A hot topic at this moment, Bloom Network’s Community Call about Future Economies was well attended this month. With guests, Shavaun Evans from New Economics Coalition, Nathan Schneider from Media Enterprise Design Lab (Colorado), and Manuel Maqueda from KUMU Labs it was a high level, but heart-filled discussion. All guests and their work were grounded in deep democracy and cooperative ownership and a culture for mutual aid and respect for the earth.
Our first guest, Shavaun Evans, spoke about the work of from New Economy Coalition. NEC is a coalition of 200+ organizations and works on small to large scales, building new systems or new economies that put people and planet first. It is doing an “important job of bringing together the economic models and the intersectional analysis we need that recognizes how the crimes of our current system are not equally distributed” (Nathan Schneider).
NEC has a website full of resources to help the transition of different groups to cooperatives, land trusts, mutual aid networks, time banks, intentional communities, revolving loan funds and public banks. NEC has policy tool kits on “Pathway to a People’s Economy”, climate justice policy, finance policy, worker ownership, community controlled housing.
“In thinking about what the new economy is… so much of the new economy and that next system that we’re trying to build is already embedded in many of our ancestries and much of our culture. It’s something I saw my father doing, bartering his okra for our neighbor’s strawberries, or my mother doing childcare swaps with her sisters or others in our communities. That consideration of community, that mutual aid and respect for one another and care for each other and the earth… So much of that is already a part of our cultures and a part of what folks have been doing and are continuing to do, especially in these moments of crisis. So much of that is embedded in what we call the ‘new economy’,” says Evans.
When commenting on NEC’s great successes, Evans talked of how last year USA saw federal legislation pass that supports worker cooperatives and increased energy around public banks, with public banking legislation in California. And in this COVID-19 moment there have been successful campaigns to cancel rent or mortgages.
“The system that we’re currently living under is not the system that we have to be in in the future. There are lots of options for us to move forward by putting people over profits. People have been doing it better and will continue to do it better, and this is rising between the cracks and [will] start to solidify into our next system.”
Nathan highlighted the crisis of accountability and data in the online economy, and the common issues around labour and persistent patterns of abuse, which the labour markets of online communities have exacerbated.
Like Shavaun, Nathan reflected on the cooperative businesses his ancestors were part of, which were owned and governed by the people they serve. The only way his grandfather got electricity on his farm was through a rural electric cooperative, because investor-owned companies had no interest in bringing electricity to farms.
The new challenge of bringing cooperative governance into the online economy has old answers, Schneider says. At this moment, the economic structure of the tech economy is oriented against a cooperative model, as the policy framework is not there. A farm can go to a coop bank, but if you’re doing a tech startup for a marginalized community, access to the same capital is not available.
Nathan listed a number of organisations that have been trying new models and approaches which are available on our wiki here. He also spoke to how there is the option of ‘exiting to community’. Rather than starting as a coop from the beginning, companies can start as conventional start-ups and as they become things that people rely on, they can become owned and governed by that community. So he’s trying to make it an available option for founders and investors to build companies that their users will become the stewards for. It’s a work in progress that is not yet resolved. This was confirmed during recent work with the founder of Meetup, Scott Hyperman, in trying to turn Meetup into a coop instead of turn it over to another set of investors. They couldn’t figure it out.
Successful examples of a transition to a cooperative can be seen in local USA newspapers such as in Ohio, recently the Salt Lake Tribune converted to a nonprofit. “A mission-centric, community-centered approach is the healthy outcome for [a news organization]”, says Schneider. He also touched on the power of spiritual and religious communities for building these kinds of models based on cooperation. The North American credit union system and worker cooperatives in Europe were often motivated through religious communities. “In a very hard entrepreneurial sense, these communities were able to imagine and achieve things that others around them were not able to access”.
In response to COVID-19 questions, Schneider says there’s a craving for building what comes after this. “There will be many opportunities to introduce models of community-based entrepreneurship that we really need, but there really needs to be a society-wide commitment to say, ‘We’re going to support this because we know it’s important, even if it’s not going to be profitable.'”
In summing up, Schneider says that this shift to more coopertative, democratic platforms are essential if we claim to live in a democratic society. We should expect as a norm that the institutions we depend on are democratic in their practice and structure.
“The idea that we tolerate anything else is baffling to me… I’d hope it would be baffling to other storytellers who are broadcasting our stories. Instead of seeing these options as ‘alternative’, we should see democracy as the norm and look at capitalism as the odd alternative we’ve dead ended ourselves into”.
The good news is, there are ways out, and that is what Future Economies is all about.
Manuel Maqueda, transformative organizational consultant, teacher of circular economy at the University of California Berkeley. Co-founder of SUPER (Single Use Plastic Elimination or Reduction), Kumu Labs and the Plastic Pollution Coalition, (@Maqueda, @KUMUlab)
Manuel Maqueda started his section of the call bringing into context to the brutal pandemic that is happening, a big shock and shared trauma spanning the world. Sending our hearts out in love, we paused for a moment in silence before Maqueda posed the question, “What does this mean in the transition to a new economy?”
“In terms of impact and likelihood, pandemics are a lot less significant than climate-related events. World Economic Forum does a risk assessment each year, and extreme weather events caused by climate have the highest impact and likelihood. Declining biodiversity and weapons of mass destruction have greater impact than a pandemic.”
On the day of the call, the price of oil dropped to negative value and Maqueda observed that the dangerous solution to the excess could be making more plastics. It takes some courage and skill to expand, explained Maqueda. The transformation of the economy is going to require a change of perspective with more vision and courage, moving from reactive to creative.
Maqueda moved into speaking about circular economies, which he is teaching world leaders in both Spanish and English.
“By making our linear economy more sustainable, we’re just extending its runway. Sooner or later, an economy that is tied to resource extraction, generation of waste and social injustice will implode when it rubs against the natural limits of the planet.”
“Waste is money wasted”.
“What we need to be aiming for is an economy that no longer requires extraction of resources and creation of waste to produce economic benefits to people. A circular economy means that you design out pollution, toxicity, and waste”.
Circular economy goes for effectiveness not efficiency. “It’s an economy for the next 10,000 years”, he says, and it requires a lot of systems thinking – or more specifically “ecosystem thinking”. A later discussion talked through how concepts of resources and language have been a limiting factor in valuing the environment and resources correctly. For example, the forest had only be valued as “lumber” for most of economic history instead of valuing the full scope and life of what happens in a forest. Uncovering the hidden costs that capitalism has ignored is a big step towards stronger future economies.
Maqueda reminded us that all around the world there are people showing up and interested, engaged and passionate.
“It important to remember that we are not alone at all in our desires to create something more just and regenerative. We’re absolutely surrounded by allies and we must keep that in mind.”
This Community Call on Future Economies is so rich in deep knowledge, this blog only highlights some important parts of the discussion!
For full minutes of the call, and video of the call, head here.