discussing THE ROLE OF LAW IN PROTECTING THE ENVIRONM [...]
  • Jeff: Legal mobilization is a crucial topic to discuss, particularly among those in the legal field who te [...]