Peru Sasia: “Agency in processes of personal and collective change: the role of social learning in the case of Fiare Banca Etica”


Inspirational Lecture by professor Peru Sasialeader of the credit cooperative Fiare Banca Etica and Professor at Deusto University, Basque Country, Spain, at the Social Learning Workshop “Motivations, relations and transformations: the role of social learning in collective agency for social innovation”.

The Social Learning Workshop was an Integration Workshop organized within the EU FP7 Funded TRANSIT project. TRANSIT is an international research project that aims to develop a theory of Transformative Social Innovation that is useful to both research and practice.

“Agency in processes of personal and collective change: the role of social learning in the case of Fiare Banca Etica”

Report by Isabel Lema-Blanco

Professor Peru Sasia explained in his talk the emergence of the Fiare project (a credit cooperative based on the Basque Country), started in 2002 by a group of pioneers –linked to the University and the social and solidarity economy- that aimed to create a new banking institution, based on ethical principles.

Fiare is described as a grassroots initiative -in terms of emergence and consolidation- that aims to promote new forms of financial intermediation to guarantee the access to credit to “non-bankable people” (population/entities excluded from the baking system). The core of Fiare has been –and continues to be- a strong network of social organizations that represents the sector of social and solidarity economy in Spain.

Altogether, Fiare is composed by thousands of individuals that contribute in a volunteering way to the constitution of the credit cooperative in Spain (even now, when Fiare has merged with the Italian Banca Populare Etica). Sasia affirms that Fiare has been very good at collecting talented “militant” people.

However, the high intensive voluntariness that this type of organizations requires is also a challenge because “Fiare needs very deep involvement but being sustained only by superheroes is unsustainable at the long term”. In order to gain wider public support, Fiare needs to overcome cultural barriers and challenges in terms of collecting initiatives and people to join Fiare Banca Etica “I do not want you to consume ethical banking products, but to build an ethical financial system; one of the goals of the initiative is growing seeds and fostering new projects to emerge”. Another arising goal is approaching to young people that do not trust or relate with banking institutions.

As a counter movement, Fiare does not only play an intermediary role but intends to change the system through the creation of networks and alliances with other institutions “we want to change the system but from inside the system. Also, we consider that changing the financial system is not only our responsibility and more institutionalization of ethical banking is needed”. However, supporting ethical banking is not as attractive and profitable as other mainstream options so Fiare´s clients are people looking for “social interest”, accepting lower rates for the sake of common good: “identifying satisfaction of self-interest with the maximization of economic interest is a fallacy”. Alternatively, people in Fiare feel satisfied contributing to social change in this way and Fiare counts with 39.000 members and hundreds of local working groups across, performing advocacy and supporting para-financial activities.

Sasia speaks about the necessity of a “cultural revolution”; the big challenge that alternative banks have is not related with mainstream institutions (e.g. the Bank of Europe) but with “middle-class” engagement in credit cooperatives and social economy “we have to be engaged with cultural challenges; one of our goals is fostering new social projects to emerge”. According to Sasia, ambitions of changing the system involves necessarily that social innovations should relate and engage with public institutions. However, initiatives should be aware of not compromising their principles and core values “we are not pure social movements. We want to talk to local administrations, national and regional governments. We have taken actions and making suggestions for changing the criteria that public administrations use when making their purchases. The issue is how to convince institutions to join Fiare without losing our identity.

Cultural changes have been observed in terms of relations among clients, customers and banking institutions due to the fact that, most of the banking operations are done using online platforms: “all the banks are going to the cloud, something is changing, the challenge is how to use this as an opportunity to increase the social value of our economic activity”. However, social innovations are grounded on personal relations, “face-to-face communication” permits building group identities, social learning arises in informal sharing spaces, etc. As a social movement, Fiare would like to maintain closer relations with their associates and clients, based on local short-chain networks, which seems to be a challenge.

Plenary discussion focused on how to extend the credit cooperative activity not only in the Spanish and Italian context but across European context. In spite of consolidating a European credit cooperative was an ambitious objective, Sasia recognizes that these kinds of processes require some conditions to make it possible. For instance, trust and confidence between potential partners, time as well as capacity to deal with legal issues and different national banking regulations. However, other type of relations are feasible through FEBEA (European Federation of Ethical and Alternative Bank), which have facilitated the creation of new banking institutions and networking relations.

Otherwise, Fiare Banca Etica aims to be a “laboratory for the new economy” grounded on trust relations between different organizations and people who aim to change the economic and financial system. The question that arises is whether the social basis of Fiare is strong enough to support the network that members try to build: “We are 39.000 members; we have 20 local chapters in Spain and 60 in Italy. In reality only the 10% participate in daily activities or assemblies, which means that 20-30 people regularly represent Fiare in their local communities”. Discussions came also around the use and dependency of technology due to the fact that technology development does not involve necessarily positive contributions to people´s wellbeing: “technology is not neutral, technology changes you. We should place some red alarms and be critical about the use we make of technology”.

Download Sasia’s presentation HERE

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