Voices of New Economies – An Interview with Lis Suarez
By Alicia Tallack
Through a focus on women’s economic independence, Lis Suarez is working toward poverty reduction among both local and immigrant women in Canada. The FEM International founder works with women to increase awareness of social and ecological practices, provide tools for successful entrepreneurship, and deepen the knowledge- and skill-sharing networks amongst communities in Canada and the global south.
For me, new economies are people’s economies, rather than profit-oriented economies. Community-centered economies are those that encompass the interactions between individuals and their environments. In new economies as I see them there are four pillars:
- Fundamental Rights: This includes social rights, environmental rights, economic rights, and also cultural rights. When we are looking at the division between the global north and global south, the capacity to approach issues from your own culture’s perspective is critical.
- Self-determination: Developing nations have been following the path of the developed nations, replicating their development model, a path that is clearly not working, and they are now starting to frame things in their own perspective and context. This frame itself, of developing-developed, or global north-global south, is shifted in new economies. It moves from a colonial (how I impose on you- model), to how do we exchange as equals and work together.
- Equality: Inequalities are essential to address in new economies. Access to opportunities for men and women, but also between countries, is important. Access to opportunities is key for poverty reduction, and inequalities are a barrier to this.
- Circular economy: In new economies, the extraction of resources is reduced and waste is reduced. The principles of the circular economy are based on closed loop production, where there is zero waste production because waste is an input. We try to work with this in our projects because through a people-centered economy, the emphasis is on the services, on the people and then the material resources become minimized. We are able to generate necessary revenue, income that people need to access opportunities, through new kinds of products or services that reduce the use of actual materials, and that can loop back into the economy on a constant basis.
How does this relate to cities?
It is essential that new economies as community centered activities within cities. Cities are microorganisms that interdepend among each other. This is true in a global space too. Global interaction is becoming more and more decentralized, and more direct between cities. There is an influx of information sharing, and experiences and services that go around. Cities play a key role, as the entities that allow these exchanges to take place. When I say city I do not mean the local government, or any institution, I mean the communities; the organic component of communities as a gathering of people that come together over particular issues. They have their own dynamics, and can be embedded within larger city structures. It is the city in this sense, the communities, which are connecting with each other around the world.
What is the importance of women’s economic independence within new economies?
There is no one country in the world that has truly achieved gender equality. Inequality is one of the biggest barriers for poverty reduction globally and locally, so creating equal access to opportunities for women everywhere is critical. Even those countries that pride themselves on gender equality have a long way to go in terms of female empowerment, and the resulting ability to tackle poverty. Women in general tend to create enterprises differently than the way men do, maybe because women often have a deeper sense of interdependence. This is visible in their enterprises. The role of communities seems to be more important to women, and you see that in their projects. That way of thinking ends up being channeled into ensuring that there is continued increase of equal access, it paves the way for more men and more women to have that same access that they had. This becomes an opportunity for men and women, because empowerment affects both.
It is fundamental for men to participate in this too. In a society we are connected, and men need to work along the same way that we are moving with women. In new economies, equality is about access for both, including those that haven’t been able to participate in the past due to barriers. This is not a lowered role for men - it is a partnership. In patriarchal societies, men are the ones that need to be convinced that equal access is a positive thing. They are a vital part of inequality reductions.
What does real wealth mean to you?
I see real wealth as the capacity to choose what is best for you and yours and embrace it, not to take what you can because it is your only option, or the only thing you can afford. Having options, choosing, and living those choices is for me real wealth.
This is true as individuals, and as communities. A wealthy community is one that is able to choose what is best for them, has the opportunity to do so, and the resources to make it happen.
Lis Suarez Visbal-Ensink is an ASHOKA fellow, passionately engaged with women’s inner force, sustainable development, and socially responsible entrepreneurship. Lis believes that the dynamics of social entrepreneurship could canalize the potential of a human being toward the realisation of their inner force, their strengths, and their potential to be the managers of their own path by contributing at the same time to the wellbeing of their communities.
Born in Colombia, and having lived and worked with women and micro-enterprises in more than 6 countries over 3 continents, Madame Suarez finds herself connected with the causes she fights for in Montreal Canada, were she founded FEM International, a non profit organization of Bi-national Cooperation that empowers women to become self sufficient through socially responsible entrepreneurship. Lis has been the instigator of all successful initiatives of FEM International Modethik, ETHIKA, the 5a7ETHIK, and most recently Ethik-BGC, the sustainable business incubator for ethical fashion in Montreal. She was for over 5 years also the principal trainer and Coordinator of the Aurora micro-credit program of Compganie-f.
This blog is part of the 'Voices of New Economies' series within Cities for People - an experiment in advancing the movement toward urban resilience and livability through connecting innovation networks.
This series is an exploration of what it takes to build the economies we need - ones that work for people, places, and the planet. We are connecting key actors, finding patterns, noting interesting differences, and highlighting key concepts and initiatives. Together, this series offers insights into the new economies movement as it develops.