Social and solidarity economy & rurality(ies)

Kit departementalESS n°5

June 2021

Réseau des collectivités Territoriales pour une Economie Solidaire (RTES)

In connection with the renewal of departmental and regional executives in June 2021, RTES is proposing a DepartmentalESS kit to raise awareness among candidates and provide tools for future teams wishing to support the social and solidarity economy (SSE).

This kit will include about twenty practical sheets, based on the principle of the MunicipalESS Kit published in 2020, illustrated with examples, and presenting in a synthetic and concrete way how a regional council can include the SSE in its policies.

Sheet 5 deals with rural areas and the territorial relocation of activities.

By placing at the heart of its project the issue of the territorialisation of added value and the relocation of activities, by relying on cooperation, on the principles of limited profitability and shared governance, through the dynamics and social innovations that it deploys, the social and solidarity economy can offer a sustainable response to the challenges of rural territories. Today, rural areas are undeniably attractive, but are characterised by a low population density, which poses specific challenges to which the SSE can provide a response.

How can departmental councils promote the development of solidarity-based territorial economic dynamics? Which actors can they rely on? What are the points of attention?

The TRESSONS project

In order to contribute to the strengthening of the SSE in rural territories, the TRESSONS project (Rural territories and SSE: tools and new synergies) aims to characterise the contributions and conditions of development, to allow the sharing of experience between territorial actors, and to analyse the way in which EAFRD and European funds are or could be mobilised.

It is led by Avise and RTES, with the support of the National Rural Network and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD). It involves many partners.

4 main fields of action

Many elements from this project feed this sheet. More information on:

« SSE actors give new hope to territories on the margins of globalisation… The SSE participates in an endogenous and qualitative local development, which allows territories to find within themselves the energy to exist by themselves while putting the Man at the heart of the economic action ».

Jean Girardon,Mayor of Mont-Saint-Vincent (Saône-et-Loire), representative of the Association of French Mayors on the Council

1. The SSE, a resilient economy and a source of social innovation

The SSE plays an important but often unrecognised role in rural areas. Agricultural cooperation and social action have a particularly important historical place, but the SSE has developed in many other sectors of activity: personal services, sports and leisure, socio-professional integration or culture for example.

It is also the bearer of many social and/or environmental innovations: the fight against the digital divide, recycling centres, short circuits, local shops, alternative housing construction companies, etc. These initiatives are often characterised by pluriactivity and are part of the logic of transition.


Resilient jobs: although the current health crisis is undoubtedly having a negative impact in terms of employment, the number of jobs in the SSE increased from 2008 to 2015 (+4.9%), contrary to the rest of the economy (2.6% drop in jobs in the private sector excluding the SSE and 8.4% drop in public employment).

2. The SSE, a privileged partner of public policies in rural areas

Contributing to the creation of sustainable jobs, meeting the needs of inhabitants and territories, promoting the ecological transition and innovation in territories, ensuring social and territorial cohesion, are all reasons that explain the implementation of public policies to support the SSE (see Sheet No. 2). The SSE can thus be a key player in departmental policies on human and territorial solidarity.

In rural areas, SSE can respond to two other more specific challenges:

Low population density is one of the major characteristics of rural areas. This leads to a lack of interest in the commercial sector (personal services, shops, telephony, etc.) due to a lack of potential profitability, and a withdrawal of public services for economic reasons, with the consequences of desertification, devitalization of town centres, disappearance of public services, isolation of the most fragile populations. The characteristics of the economic model of SSE structures (non-profit or limited profit-making, hybridisation of public and private resources, mobilisation of citizens through voluntary work or solidarity-based finance, etc.) enable them to develop and sustain activities.

The attractiveness of the region, its ability to retain its young people and attract new populations, project leaders and families, is one of the conditions for sustainable development of the region.

Local services, mobility solutions, cultural and tourist activities are all activities developed by the SSE that a department can promote.

Subsidies, public contracts, delegation of public services, the methods of contracting with SSE actors are multiple but not equivalent (see Sheet No. 4).

Regardless of the method chosen, ongoing dialogue with the organisations makes it possible to establish a long-term relationship of trust. The department can also provide support and engineering to territories on appropriate contractualisation methods.

« Facilitating cooperation between urban and rural areas with a view to mutual development and solidarity makes it possible to respond to issues that go beyond the institutional perimeter (mobility, economic development, tourism, etc.), to highlight the interdependencies between areas and the « virtuous loops » of development.

Laurent Trogrlic, Mayor of Pompey, Chairman of the AdCF Economic Development Commission

3. Some examples of SSE dynamics in rural areas supported by the departments

Sustainable agriculture and food

Supporting local producers, preserving and facilitating access to land, encouraging atypical installations, developing short circuits, for example through collective catering, are all possible actions of the departmental councils that can rely on numerous SSE actors: CUMA (Cooperatives for the Use of Agricultural Equipment), Terre de Liens solidarity landholding company, structures for integration through economic activity, SCIC L’Atelier Paysan, Coopérative d’Installation en Agriculture Paysanne.

The short circuit action plan of the Haute-Garonne department

In 2020, following the Covid-19 crisis, the Haute-Garonne departmental council adopted an action plan for short circuits. Through 3 axes and 7 actions, this 2020/2022 action plan aims to promote local production, organise the sectors and democratise access to local food. The department is proposing to encourage the establishment of test areas for farmers and to support EPCIs through two calls for projects to encourage the emergence of structured short supply chains. A competition on social and solidarity food is planned to support project leaders seeking new distribution solutions adapted to consumers.

Shared and third places

Fablabs, coworking spaces, shared workshops, community cafés, even farmland in some cases, the forms of third places are multiple. Third places are particularly well suited to rural areas, as they allow people to remain active in their area and to develop activities in a collective setting.

They can benefit from public support at various levels: European funds, national calls for projects, regional and departmental funding, local authorities, etc., as well as assistance with engineering, networking, etc. Some departments have a policy of supporting third places.

The Landes department’s call for projects for third places

Since 2020, the Landes departmental council has been offering an annual call for Tiers-lieuXL projects aimed at consolidating or developing hybrid places. Applications are analysed in the light of the 4 functions expected of these third places: coworking spaces, project support, social activities and digital mediation.

Revitalisation of shops

59% of rural communities no longer have any local shops. These abandoned shops contribute to the deterioration of the image and dynamism of the municipalities, and have a direct impact on access to services and the social ties of the inhabitants of these areas. Based on the mobilisation of residents and often in partnership with local authorities, many SSE initiatives manage to open and perpetuate places deserted by traditional commerce: community bars, grocery shops and multi-service places, inns, café-concert, etc.

The characteristics of these projects are often based on their ability to mobilise volunteers and solidarity funding, and on multi-activity, an important factor in the sustainability of the activity.

The Ille-et-Vilaine department’s actions for commercial revitalisation in rural areas

Since 2018, the Ille-et-Vilaine department has been committed to contributing to the revitalisation of town centres with the SSE, by providing support to the department’s municipalities.

In partnership with BRUDED (a network for the exchange of sustainable local development experiences between Breton local authorities), it organises visits to collective SSE initiatives, publishes tool sheets for local elected officials and a dedicated book « Un café s’il vous plait!", finances the engineering of participatory approaches in conjunction with SSE centres, and funds pre-configuration and feasibility studies via a call for projects. The department stresses the importance of involving residents from the project design stage.

Energy transition

Rural areas are particularly involved in the energy transition, offering a major potential for the production of renewable energy thanks to multiple resources (forest, wind, agricultural waste, etc.) and available land. This potential opens up economic prospects and prospects for cooperation with urban areas, which are structurally energy deficient and dependent on the rest of the territory.

Rural departments wishing to commit to the energy transition can therefore rely on SSE actors, particularly in defining their energy policy (since 2010 they have been responsible for the production of renewable energy), or when they wish to help develop citizen renewable energy production projects. The Energie Partagée network can provide support to local authorities wishing to accompany these projects.

Sustainable mobility

Access to sustainable mobility is a challenge in terms of economic, social and territorial inclusion, but also an ecological and public health challenge.

Solidarity mobility platforms, such as Dromolib in the Drôme, cooperative carpooling platforms, social driving schools, bicycle workshops, etc., are all important partners in this area. . are all important partners of local authorities. The départements are particularly concerned by the mobility of RSA recipients and young people.

There are several possible levers for action:

Provide support and engineering to local authorities in rural areas in terms of SSE

Publicise SSE actors and structures (e.g. SCICs or employer groups), encourage the sharing of experiences between authorities, produce resource documents, etc.

Include SSE in the territory’s contractualisation tools

And involve SSE actors in consultation bodies, for example in the framework of the Leader programme, a Territorial Food Programme, etc.

Know and make known the actors of the support and financing of social and environmental utility activities

To source the actors and support systems and organise the support path for projects.

Set up engineering and financing mechanisms for rural communities

For example, through calls for projects aimed at territories that include citizen participation, such as those of the Ille-et-Vilaine department concerning the revitalisation of town centres through housing, or the improvement of accessibility to services for the public…

Financing activities or calling on the services of SSE actors

But also facilitate the emergence of projects, by listening and building trust, mobilise the community’s engineering, for example to respond to a call for tenders, promote local initiatives, provide logistical support (furniture, signage, etc.).

Facilitate access to land, agricultural land or land used for premises

Identify land belonging to the community or available in the area, take shares in SCIC solidarity landholdings, etc.

To go further

  • Study on SSE in rural areas, National SSE Observatory - CNCRESS for RTES/Avise, 2019 - Territories of social innovation: monographs on 4 rural areas, RTES/Avise, 2019

  • Panorama of SSE projects in rural territories, Avise/RTES, May 2020

  • Guide Comment créer un tiers-lieux rural, Familles Rurales, 2020

  • The Institute of Cooperative Territories, resource centre on cooperation