Spotlight Interviews with Co-operators

Interview with Ekaterina Dimitrova, Project Manager, Monnaie Léman, Geneva, Switzerland

“Spotlight Interviews with Co-operators” is a series of interviews with co-operators from around the world with whom ILO officials have crossed paths during the course of their work on cooperatives and the wider social and soli-darity economy (SSE). On this occasion, the ILO interviewed Ekaterina Dimitrova, Project Manager, Monnaie Léman, Geneva, Switzerland.

Article | 20 November 2023

How did you first get involved in working with the local social currency Léman?

My involvement with the Association Monnaie Léman started as a volunteer in 2019. My focus was on exploring the impact of local currencies as an effective public policy tool. I was particularly interested in the ability of the Léman to strengthen local economy, empower socially and environmentally responsible individuals and businesses, and help stabilise employment in Geneva region. For me, the true potential of local currencies lies in their integration into community dynamics and in their use by public authorities as instruments for shaping public policies. Since then, my aim has been to raise awareness and encourage the adoption and use of the Léman by public entities.

In fact, a local currency can be a very powerful tool to stimulate the local economy, build economic resilience and act as a safety net in times of crisis. For example, if it is collected in the form of payments for public services or even taxes, it can be spent by the administration on local projects, goods or services. It can also be used to support small businesses through grants in local currency, to encourage environmentally and socially responsible behaviour.

Well, I must admit that it is not always easy to persuade public authorities, as it involves political decision-making at the local level, a process that is often complex and time-consuming. But we keep on planting ideas that I am convinced will grow and grow.

What is the local social currency Léman about?

Created as a complementary currency and recognised as a public utility in 2019, the Léman operates in the cross-border region around Lake Geneva. Democratically governed, it is a citizens' currency adopted by individuals and companies committed to environmentally and socially responsible practices, as set out in the association’s charter. The Léman exists in various forms, including paper, electronic and a distinctive "mutual" form. The latter is a barter/exchange system consisting of spending lines accessible to professional members, companies and businesses. This financial instrument is particularly useful for newly established companies or those requiring greater liquidity; it can also be used to pay wages to individuals.

The Léman is a pioneering local cryptocurrency that operates on its own blockchain, designed to be non-speculative and energy efficient. From the start, sharing experiences has been at the heart of its development: the payment application has been built in collaboration with other local currencies, it is free (open source) and can be replicated in other parts of the world.

What is the link between local currencies and employment?

Local currencies can stabilise employment by promoting local exchanges, supporting small businesses and strengthening the economic resilience of territorial communities, thereby reducing vulnerability to global economic shocks.

The direct impact on employment will depend on the level of adoption and on local economic circumstances, in particular local administrations. Local currencies can play a role in stimulating economic activity, with multiple effects on employment. They stimulate the local economy by encouraging spending within the region, thereby supporting small businesses, which are an important source of employment. Increased local spending often leads to improved economic performance of these businesses, which can stimulate job creation to meet rising demand. In addition, the local currency fosters community ties, which promotes community development and, consequently, the maintenance or creation of jobs in everyday local consumption. Such initiatives aim to minimize the outflow of money from the local economy, thereby increasing support for local businesses.

How does the Monnaie Léman work with the wider SSE movement in Geneva?

The Association Monnaie Léman is part of the SSE umbrella organisation APRÈS - The Geneva Network of the Social and Solidarity Economy, which is an active member of RIPESS-Europe. The Léman was specifically created as an economic and financial instrument to strengthen the social and solidarity economy in the Lake Geneva region by promoting and facilitating local, sustainable and solidarity-based exchanges. Various social economy organisations and other economic actors accept the Léman as payment for their products and services.

A central feature of the association is its commitment to fair and sustainable economic exchanges. Its charter incorporates the SSE principles and encourages economic operators to align their practices with ecological sustainability and social solidarity. This means that when individuals use this currency, they are directly supporting SSE companies and projects that are committed to socially responsible and environmentally friendly initiatives.

What do you think is the connection between local SSE initiatives in Geneva and the UN resolution on promoting the SSE for sustainable development?

The UN resolution, which calls for the promotion of SSE as a driver of sustainable economic and social progress, resonates strongly with the principles and objectives of local SSE initiatives in Geneva.
Geneva has a solid social economy network that is strongly committed to promoting and recognising the social and solidarity economy in the region. The Geneva SSE umbrella organisation, APRÈS, created in 2004, brings together 450 companies and organisations representing around 6,000 jobs and an annual turnover of 600 million Swiss francs. The organisation collaborates with the Geneva authorities on various projects, including labour insertion. It also works to promote and deepen SEE practices in our territory.

Local initiatives led by organisations such as APRÈS are dedicated to promoting an economy that is more inclusive, sustainable and community centred. The use of the local currency, the Léman, aims to strengthen the network. These initiatives promote first insertion of newcomers or reinsertion on the employment market, fair trade, support social enterprises, advocate for responsible consumption and strengthen economic ties. These actions are a direct reflection of the core values enshrined in the UN resolution, which emphasise social well-being, participatory engagement, environmental stewardship, autonomy, solidarity, diversity and coherence.

In addition, both the local initiatives and the UN resolution recognise the vital role of SSE in promoting democracy, social justice and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The UN resolution encourages Member States to develop strategies, policies and programmes to promote SSE, reflecting the key objectives of the local SSE initiatives in Geneva.

How do you see yourself in the SSE movement in Geneva helping advance the recommendations of the UN resolution?

In order to be effective, the objectives of the Resolution should be translated into public policies at all levels - supranational, national, regional/cantonal and local. These are also the main objectives of Monnaie Léman and APRÈS.

APRÈS is the only SSE umbrella organisation in Geneva and probably the oldest, most structured and organised in Switzerland. As such, it can play a major role in promoting UN and ILO resolutions not only in Geneva, but also in Switzerland and, through its European and international networks (RIPESS), beyond.

APRÈS’ links with local governments and academic institutions strengthen its position.

Last but not least, Geneva, as an international centre hosting the European headquarters of the UN Office, the ILO and the WTO, is also a central place for networking and advocacy in the multilateral context. As RIPESS considers strengthening its presence in Geneva, APRÈS could be its bridgehead in this new strategy.