Concordia economist Marguerite Mendell, renowned for her collaborative research on the social economy, has earned the inaugural Prix Pierre-Dansereau from the Association francophone pour le savoir (Acfas). Sponsored by Radio-Canada, the prize is awarded to an individual or organization that best exemplifies a commitment to improving society.
“It’s a very great honour and recognizes socially engaged research that I and others do,” says Mendell who received the award May 8 during the 80th annual congress of Acfas.
Mendell, a professor in Concordia’s School of Community and Public Affairs, and the director of the Karl Polanyi Institute of Political Economy, describes the work she does as helping to create an economic model that is “different from one driven by speculation and profit to the exclusion of environmental and social concerns.”
A common viewpoint is that addressing such concerns is bound to negatively affect profit. Not so, Mendell says. “The social economy, not just in Quebec, is increasingly recognized for its contribution to the creation of wealth.”
While she’s happy to be recognized, Mendell insists much of the credit for her research into the social economy lies with her colleagues in the academic community and within the organizations she researches — the people on the ground. “I’m not alone, however I feel very privileged to be able to carry the torch on this one,” she says.
The prize comes with a $5,000 bursary, which the winner must donate to a deserving organization. Mendell chose a small social economy enterprise, a laundromat and Internet café in Trois-Rivières called Bucafin. “It was imagined and designed by extraordinary people who have been working on different strategies to alleviate poverty and engage in social and economic transformation in what is the poorest neighbourhood in Trois-Rivières,” she says.
Concordia’s Interim Vice-President, Research and Graduate Studies, Graham Carr says Mendell was an obvious choice for the prestigious award. “Professor Mendell’s name is synonymous with social economy expertise and social engagement in Quebec and around the globe,” he says. “Her rich and textured career as an engaged scholar spans three decades, through which she has shown unwavering commitment to enhancing social well-being in Quebec and beyond.”
The award comes at the end of what has turned out to be a very busy and exciting academic year for Mendell. In September, she was awarded a $5,000 research award from Concordia. In March, she was nominated for the Prix de la personnalité internationale de l’année from the Centre d’études et de recherches internationales at the Université de Montréal.
Mendell also served as the director of the Scientific Committee for the International Forum on the Social and Solidarity Economy, last fall in Montreal. “I coordinated the research that was the basis for a number of background studies on how the social and solidarity economy is evolving throughout the world,” she explains.
In March, Mendell and Nancy Neamtam, president of Quebec’s Chantier de l’économie sociale, were invited to meet with representatives from the European Union for a workshop on public policy related to the E.U.’s social economy. The meeting was a success, and Mendell has been invited to return for more talks in June.
As Mendell explains, Quebec has become somewhat of a global leader thanks to its integrated approach to the social economy, exemplified by the Chantier de l’économie sociale, which she describes as a “network of networks.”
“To have access to capital, finance, good research, labour-market strategies, business training, management training, and so on; those are pieces of an integrated strategy, and I think this is why Quebec has been as successful as it is.”
Mendell has collaborated with the Chantier and Neamtan for many years, helping the organization to solve complex problems related to economic development, social finance and public policy, and accompanying Neamtan on numerous international fact finding and sharing missions.
“She has been incredibly generous with her time and resources, and over the years has become a special friend to many of us,” Neamtan says. “She is a model for what researchers, and particularly economists, should be if we want to build a better world.
“Margie has never been concerned with her own career; it is the common good that motivates her. She is constantly concerned with sharing knowledge and democratizing the economy by strengthening the capacity of civil society to be economic actors.”
Neamtan also says that while Mendell never hesitates to take a position in an important debate, she always does so as a researcher and a scientist. “She recognizes that knowledge is not the exclusive property of researchers; knowledge is created as well in action, in social innovation and we must all learn to learn from each other. Margie has been a model for this type of reciprocal learning.”
• Marguerite Mendell, première lauréate du prix Acfas Pierre-Dansereau de l’engagement social du chercheur
• Association francophone pour le savoir
• Concordia School of Community and Public Affairs
• Chantier de l’économie sociale