1963-2018 - 55 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Social Dimensions of Sustainable Development

Social and Solidarity Economy for the SDGs: Spotlight on the Social Economy in Seoul

  • Project from: 2017 to 2018

This project examines the social economy (SE) in Seoul, Republic of Korea, and how it is contributing to implementing and, ultimately, achieving, the city’s “localized” SDGs. Characterized by a rapid development of proactive SE policies, dramatic growth of SE organizations and enterprises, and the Seoul Metropolitan Government’s strong commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the city’s experience offers a valuable opportunity to further enrich understanding of social and solidarity economy as a means of implementation of the SDGs. This is the first case study of a series of research projects on SSE and the SDGs which UNRISD is planning to undertake.

The Research Issue in Context

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development emphasizes the need to “achieve sustainable development in its three dimensions—economic, social and environmental—in a balanced and integrated manner” (UNGA, 2015, para 2). This implies that business-as-usual approaches are no longer an option if the “transformative vision” of the Agenda is to be realized and the interconnected challenges facing humanity are to be addressed. A more transformative, innovative and inclusive approach to development needs to be pursued instead.

In recent years attention has increasingly been turned towards the social and solidarity economy (SSE) and its approaches to sustainable development that incorporate social, economic and at times environmental objectives in an integrated and balanced manner. SSE has the capacity to address some of the structural underpinnings of vulnerability, exclusion and unsustainable development. Its integrated nature means it could potentially contribute to the realization of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs with their overarching principle, “leave no one behind”.

This potential relationship between SSE and the SDGs has yet to be thoroughly explored. The available knowledge is largely based on either heuristic exercises matching areas of SSE intervention with specific SDGs, or conjecture about SSE's potential in particular cases. Often ignoring the underlying political economy, institutional and cultural factors—or, indeed, the enabling environment for SSE—such matching exercises and conjecture are less useful for policy makers and practitioners interested in how and to what extent SSE can contribute to the SDGs. The research on the social economy (SE) in Seoul and its contribution to implementing and, ultimately, achieving the localized SDGs offers a valuable opportunity to build the evidence base and enrich our understanding of SSE as a means of implementation for the SDGs.

Research Objectives

This project aims to generate evidence and analysis that will enrich our understanding of the social economy in Seoul and its role in implementing the city’s localized SDGs. In doing so it will contribute to dialogues and strategies on SSE and the SDGs more broadly. Specifically, the proposed research will deepen the understanding of:
  • characteristics of the SE in Seoul, such as: origins, capacity, competencies in the areas of productivity and demand-led growth, social capital, gender equality, working conditions, managerial and administrative practices, labour relations, democratic decision making, resilience and sustainability, and participation in policy making;
  • the interactions between the SE in Seoul and in other regions and cities in the Republic of Korea and elsewhere;
  • the relationship of the SE with other spheres of the economy such as the public economy, the private sector, and the informal economy;
  • public policies for the SE such as laws, policies, programmes, plans and public organizations;
  • Seoul’s enabling institutional environment for the SE, in particular, Seoul Metropolitan Government’s capacity; policy coherence and multilevel governance; participation and institutionalization; and sustainability of government intervention;
  • the distinctiveness of Seoul’s enabling institutional environment for the SE in comparison with selected reference cases around the world;
  • the localized SDGs in Seoul; and
  • the pathways by which the SE in Seoul can contribute to achieving the localized SDGs.

Methodology and Approach

The project adopts a mixed approach of qualitative and quantitative methods. It will include thematic studies, in-depth research on SE case studies in Seoul, cross-case comparative analysis, and SE policy initiatives.

Research Beneficiaries

The findings of this project will be particularly valuable to policy makers and their advisors at the local, national and international levels tasked with the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. The findings and lessons will also be of value to civil society and advocacy groups or others aiming to promote social and solidarity-based economic practices. They will also be useful to the research community in advancing their understanding of the relationship between SSE and the SDGs.

Outputs and Activities

The project produced the following publications.

  1. Localizing the SDGs through Social and Solidarity Economy (Research and Policy Brief 24)
  2. The Social Economy in Seoul: Assessing the Economic, Social, Environmental and Political Impacts (Research and Policy Brief 25)
  3. The Social Economy and an Integrated Approach to the Localized SDGs in Seoul: Interrogating the Evidence (Research and Policy Brief 26)

Research Team

Research Coordinator
Ilcheong Yi

Research Analysts
Suyeon Lee
Ibrahim Saïd

Heejin Ahn
Michelle Jaramillo
Yejin Lee
Huyna Yi

Advisory Group
Moo-Kwon Chung (Yonsei University)
Jongick Jang (Hanshin University)
Tae In Jung (Karl Polanyi Institute Asia)
Euiyoung Kim (Seoul National University)
Hong Kil Kim (Seoul Metropolitan Government)
Tae-In Kim (Suwon Sustainable City Foundation, Social Economy Center)
Young Kim (Seoul Social Economy Network)
Eunae Lee (Seoul Social Economy Center)
Eun Sun Lee (Korea University)
Marguerite Mendell (Concordia University)
Peter Utting (Centro para la Economía Social)
Joon Young Yi (Yonsei University)


This project is made possible by funding from the Global Social Economy Forum

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