Cooperativa Integral Minga in Portugal, for sustainable and resilient territories

Although it may receive different names depending on the country (social economy, solidarity economy, community economy, collective entrepreneurship), in general the concept of social and solidarity economy (SSE) brings together a set of organizations whose activities – in particular the provision of goods or services – are based on common principles of social utility, democratic and participatory management, local roots and return to the community (see in this sense, for example, the definition of the SSE in Quebec according to its Social Economy Act of 2013). These features of service to the common good place social and environmental issues beyond profit, which makes the SSE a very relevant economic framework for implementing the transition. It is important to note that an SSE enterprise seeks economic viability, but that this is not its ultimate goal but a means to ensure its sustainability. To this can be added that some of its legal forms are multi-party. That is to say, they allow the commitment and participation in the governance of an organization – or even of a project, as we will see – of various stakeholders, such as producers, consumers or even local governments. With some variations according to each particular juridic framework, this is the case of legal structures such as solidarity cooperatives in Quebec, cooperative societies of collective interest (SCIC) in France, integral cooperatives in Catalonia or social cooperatives in Italy. All of them allow different types of actors to actively participate in a multi-activity initiative, thus resulting in a particularly suitable vehicle for the operationalization of a territorial development project based on resilience and socio-ecological sustainability.

In the municipality of Montemor-o-Novo, some 100 km east of Lisbon and with just over 15,000 inhabitants, the  Cooperativa Integral Minga is a good example of this type of territorial social and solidarity economy project. According to the Portuguese legal framework, Minga is a multisectoral cooperative, which means that it operates in a variety of social and economic spheres – its sectoral branches cover agroecology, production and commercialization of goods and services, and sustainable housing and construction. The cooperative searches to promote in this way an economy of proximity and increase societal resilience by facilitating the use of locally available resources, both human and natural, to develop common solutions for shared needs.  This approach translates into a strengthening of the relationship between producers and consumers to the point where each member of Minga is in fact a prosumer: he/she can both produce and consume in the different branches of the cooperative. Within the sectoral branches of Minga is then possible to produce and consume biocosmetics, detergents, local farming goods, or solar panel installations, to give some examples. The cooperative aims to face in this way the population loss, decline of local commerce and abandonment of agriculture common to many rural Portuguese towns.  The whole is aligned with an idea of ‘​​degrowth’, calling to step-out to the course for economic growth as an indicator of prosperity and to consider instead other objectives such as collective well-being, social development, or the balance of the ecosystem. Ineed, Minga relates to the Portuguese verb mingar/minguar which literally means ‘degrow’.