Wednesday, March 31, 2010

How to Start a Really Really Free Market

By Mira Luna
Reposted from

A Really Really Free Market (RRFM) is a community gathering where participants give away usable items, skills, food, entertainment, games and many others things that a community can come together and share. An RRFM is a 100 percent free and non-commercial event (no bartering or advertising), created by all the participants that show up each month. It is also a demonstration of collective spirit, abundance, recycling, and sharing through the gift economy as an alternative to a capitalist economy that promotes and feeds off fear, competition and scarcity. The RRFM intends to transform people primarily through its experience and is then carried into other areas of life, inspiring people to be more generous towards each other and to set up free boxes, free skools, donation-based cafes and so on.

There are now over 50 different RRFMs in cities across the US and a few other countries. Here are some key steps to organizing one in your town or neighborhood:

* Call a meeting and invite different kinds of people from the community to help organize, do publicity, and conduct outreach for volunteer help with skillshares, services, entertainment, food preparation and set-up/clean-up. You can start off with just yourself and few friends, but it is best to reflect the diversity of the community so that all kinds of people feel comfortable coming to the event. Try to encourage all volunteers to take some responsibility and invite new participants to help organize every month. You may need a core group to continue to help organize or you may find the RRFM takes off on its own.

* Find a high traffic location accessible to the public. It often works well to host an RRFM in a popular park, near a farmers' market (or other major regular public event space) or at a centrally-located, politically and culturally neutral indoor venue. A change of venue for winter may be needed due to weather. It’s best to find a free space. Occasionally, city councils have given free park use permits to RRFMs, but many are hosted successfully without permits, unless a band plays amplified music or there is a conflict with scheduled parties. If people are just hanging out in a park together and not selling anything, there is usually no problem. Remember, there is no one in charge and no formal organization – it’s more of a happening – so who would be responsible for getting the permit? Charging to cover venue costs is antithetical to the spirit of the RRFM and a few people paying for the venue may create an unsustainable, hierarchical situation.

* Pick a regular day, usually once a month, and stick with it. This lessens the need for ongoing publicity and facilitates word of mouth advertising that helps build attendance steadily. Weekends are best so families and people with regular jobs can come.

* Create an attractive banner or some other large, highly visible sign to help new people find you out of crowd and attract passer-byes.

* Announce by word of mouth (especially at community service organizations, schools, churches, etc), handout and post fliers, and send announcements to local listservs and calendars. See if local radio stations will run Public Service Announcements for you, or if local papers can run a listing or a story on your event. Make all your fliers, signs, and announcements bilingual. At every RRFM, put out a sign-up list so people who want to receive news of the next one or coordinate with other organizers can leave their contact information.

* Brainstorm all the possible sources of things to give away. The more you bring to the RRFM yourself, the more excited others will be about the event, and the more they will expect from themselves as participants. Go through your closets, and encourage everyone you know to do the same. Get day old bread and unsellable produce from bakeries and grocery stores, either from employees, or if you are adventurous, there is there usually a dumpster in back. Visit colleges at the end of each semester, corporations that are going out of business, and wealthy neighborhoods where they leave perfectly good items sitting out on the curb. Get all your friends together the night before to cook a nutritious meal and a few hundred delicious cookies. However, you should try to avoid any implications of charity – charity encourages people to think of themselves as receivers of gifts rather than as empowered participants that have things to offer to the community as well. One of the most powerful aspects of the RRFM is that everyone has something to contribute, even if it’s something as simple as a story or a funny joke.

* Organize skillshares, games, entertainment and other ways for people to interact. Invite an accomplished storyteller, a hairstylist, a popular folk musician, a collective of spoken word artists, a masseuse, a yoga instructor, a caricature artist, a bicycle mechanic, and everyone else with some skill or talent that can you think of. Offer to help provide whatever resources they need, such as setting up music equipment or a service booth. Consider what services others at the RRFM may need, as well, like childcare. Folding tables, blankets, and serving ware will definitely come in handy.

* Coordinate with other groups and events to bring in new folks of your RRFM. Invite a dance troupe or favorite band that is coming to your town for the weekend to put in an appearance. Some RRFMs have gone back to their roots and shown up as a positive demonstration of alternatives at protests. Just be careful not to be too ideologically dominating. The RRFM’s strength is as a transformative learning experience. Some RRFMs have been set up successfully in relatively politically conservative towns.

* Section off an area that is for personal items that should not be considered free. This will avoid unfortunate accidental takings.

* Have a plan for what to do with the leftovers. You can ask people to take back what they brought and place items on individual blankets or tables, but some items will likely be abandoned. The local thrift shop or goodwill may be thrilled to get a big shipment in from you, or it may not be what they want at all, in which case you’ll have to either have a place to store it all for the next RRFM or another way to redistribute the leftovers. For this you may need a truck or a good bike trailer. Clean up the site of your RRFM meticulously; you’ll benefit from having a reputation for being responsible in this regard and keep the authorities happy.

* Remember to keep it fun and friendly to show that a community gift economy is a desirable alternative.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Help Bring Community Currencies to the US Social Forum!

Hi Friends,

In an effort to grow the movement for community currencies at this crucial time, I am trying to fundraise to bring information about currencies and collaboration to the US Social Forum this June in Detroit. I have coordinated the following presentations through the US Solidarity Economy Network:
-Joaquim Melo founder of Banco Palmas Brazil, the most successful currency project to uplift the poor and spawn of 50 similar projects in Brazil with some support from the Brazilian Central Bank
-Myself, Mira Luna, the coordinator and founder of Bay Area Community Exchange and a regional time exchange, to present with other three other experts, workshops on an Community Currencies 101 and How to Design a Community Currency (w/ Chris Lindstrom of Berkhshares, Miguel Hirota of Online Currency Labs Japan, and John Rogers of Value for People)
- and Stephanie Rearick of Timebanks USA and Dane County Timebank on TimeBanking: A Model for Social and Economic Justice and Systems Change

Both Joaquim and I need financial support in order to get to the US Social Forum to do our presentations (we do not have any personal or organizational funds for this). I estimate I will need a minimum of around $600 for airfare and USSF fees and Joaquim will need around $1400. So I am trying to raise a minimum $2000 total. All donations are tax-deductible. To make an online taxable donation for currencies at the US Social Forum through our fiscal sponsor ISEC, go to Network for Good and enter “Bay Area Community Exchange USSF” on the designation line. To write a check, email for details.

Thanks for supporting the movement for local, decentralized and participatory economies!

Much love,
Mira Luna

Let's Make Money Webinar: Community Currency Training

At Value for People
By John Rogers

The next webinar series will take place from April 22 to May 20, 2010.
The first series attracted 10 participants from North America, Europe and Indonesia.
How will I benefit from Let's Make Money?

Participants receive:
# The complete course on DVD
# Networking and mentoring by other activists and developers
# Summary of the lessons learned from decades of experiments
# New approaches that can be applied immediately
# Chances to reflect on your role in local currency development
# Vision for new design possibilities
# Certificate of participation.

Course content
Week 1:
Around the world in local currencies: a guided tour.
Week 2:
Starting points for design: the community development process.
Week 3:
Designing a circulation system: pros and cons of different currency design features.
Week 4:
Operating environment: working with your local conditions for setting up a currency.
Week 5:
Putting it all together: revision of all materials and sharing of experiences and designs in progress.

Here's what some participants in the first series thought of it:

“Thanks, great course, excellent information not available anywhere else in the world. It's all the material I was looking for but could never find elsewhere on the Net. It lays out a very good plan of attack for anyone starting up, so I'll be using it privately here in Portland to help move ahead with our new currency."

Mark Herpel, Editor, Community Currency Magazine

“The ideas that helped me the most from your course were how to see a community currency as a system for matching underused assets to needs, how to set proper boundaries and the difference between governance and management issues.”

Otmar Donnenberg, Coordinator, Dreyecker, Baden Württemberg

"You have sifted an enormous amount of material, identified the key design variables and found a way of presenting these systematically so as to make them clear and accessible to others.

It was very valuable that you have been involved as a do-er and not just as a thinker and theoriser – you were able to speak with greater authority.

I enjoyed the light and humorous presentation style – it never became stodgy or self-important.

You were clearly driven by the desire to empower and facilitate rather than getting lost in your own rhetoric – you were continually checking in to see how we as students were doing."

Jonathan Dawson, Educator and Writer on sustainable community economy and part of the design team for Findhorn’s community currency, the Eko.

Monday, March 29, 2010

2.0: Santa Cruz's Computer Kitchen

By Paul M. Davis

As Abby Quillen recently covered on Shareable, co-ops have proven to be a successful model for communities of bicyclists around the nation who wish to pool their skills and resources. Equally intriguing is a new type of community co-operative, taking inspiration from the bike model, devoted to sharing computer repair skills and empowering users of all skill levels to fix and get the most out of their systems.

One of these co-ops is the Computer Kitchen, opened in May 2009 in Santa Cruz, CA. Sharing space with the town's venerable Bike Church co-op (for more info, here's an article I wrote for the Metro Santa Cruz about the Bike Church), the Computer Kitchen is devoted to reducing e-Waste by extending the life of computers by making repairs accessible and affordable, and teaching users how to use and repair their own systems.

As tech becomes an increasingly ubiquitous part of our lives, it is increasingly marketed as disposable. This could have catastrophic environmental consequences, considering that your typical trip to the Geek Squad for repairs can cost nearly as much as a replacement, encouraging unnecessarily early upgrades to systems. What was once a computer lifespan of 4-5 years has become as short as 1-2 years as upgrades become cheaper than repairs. This can also disenfranchise computer users without the economic resources to keep up with the latest tech, unable to enjoy a reasonable lifespan from technology they can barely afford. The Computer Kitchen model suggests a way that we can encourage digital literacy in our physical communities, empowering tech neophytes by offering them low-cost, hands-on training far more accessible than arcane tech support message-boards and FAQ's.

Editor's Note: There are lots of these DIY activities going on in the Bay Area, including the Bike Kitchen and Noisebridge. Similar projects around the country are listed on Collective Autonomy.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Paying Zero for Public Services

From World Bank Blog
Submitted by Fumiko Nagano on Tue, 12/29/2009

Imagine that you are an old lady from a poor household in a town in the outskirts of Chennai city, India. All you have wanted desperately for the last year and a half is to get a title in your name for the land you own, called patta. You need this land title to serve as a collateral for a bank loan you have been hoping to borrow to finance your granddaughter’s college education. But there has been a problem: the Revenue Department official responsible for giving out the patta has been asking you to pay a little fee for this service. That’s right, a bribe. But you are poor (you are officially assessed to be below the poverty line) and you do not have the money he wants. And the most absurd part about the scenario you find yourself in is that this is a public service that should be rendered to you free of charge in the first place. What would you do? You might conclude, as you have done for the last 1-1/2 years, that there isn’t much you can do…but wait, you just heard about a local NGO by the name of 5th Pillar and it just happened to give you a powerful ally: a zero rupee note.

In Doha last month, CommGAP learned about the work of 5th Pillar, which has a unique initiative to mobilize citizens to fight corruption. In India, petty corruption is pervasive – people often face situations where they are asked to pay bribes for public services that should be provided free. 5th Pillar distributes zero rupee notes in the hopes that ordinary Indians can use these notes as a means to protest demands for bribes by public officials. I recently spoke with Vijay Anand, 5th Pillar’s president, to learn more about this fascinating initiative.

According to Anand, the idea was first conceived by an Indian physics professor at the University of Maryland, who, in his travels around India, realized how widespread bribery was and wanted to do something about it. He came up with the idea of printing zero-denomination notes and handing them out to officials whenever he was asked for kickbacks as a way to show his resistance. Anand took this idea further: to print them en masse, widely publicize them, and give them out to the Indian people. He thought these notes would be a way to get people to show their disapproval of public service delivery dependent on bribes. The notes did just that. The first batch of 25,000 notes were met with such demand that 5th Pillar has ended up distributing one million zero-rupee notes to date since it began this initiative. Along the way, the organization has collected many stories from people using them to successfully resist engaging in bribery.

One such story was our earlier case about the old lady and her troubles with the Revenue Department official over a land title. Fed up with requests for bribes and equipped with a zero rupee note, the old lady handed the note to the official. He was stunned. Remarkably, the official stood up from his seat, offered her a chair, offered her tea and gave her the title she had been seeking for the last year and a half to obtain without success. Had the zero rupee note reached the old lady sooner, her granddaughter could have started college on schedule and avoided the consequence of delaying her education for two years. In another experience, a corrupt official in a district in Tamil Nadu was so frightened on seeing the zero rupee note that he returned all the bribe money he had collected for establishing a new electricity connection back to the no longer compliant citizen.

Anand explained that a number of factors contribute to the success of the zero rupee notes in fighting corruption in India. First, bribery is a crime in India punishable with jail time. Corrupt officials seldom encounter resistance by ordinary people that they become scared when people have the courage to show their zero rupee notes, effectively making a strong statement condemning bribery. In addition, officials want to keep their jobs and are fearful about setting off disciplinary proceedings, not to mention risking going to jail. More importantly, Anand believes that the success of the notes lies in the willingness of the people to use them. People are willing to stand up against the practice that has become so commonplace because they are no longer afraid: first, they have nothing to lose, and secondly, they know that this initiative is being backed up by an organization—that is, they are not alone in this fight.

This last point—people knowing that they are not alone in the fight—seems to be the biggest hurdle when it comes to transforming norms vis-à-vis corruption. For people to speak up against corruption that has become institutionalized within society, they must know that there are others who are just as fed up and frustrated with the system. Once they realize that they are not alone, they also realize that this battle is not unbeatable. Then, a path opens up—a path that can pave the way for relatively simple ideas like the zero rupee notes to turn into a powerful social statement against petty corruption.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Participatory Budgeting in Chicago’s 49th Ward

As some of you know, the residents of Rogers’ Park, in Chicago, kicked off this process in November of last year. Participatory Budgeting is a process of local direct democracy, whereby local residents come up with ideas for spending and then make binding decisions on part of a budget. It originates in Brazil in Workers’ Party-run cities in the 1990s, and it is for many observers an example of creative governance on the part of the left of the period. In the last fifteen years the idea has spread though channels like the World Social Forum, but also through international agencies and NGOs. I’ve been involved with it for a few years since writing my book about Porto Alegre, but mostly in the context of Brazilian experiences. And in 2006 Josh Lerner and I started the “Participatory Budgeting Project” – an organization and website to promote it in the US. There are literally now hundreds of examples of Participatory Budgets throughout the world, but until now, not one in the United States.

Though we had been discussing and planning this with Joe Moore, the Alderman of the 49th Ward, and a local Steering Committee for almost six months at that point, it was not until the first minutes of the first meeting that it sunk in that this was going to happen. For the last few years, whenever someone brought up the possibility of “participatory budgeting in the United States” it was as a kind of joke – kind of like “socialized medicine in the United States.” But momentum has been building over the last couple of years, and the idea has bubbled up in different places: conversations at the US Social Forum, at the Midwest Social Forum, and places like it. Then there has been the endorsement of the idea by the Rights to the City Network and then by the Solidarity Economy Network; there have been successful examples in a few places in Canada; there was also the campaign in Lawrence, Mass, not to mention a number of smaller bubbles, like the that of the student senators at UMASS Amherst a couple of years back who proposed it for use with the budget of the student senate. And certainly, “participation” is in the air with the new administration in Washington DC.

But it was Alderman Joe Moore and the residents of Chicago’s 49th Ward who launched the first US participatory budget, the process through which local people are able to decide, through direct democracy, on city budget spending. The process is scheduled to run for five months, and community members are going to decide how to spend Moore’s $1.3 million discretionary budget. In November there were nine neighborhood assemblies. In addition to learning about the process and about the budget for the Ward, participants in those identified project ideas for the ward and selected community reps for the next stage. For the next four months, the reps are meeting in theme committees (Parks & Environment, Public Safety, Streets, Traffic Safety, Transportation, and Art & Other Projects). During these meetings, they are developing project proposals based on the community priorities, and consulting more with the community. In April, all ward residents will be invited to vote on the project proposals, and their votes will determine what gets built.

In some ways Rogers Park has been the perfect setting to stage this process. Alderman Moore has been a friend to many progressive causes, such as living wage, and a leader on many others, like opposing big box development in Chicago. Josh Lerner and I were connected with him by Karen Dolan, of the Institute for Policy Studies and Cities for Progress, in DC. Rogers Park is a racially and economically diverse community at the Northern edge of Chicago, just south of Evanston and Northwestern University. It is a politically engaged community that has been mobilized around affordable housing and preventing gentrification and counts with a number of progressive organizations that have worked on humanizing economic development.

In spearheading this in the Spring of 2009, Joe immediately connected us with activists from the community, who, though healthily skeptical at first, nonetheless formed a Steering Committee for the PB process in April of 2009 with people from about 30 local organizations and institutions (including schools, religious institutions, community organizations, NGOs, and neighborhood groups). Josh, who had been working with the Participatory Budgeting Process of the Toronto Public Housing, and who has been doing research in Rosario, Argentina, brought a lot of practical experience and popular education techniques to the mix. He was particularly insistent that the community decide on the broad outlines of the process, so we worked over the next several months organizing meetings so that the community could decide on the basic structure and rules. In a very real way, the process was designed by the community. Another key part of the story is that Nicole Summers, a former student at Brown, was hired by Alderman Moore to help coordinate the process from the Alderman’s office. She’d written her thesis on participatory democracy and had done research in Nicaragua on participatory democracy there. But I think it’s fair to say that at one point the Steering Committee took ownership of the process, away from Joe and his staff, and away from us, and made it their own.

Already, the participatory budgeting process has generated creative new spending ideas, greater understanding of budget issues, and new organizing and collaboration between residents, community organizations, and the Alderman’s office. For this first year the idea is to get the process off the ground, to then improve it and expand its reach in the future. On April 10th, a Saturday, the whole of the Ward will be invited to vote on the projects decided on by the community representatives. This pilot project demonstrates that local governments and communities both benefit when local people are invited to democratically decide how to spend their tax dollars.

For more information:
- The Participatory Budgeting Project
- The 49th Ward Participatory Budgeting site

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Steelworkers-Mondragon Talk - WMJwJ Conference

Keynote speech by Rob Witherell
Western Mass. Jobs with Justice Conference
March 6, 2010

• An official unemployment rate of 10%
• A real rate of unemployment and underemployment of 17%
• Millions of good paying jobs lost, including 2 million manufacturing jobs in the past year alone
• Stagnating wages
• Frozen pensions and inadequate 401(k) plans
• Sky rocketing health insurance costs
• Millions of people without health insurance
• Millions of people falling into poverty
• Millions of people receiving food stamps to feed their families
• Millions of people homeless and millions more struggling to stay in the homes they have

In the middle of the worst recession we’ve seen in the past 70 years, conservative politicians in Washington, DC are defiantly putting the purity of their ideals before the reality of the painful consequences. Congress is not a high school debate club. People need help, not talking points.

Wall Street executives, who were part of creating this crisis, were the first ones with their hands out, asking for help from Main Street taxpayers. We gave them billions and billions of dollars. As panic began to recede, they gave some of those billions back rather than have to live with the few strings attached. These fat cat executives are trying to avoid accountability and transparency, regardless of the cost. The millions of dollars in bonuses being paid again to executives, while insulting to the rest of us, are less harmful to our economy and our communities than the fact that little has changed in how Wall Street works. Years of increasing deregulation have left us with a Wild West of finance where anything goes.

Corporate executives have not done much better. In response to this crisis, corporations cut pay, laid off workers, and closed operations – too often as the first option rather than the last. Year after year, shedding jobs and shuttering plants has become an all too familiar pattern in what remains of our manufacturing sector, as production, investment, and jobs are shifted to other countries with the fewest amount of labor and environmental protections possible.

The result of years and years of neglect have left us an economy that is rotting from the inside out. Our manufacturing sector has been hollowed out and our standard of living has at best stagnated, or worse, declined. Under the added weight of the financial crisis, our economy nearly collapsed.

Due to decades of decay, we no longer have an economy capable of a quick recovery. The “good” news announced yesterday was that we “only” lost 36,000 jobs last month. If last year’s stimulus bill has been effective as economic triage, and most likely it has been, then there is still a long, uncertain road to rehabilitation and recovery.

So what are we to do?

Maybe we need to rebuild from the ground up. But how? What should our blue print look like? What historical examples might we look to?

Let’s imagine the situation in the Basque region in 1943. Still devastated from the Spanish Civil War, most notoriously the bombing of Guernica in 1937, the Basque region continued to be punished by Franco’s regime, which forbid use of the Basque language and repressed Basque culture. Thousands were murdered for supporting the Republican forces, including the priest that Father Arizmendi replaced two years earlier, and nearly Father Arizmendi himself.

High unemployment. No social safety net. No pensions. Little access to capital and investments.

It is in this context that Father José María Arizmendiarrieta started up a small polytechnic school that was the seed for the phenomenon we know today as the Mondragon cooperatives. In 1956, five graduates of that school, with the assistance of Father Arizmendi, started the first Mondragon cooperative, Ulgor. A little over 50 years later, the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation employs over 100,000 people, with nearly all of them worker owners, and over $20 billion dollars in annual revenue.

Maybe there’s hope for us after all.

So, what can we learn from them?

To start with, let’s always remember that these cooperatives were started and supported not out of some utopian ideal, but rather a very pragmatic means of helping people put a roof over their heads, clothes on their backs and food on their tables. The goal was, and remains, to create jobs that can support their families and their communities.

The success of the Mondragon cooperatives comes from putting people first. Prioritizing people before profits – imagine that. We have become so conditioned to think that companies must prioritize profits above all else, usually for the sake of some group of unnamed, unknown shareholders, that’s is hard for us to imagine any alternative.

Now keep in mind that this is no utopia, this is a highly competitive, for-profit business – just organized differently than most . As the saying goes at Mondragon: “This is not heaven and we are not angels.”

At its best though, Mondragon could be a better way to run a business. A business that is sustainable, supports jobs, supports families, and supports communities.

So how has Mondragon been able to put people first and still be competitive, growing, and profitable?

The first thing we might want to consider are the ten Basic Principles of the Mondragon cooperatives:

• Education
• Sovereignty of labor
• Instrumental and subordinate nature of capital
• Democratic organization
• Open admission
• Participation in management
• Wage solidarity
• Inter-cooperation
• Social transformation
• Universal nature

How many corporate mission statements are out there where you can find ideals like “sovereignty of labor” and the “instrumental and subordinate nature of capital”? Not many, I’m sure. Yet these principles are why job creation and sustained employment are top priorities. Even during economic downturns, when unemployment is high, as it is now, the amount of layoffs within MCC are few and limited in duration. As noted by Judy Schwartz in a recent article, “During the 1980s, when Spain's unemployment hit 27 percent, Mondragon’s hovered below 1 percent.”

As a worker owned cooperative, ultimately all profits are kept by the workers. Although some portion of profits are pooled with other coops and used for finance, education and R&D, a significant piece of the pie is distributed directly to workers in the form of profit sharing or put into the workers’ individual capital accounts. Shared risks become shared rewards.

Another key differentiation for Mondragon is the principal of democratic organization with “one person, one vote”. Every worker-owner owns an equal share and has an equal vote through “one class” ownership. All worker-owners can participate in the General Assembly to elect its Board of Directors, which is comprised of fellow worker-owners in the cooperative. The Board appoints management within the cooperative for a limited term. Workers also directly elect a representative, internal Social Council to advise the Board and management on a range of employment issues, including wages and benefits.

Mondragon cooperatives also subscribe to a principle of wage solidarity. In most cases, the highest paid worker in the cooperative makes no more than 5 times the lowest paid worker in the cooperative. In contrast, CEO’s at many multinational corporations take over 400 times the pay of the lowest paid worker. Wage solidarity means there is less disparity among workers and the communities in which they live, reinforcing the equality, and quality, of ownership.

Finally, the principle of social transformation means that a key part of the coops’ mission is to support and invest in their communities by creating jobs, funding development projects, supporting education, and providing opportunity. Their communities, in turn, support the coops.

There is no doubt in my mind that there is plenty we can learn from Mondragon. If we are going to dig ourselves out of this recession, we need every good example we can find. A business model that makes employment a priority and solidarity a principle would certainly reflect some of the key values of our Union.

I had the opportunity to visit Mondragon in September 2008. I was in nearby Bilbao for a different meeting when a good friend, who also happens to be Mondragon’s North American Delegate, suggested I go meet with the President of Mondragon Internacional at that time, Jesus Herrasti. In a good conversation, we found our organizations shared many key principles and ideas.

Over the year that followed, more conversations involving more people began to turn to specific ideas on how we might work together on projects in the U.S. and Canada.

In the context of the severe recession, we ultimately thought this was an idea and a partnership that shouldn’t be kept under wraps until we figured out all the intricacies of launching a specific union co-op project.

The USW and Mondragon announced our alliance on October 27, 2009, with little more than a common set of principles and a general framework of how our alliance would work. Risky? Absolutely. Success is by no means guaranteed.

How do we define success though? Is success only the physical manifestation of a USW/Mondragon affiliated coop?

Despite still being in the preliminary stages of this alliance, I would argue that it has already been a success. Since our October announcement, we’ve gotten interest from people in all corners of the U.S. and Canada, plus the UK, France, Australia, and of course, Spain.

Maybe success is shining a spotlight on a really interesting idea, at a time when it is desperately needed.

But can it work here?

I’ve heard a number of people wonder openly about whether such an idea could really take root in an American culture steeped in individualism. I would reframe such questions in a slightly different way though. In the midst of economic devastation and oppression, the people who originally formed and supported the Mondragon cooperatives did so out of necessity to feed and provide for their families. They started their own schools, created their own jobs, provided their own health care and met their own banking and financing needs. Theirs is a story about self-reliance and pragmatism, not just idealism. Shared values such as self-reliance and ownership have deep roots in our culture and history. In the middle of this economic crisis, people are desperate for answers. Since our announcement, I’ve gotten email and phone calls almost every day from people asking, pleading, for help.

We have a real opportunity to rebuild our economy from the ground up, in a way that is sustainable and creates good jobs. We cannot afford to wait for someone else to do it for us.

So, what is the Union’s role in this?

There are natural and historical alliances between the cooperative and labor union movements. Where those have diverged, we believe now is an important opportunity to bring them back together.

With Mondragon’s assistance, we will seek to closely implement their worker-owner model in combination with our collective bargaining model in a way that makes the workplace more participatory and more accountable to the workers, but also protects the interests of the workers and establishes guidelines to ensure that all workers are treated fairly.

We must ensure that ownership means more than just the value of a share.

A core part of this hybrid will be to transform the role of the Social Council into a Union Bargaining Committee. To sustain this model, we must also ensure a dynamic labor-management relationship rooted in partnership, understanding the needs of both the business and the workers, and respect for the advocacy roles each must take on.

Now some of you may be wondering why the USW is spending this much time and effort trying to develop coops. Well, we are indeed probably working outside of our comfort zone, but to me, that’s one of the aspects of my Union that I’m most proud of.

Leadership means taking risks.

My Union is undertaking this effort, like so many other things we do, because we know we cannot afford to rest on our heels. We cannot afford to insulate ourselves in the ongoing work of negotiating contracts and processing grievances. We must do more. For our members and for all workers.

We fight to protect the jobs we already have and the industries in which we work, but we also believe that our Union can play an important role in creating new jobs, developing better business models, and growing new industries.

We are in this alliance with Mondragon because we believe there’s got to be a better way to run a business that is sustainable and accountable to its workers and its communities.

We know change is hard.

While we must understand and learn from the past, we must not be beholden to it. We cannot simply tell ourselves “that’s just the way it is” or “that’s the way it’s always been”. We must set our own course for the future. Our children, our grandchildren, and everyone else that comes after us depend on it.

I have a small poster hanging above my desk with this quote from Margaret Mead:
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Father Arizmendi and five of his former students started a small co-op in the Basque region in 1956.

Imagine what we can do.

We have the power to change the world. The people right here, in this room, have the power to change the world, in ways both big and small.

What are we going to do with it?

We cannot afford to sit on our hands, we must act. We have the power and the responsibility to act. We can create good jobs. We can create jobs with justice. Now let’s go do it!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Bernard Leitaer on the economic crisis and what to do about it

Watch a video of Bernard Leitaer on the economic crisis and what to do about it from the Transitioner.

Economics Built on Beauty and Community

Friday, January 08, 2010
Article from Sustainable Wealth
By Gregory Wendt CFP

Right before I boarded a plane recently, I noticed a Body Shop in the terminal next to the gate. The Body Shop has been a leading business that incorporates social and environmental values into its operations. It was founded by the late Anita Roddick, one of the emergent leaders in the expanding and evolving “green” business movement.

Roddick was a very influential and inspiring thought leader, she stood as a pillar of the socially and environmentally responsible business movement. As I thumbed through my reading materials I found an article in Resurgence Magazine by Roddick entitled “The Currency of Imagination.” This eloquent article laid out some of her guiding principles and reflections on being one of the only CEOs (if not the only CEO) in the crowd of human beings who raised their voices against the globalization paradigm represented by the 1999 WTO meeting in Seattle.

In the article she laid out a new vision for society, a vision which I share, where we place community and beauty as driving values for our individual and institutional decision making. I have learned that for any successful endeavor in new economic thinking to work, it must be built on a culture of trust and collaboration amongst the participants. Such ideas have inspired me in the efforts I have made in my region in co-founding Green Business Networking, a monthly networking event which brings together entrepreneurs and professionals who are committed to greening our economy through their businesses.

Somewhere along the line we picked up a virus in our culture’s source code. This virus misguided us by placing money and power as the central measuring sticks for success, all fed by a rapacious economic operating system driven by the gospel of consumerism. Our economy has become devoid of beauty and community, transactions have become ”complex, opaque, anonymous based on short term outcomes” according to Don Shaffer, President of RSF Social Finance, and our transactions need to become “direct, transparent and personal based on long term relationships.” On a similar theme, Judy Wicks, founder of the White Dog Café, who is also a co-founder of the very successful movement “Business Alliance For Local Living Economies” lives these principals. She says that her business was built on the principal of “maximizing relationships” rather than “maximizing profits.” As a result of her focus, her business thrived with the satisfaction of higher sales, and happier people.

In the wake of the recent financial crisis, and the significant ills facing our world, it has become clear to many people that the prevailing economic paradigm is no longer working to improve the well being of humanity. With climate crisis, declining ecosystems, billions, food riots, childhood diabetes, etc. individuals and institutions are experiencing the severe ramifications of an avaricious and predatory economic model. However, there is another way.

I spend a fair amount of energy inquiring into the nature of the latent economic opportunity of which Roddick spoke–that which incorporates beauty and community into the economic equation. I am also keen on discerning the most effective and coherent actions necessary to transmute our current economy of waste into an economy of thriving abundance, conservation and renewal for 100 percent of humanity. Our economic paradigm utilizes debt manipulation and consumerism as a short-sighted means to an unforeseen dead end and endless gluttony for few at the top of the heap.

Roddick said:

Consumerism doesn’t care if we buy in beautiful or ugly surroundings. Few aspects of the global economy provide beauty or community and, worse, in many ways it drives them out by deliberate manipulation of debt, which is as as powerful motivator as invented in human history. On the other hand, providing for these vital needs requires another kind of economy altogether, which emphasizes beauty, community and creativity.

Sadly, and with far reaching consequences, our current economy has failed to value such manifestations of “beauty, community and creativity. She pointed out that the economist John Maynard Keynes “talked about the hideous waste of economic system that could not recognize art or beauty…. In a speech to the Irish government in 1933, he urged politicians and economists to raise their ambition, and spend the money on beauty.”

Yet, the economy of beauty that we need transcends and includes the artful beauty of which he speaks. It is a culture of thriving community of people inspired by, evolving and learning from others and from and beauty that surrounds them.

How do we recognize and create such a vibrant community as the foundation of a successful economic paradigm?

Such a community has “deep connectivity” between participants. In a private paper, leading thinker Jon Ramer wrote that some of the citizens in a society of deep connectivity are “committed to produce something in their lives and the lives of others.” And, that such a society “is for building relationships, producing meaningful results, learning and growing together via a principled-approach to personal and community development.”

An economic system that encourages such “deep connectivity” is based on what I would call the currency of relationships. A perfect example of is the deeply successful Mondragon Cooperative movement, a community based economic system successfully operating the Basque region of Spain. It started during the Great Depression in the 1930s and thrived amid the oppressive Franco dictatorship. Mondragon succeeded in such a fascist context “by avoiding confrontation, not by being passively servile but by doing what was for the good of all.”

Author Thomas Greco made an important point that the success of Mondragon experience is replicable, but only in conjunction with the simultaneous weaving of a strong social fabric. That effort need not necessarily be centered around ethnic identity and culture, but could based on other common factors between the participants – such as religious affiliation, geographical proximity, shared values, or other factors that create common interests (but with concern for the greater common good always foremost.)

It is precisely this inherent characteristic of wishing to be part of something greater than ourselves that has given humans a sense of meaning since time immemorial. This heroic sense of contribution and sharing for the common good is a key principal of success.

Consider: has there ever been a time in history when this kind of collective heroism is more important than now, when the stakes are as high as they can get?

Mondragon scholar, Terry Mollner makes a distinction between the declining ‘material age’ and the emerging ‘relationship age,’ and concludes that the [Mondragon founders] ‘set about building a Relationship Age society by extending into more sophisticated realms the Relationship Age values which were already present In Basque Society.’

Along the same lines, Roddick concludes “We will succeed to the extent to which we encourage human connection and conversation. We will succeed also to the extent to which we spend the small change of imagination – the human stories about people and places and what they aspire to do.

Although it has been said before – we are at a critical juncture where our global circumstances require each of us to embrace that responsibility in every relationship we have. We share the responsibility to manifest the “Relationship Age” right where we are. A Relationship Age where artful living in deep connectivity is the evolutionary catalyst to shift our current economic operating system into a creation of shared wellbeing for our lives here on spaceship Earth.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Book Review: The End of Money and the Future of Civilization

I got through the first 11 chapters of this book and then put it down for many months, having read all these same concepts before in different forms and thinking the rest of the book would be equally redundant in my overflowing complementary currency library. Months later, I picked up this book again and realized that it contained some important perspectives and lessons on where complementary currencies are headed and lessons from the past that provide good guidance for currency system design best practices. I will get to some of those key points later.

I want to advise the newcomer to currencies of some qualifications. Tom Greco has a pretty specific purpose in mind it seems- capturing a significant portion of the formal economy with more decentralized, sustainable and equitable currency and credit systems. This is not the only purpose alternative currencies are intended to serve, though it is definitely one of the most important goals in my mind. However, there is also the domain of the informal economy, which as its name suggests is less guided by firm regulations and more by social norms, relationships and trust.

In many countries, the informal economy is still a significant portion of the overall economy and supplies many people with most of their basic needs. Our informal economy in the US in my opinion is underdeveloped (or has been diminished over time by the dominance of the formal economy and the centralized monetary system). Community currencies can also serve to organize and develop the informal economy. Community currencies are often marked as failures, but upon questioning the past participants, it is noted that there were many positive outcomes other than qualitatively high levels of trading through the system. In interviews and case studies, it is often noted that community is developed and trades start to take place outside the system. It, to some extent, fulfilled its function (reconnecting community for informal trading) and then dies. Some of course never even fulfill this function, and developing an informal economy in an area with a highly developed formal economy is quite the challenge. Relationships, trust, quality of life all need to be reprioritized in a culture that values profit and efficiency above all else. This book still has some lessons that may apply in this realm, but some caution is advised in applying Greco’s maxims to every kind of alternative means of exchange.

Greco points us in the direction of some the top thinkers in currencies (Greco being one of them of course) towards business to business mutual credit clearing. Too many currency projects have aspired to bring radical cultural change and at the same time convince local business to get involved, though business is often an afterthought in the design process. Greco proposes a business mutual credit clearing first as a foundation which is easy for businesses to understand, operate within, and benefit from without having to make operational and ideological leaps and bounds. He describes mutual credit clearing in easy-to-understand language, as well as its myriad benefits. Without access to low or now interest credit, few small local businesses will be able to get off the ground, weather economic storms, expand their operations, or do things like energy audits and retrofits.

Greco provides a lot of insight into the very high failure rate of currency projects (though not much higher than small business failure rate) that I concur with based on my numerous interviews and readings of currency case studies. Some of the key points to take home from past lessons of currency design problems- currencies often fail to thrive because inadequate reciprocation between members, as well as inadequate scale and scope of operation. These attributes reduce confidence in and value of the currency. If the currency can’t be spent where you need it, then it is useless, less useful even then inflationary national currency.
Inadequate reciprocation arises, according to Greco, from system design flaws and management issues. System design flaws can include “improper basis of issue of credits or currency, inadequate account limits (overissuance of currency in relation to an issuer’s productivity and demand for their goods or services), and lack of a clear agreement between issuers and users of credits or currency.”

He identifies some important management issues that have caused currencies to fail: “lack of accountability and transparency, inadequate management procedures and controls, overreliance upon volunteer administrators, and failure to respond to internal or external threats.”
Inadequate scale and scope arise from “failure to achieve critical size of the participant base, to narrow an assortment of goods and services being offered, failure to attract participants from all levels of the supply chain, and failure to gain wide acceptance among the mainstream business community.” This leads to the “empty store syndrome” as someone mentioned about our pilot phase time exchange today – “I want to trade, but there is nothing I want to buy.”

He provides some specific guidance on issuance. “Anyone who offers goods or services for sale on the market is qualified to issue currency.” You must be able to sell in order to get credit/currency and the amount of credit should be based on a relatively short time scale (i.e. how much you might be able to sell in a few months). Also, many currencies fail to recognize what Greco emphasizes in his “pull not push” approach, “most of the issuing power (lines of credit) should be allocated to those businesses in the community that you wish to have accept the currency- the ones at which people wish to spend their currency, the ones that sell what everyone wants to buy.” This approach pulls the currency along getting people to really want to earn/buy the currency in order to spend it on highly desirable goods rather than fluffy services. The push approach is the route most novice currency projects take, trying to encourage keystone businesses as an afterthought and trying to push the currency on people for idealistic reasons. But currencies are an economic medium used to buy real goods that people need to survive and perhaps they should address this primary purpose first, with the qualifications I outlined in the beginning pertaining to the informal community economy.

He notes as we all now know, it is easier to get these projects off the ground during times of scarcity. But applying this theory, it is also easier to implement these projects in sectors of the economy or specific geographic areas or with populations that are lacking in national currency. He advises to spread these projects across different sectors of the economy, demographics and a wide enough geographic area so as to be functional and not continue to be marginalized by categorical deficiencies.

Seeing the broader picture, Greco promotes a long-term plan of import substitution, an alternative payment medium from trusted issuers (independent of political and banking institutions) on a regional basis, support structures that strengthen the local economy (investment, finance and education), and develop an independent value standard and unit of account (i.e. not the US dollar, but perhaps a basket of commodities).

There are many gems in this book, including very useful details if you are considering designing an effective and robust currency system for your region. But beware, you won’t see them until halfway through the book, so keep reading. It’s worth it.

About the author: Tom Greco is a community and monetary economist, educator and former college professor at Rochester Institute of Technology. He is a leading authority on cashless exchange systems, monetary history and theory, credit clearing systems, complementary currencies, statistical analysis, and community economic development. Tom is the author of several other important books on currencies, including “Money: Understanding and Creating Alternatives to Legal Tender” and “New Money for Healthy Communities.”

He will be speaking at the Green Festival in San Francisco on April 10 at 12pm
and at the California Coop Conference in Santa Rosa on April 9 at 1:30pm

Is Urban Farming Detroit's Cash Cow?

March 21, 2010
2010 may yield profit as efforts reap jobs, tax base


Community gardeners in Detroit harvest a good deal of fruits and vegetables each year, but not much of that other type of green: profit.

This year, though, Detroit's small-scale, volunteer urban farm movement will see the most dramatic steps yet toward making urban farming an economically viable industry.

These steps promise that within the next few years, urban growers in Detroit will produce jobs and a tax base along with their salad greens.

Among those efforts are RecoveryPark and Hantz Farms, two proposals to farm Detroit's vacant spaces at a scale unknown now, up to 2,000 acres or more each -- that's twice the size of Belle Isle.

Meanwhile, the nonprofit Greening of Detroit this year plans to open Market Garden, a two-acre site near Eastern Market to train would-be career urban farmers how to operate like a business.

And New York activist Majora Carter continues to map plans in the city for a pilot program for a worker-owned farming cooperative.

Those involved say 2010 will be the critical year to get these efforts in the ground instead of just talked about.

"I think it'll move from a theory to a reality this year," said Michael Score, president of Hantz Farms.

Gary Wozniak, director of the RecoveryPark project, agreed that the coming months will see the first flowering of a new farm economy in Detroit.

"We're talking about creating an entirely brand new industry in the city," he said.
Down on the city farm

Not what most Americans think of as agriculture -- amber waves of grain, rows and rows of corn.

Instead, it will resemble the community gardens that exist now in Detroit, although on a much larger scale.

Each operation is likely to grow several, perhaps dozens, of crops -- from salad greens and tomatoes to Christmas trees.

The plots mostly likely would be scattered throughout the city, interspersed with homes and businesses.

The economic incentive is new. Urban growers have been active in Detroit for years, but almost all the food they produce is either donated to food banks, given away to neighbors or consumed by the growers themselves.

A network of growers sells produce at Eastern Market and other locations under the Grown in Detroit label, but the effort remains relatively small at this point.

To help local farmers create jobs and tax base, City Council action is key, because Detroit -- like many other cities -- does not recognize agriculture as a legal land use in its zoning code.

Kathryn Lynch Underwood, a staffer with the City Planning Commission, an arm of the City Council, heads a task force looking at issues regarding urban agriculture.

She said she expects the council to take up proposed zoning changes within a few months, and that the diversity of farming efforts will be great.

"We're going to end up with a lot of different models of urban agriculture in Detroit. There isn't going to be just one, and there shouldn't be just one," she said.

Contact JOHN GALLAGHER: 313-222-5173

Orland Bishop- Oneness is Abundance

Reposted from Sustainable Wealth Blog

This is a video of a very inspiring LA Activist named Orland Bishop sharing some of his views on The Global Oneness Project which states "L.A.-based community activist Orland Bishop explains how the American economic system that assigns value to competition and scarcity of resources undermines oneness, which is inherently relational and abundant. Although the capitalist system as a whole resists investing in human development, people can create new systems that reinforce each individual's value instead of encouraging struggle and competition by making alternative agreements based on collective inspiration."

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Why I Joined the San Francisco Community Land Trust

Some of you know me for my obsession with community currencies and my second love coops. Today, I joined the Board of the San Francisco Community Land Trust. Why? It is part of my master plan to take over the Bay Area economy with the people and return it to the collective control of the people.

Currencies by themselves will straggle along without collective public management of banks, credit, investment, land and labor and other resources like energy. Currencies are great for supporting local business, but we need to have local businesses with supply chains less reliant on imports and credit less based in large corporate banks in order for them to work. After all, a business can’t repay its corporate bank mortgage loans or buy its Chilean apples with local currency. People can’t pay their rent usually either in local currency. But they could if the land and buildings were truly locally owned.

San Francisco Land Trust is a very cool model. They take land (and the buildings on them) off the market and turn it into an affordable housing cooperative of the current low income renters that live there. If the cooperative home owners sell their unit, they can make very little profit and the unit remains affordable housing. So the SFCLT plan is to take as much land off the market and keep the city an affordable place to live for the working class (and middle class), stem the tide of gentrification, and keep San Francisco the amazing melting of progressive culture that it is.

It would be great for nonprofit and local business as well not to have to pay the oppressive market rental rates that eventually squeeze their budgets to death by getting space in mixed use housing complexes that are part of cooperative land trusts. Many wonderful nonprofits in the Bay Area, my organization included, can’t afford the rent because challenging the capitalist system doesn’t bring in enough money to survive the San Francisco rental market. So many times I’ve heard, “If we could only get a space…” A place for people to be together face-to-face is key in community organizing and building community in general.

We would also be able to have more urban food production if we were able to take arable city land off the market, into land trusts, and away from housing developers. Right now it is entirely cost inefficient to use land for grown food in an urban setting. It is much cheaper to grow food in rural Chile and ship it to San Francisco, despite the environmental costs of such transportation. If peak oil actually comes, as I believe it already has, we will have to start making the transition towards more local food production, but the land to do it on is rapidly disappearing to development. We need to protect as much good city land as possible and put it into land trusts. It is fine to do guerrilla gardening or get short term leases, but growing food is serious business. Often you have to remediate toxins in the soil, nutrients and humus have to be built up, and sometimes sculpting of land, not to mention pulling weeds and moving rock. It’s a lot of work and community gardens and urban farms rarely have secure land ownership, but it is desperately needed if we are not to be toiling endlessly jumping from one toxic abandoned free lot to the next.

For more info about SFCLT or to become a member see

Timebank in the United Arab Emirates?!

You’ve heard of Time Dollars…now there is Time Dirhams
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
From Main Street Cash

For the Eye of Dubai news, the first time bank in the region, has officially launched in the United Arab Emirates. The organization introduces a new medium of exchange known as the ‘time dirham’, a currency which is equivalent to hours of time spent in service to other members of the time bank community.

“The idea is really fresh out here in the GCC,” says Shymaa Binbrek, Co-Founder of the Time Dirham and an Emirati living in Dubai. “People from all walks of life have the opportunity to become part of a valuable force and allow them to convert their free time into time dirhams by serving other members of the community.”

The traditional monetary system allows members of society to earn money in dirhams which can be traded for goods and services which satisfy both basic needs and luxuries. One issue that arises, however, is that from the moment that barter went out of fashion and gave way to more efficient systems of trade like cash, emphasis has been placed more and more on the mechanical nature of the interaction and less so on the social value of the exchange.

“The time dirham balances the scales, so to speak;” says Amir-Esmaeil Bozorgzadeh, another Founder of the Time Dirham. “It allows members of the community to exchange skills and services without the necessity of direct cost or barter, so every hour is valuable independent of who the hour is from. Any one hour of service to the time bank community earns them a time dirham which they can then use to receive an hour of service in return. It is what is referred to as a complementary currency.”

In a survey conducted by YouGov Siraj between January 19th and 25th 2010, 88% of respondents stated that it was the responsibility of the people of a city to bring their community together. A further 82% agreed that they possess special skills, talents or monetary support which they could use to give back to the community in the form of personal contributions.

“These findings support the need for organizations such as the time bank, to empower residents to take more active roles in strengthening their communities, and to enhance the ties within them (between UAE Nationals and expatriates alike) by providing a platform for communities to come together” says Bozorgzadeh.

To learn more about the Time Dirham or join the community, visit their website or see below for direct contact details.

Public Policy Trends and Instruments supporting the Social Economy: International Experiences

A recently published paper on how public policy can aid in the development of alternative economies. Introduction below. To read the full text see
By Crystal Tremblay

1.0 Introduction: Building an alternative economy

The purpose of this paper is to highlight public policy trends and instruments from around the world that are meeting the socio-economic and environmental outcomes fostered in the Social Economy (SE). This paper (the second in a three part series) is intended to compliment the literature review titled “Advancing the Social Economy for socio-economic development: International perspectives”, by presenting specific policy instruments that are being applied by governments to support the Social Economy in producing public policy outcomes that respond to the social, economic and environmental challenges they and their citizens face. The literature review suggests that explicit and far-reaching public policy frameworks and instruments to enable the Social Economy to take action on a broad range of social, economic and environmental issues have had the greatest public policy outcomes. Where governments have fragmented or non-explicit approaches to the Social Economy as a means to achieving socio-economic policy objectives, there has been greater difficulty for actors in the Social Economy to maximise their outcomes for the public good and organize their activities across a range of sub sectors with shared goals. In highlighting successful innovative policy instruments therefore, this paper provides a foundation for discussion and analysis of policy and practice that can advance the Social Economy in Canada.

The Social Economy as a public policy focus has historically been driven by social movement action to create solutions and influence government policy (Poirier, 2008). It is in this context that trends in public policy are conceptualized as part of efforts to reconstitute the social construction of economic activities. The concept of policy instruments comes from recent literature on public policy and can be defined as “strategies and resources employed by governments to facilitate designated ends and goals vis-à-vis target populations” (Harman, 2004; p.1). The central idea behind theory on policy instruments is that governments can act through different instruments to achieve particular goals, and that the instruments chosen are important because they usually involve significantly different policy-making processes and produce different effects (Peters & Van Nispen, 2001). Public policy seeks to achieve goals that are considered to be in the best interest of the whole society, often by targeting specific groups within society (Torjman, 2005).

Because Social Economy organizations are by most definitions actors in the Social Economy, their efforts at the co-production and co-construction of policy is important to any analysis of trends and development in public policy. Vaillancourt (2008) defines co-production as the “participation by stakeholders from civil society and the market in the implementation of public policy”, while co-construction refers to “participation by those very stakeholders in the design of public policy” (p.12). Guy and Henneberry (2009) also embrace the public–private partnership or ‘collaboration’ between government and civil society “in building an inclusive and effective Social Economy network because it utilizes assets from a number of different economic sectors and therefore has the potential to be more efficient for each partner” (p.4). On addressing this evolving partnership, Kwan (2002) points to a “new and dynamic balance in which government and the third sector can work more closely together to find innovative, cost-efficient ways of delivering public services that are essential to Canadian communities” (p. 164).

The literature reveals numerous examples of Social Economy organizations successfully delivering public services. In Germany for example, although the government manages policy analysis and funding, social services are often run by non-profit organizations (Bode & Evers, 2004). Other EU countries are exploring new ways of co-management, where responsibilities are shared among governments, for-profit providers and third-sector organizations (Defourny, 2001). Neamtan (2004) suggests that public administration places insufficient attention on the integration of social, economic, cultural and environmental goals and that the needs of people might be improved through services based on partnerships.

Vaillancourt (2008) also points excellent examples of co-construction and co-production of public policy for social housing in Quebec. One example begins in the 1960’s “when the federal state altered its social housing cost-sharing programs so as to permit the provinces taking advantage of them to develop new social housing units that could come under not only the public sector (i.e., the low-income housing formula) but also housing co-operatives and non-profit organizations (NPO)” (p.31). During this time low-income housing expanded, and the development of housing co-operatives and NPO’s were favored. This trend in Quebec was accentuated with the AccesLogis program in 1997, giving priority to projects from local areas and favoring participation by the Social Economy in the application of public policy on housing. Through this program 20,000 new social housing units were developed from 1997 to 2007, with the vast majority as housing co-operatives and NPO’s.

While the literature points to the valuable role the Social Economy plays in the co-production of policy, Loxley & Simpson (2007) provide a valuable critique regarding the negative implications of off-loading public services to the community sector. They caution that were social service delivery is devolved to the Social Economy, it might be quite consistent with neo-liberalism. “It could, indeed, be a way of reducing public sector employment and public sector wages, with particularly adverse effects on women, who are strongly represented in the public sector” (p.39). Despite the lack of literature and consensus on this debate, the co-construction and production of public policy is an important context for understanding and analysing trends in public policy development for the Social Economy, and where possible references are made to these linkages in the analysis that follows.

This paper outlines several public policy instruments being used by governments around the world to better meet the needs of actors involved in the Social Economy. These instruments range from defining legislation and regulatory measures, to cross-departmental governmental policy frameworks, to specific enabling policies and programs designed to achieve public policy outcomes. In order to obtain improved insight into the characteristics and trends of policy instruments, a typology of five thematic categories are used. This typology is adapted from Neamtam & Downing’s (2005) “Social Economy and Community Economic Development in Canada: Next Steps for Public Policy”, applied as a guide to classify and understand the various policies and their intended outcomes for socio-economic development and environmental sustainability. This paper, commissioned by the Government of Canada, attempted to provide a framework for classifying public policy instruments of direct relevance to the Social Economy in the contemporary governmental environment of the Canadian federal system (2006) and so is used as a basis for analysis. Each typology within this framework is then categorized into policy ‘domains’, or sub components to further highlight the diversity and innovation of policies in this sector. From this typology, conclusions can be drawn concerning future direction for public policy development in Canada for governments at all levels and actors in the Social Economy. The final paper in this series titled “The Social Economy in Canada: Strengthening the Public Policy Environment” highlights policy recommendations based on these trends from around the world.

The framework includes the following policy areas:
• Cross-governmental;
• Territorial;
• Tools for development;
• Sectoral; and
• Supporting disadvantaged communities and populations.

Cross-governmental policies are defined as explicit government-defined policy frameworks to use the Social Economy and enable its actors to achieve socio-economic development goals that cross-governmental departments and mandates. They may include but go beyond any of the following specific policy typologies. Territorial policies can be defined as those public policies that enable “communities to initiate and implement their own solutions to economic problems to build long-term community capacity and foster the integration of economic, social and environmental objectives” (Neamtan & Downing, 2005, p.16). Territorial policies support local communities to create networks, strategic planning processes and collective projects, such as the tripartite support for Community Economic Development corporations in most urban centres in Québec and in some other major Canadian cities (Neamtan & Downing, 2005). These types of policies play an important role in social entrepreneurship by providing a geographic community with funds and support for networking, strategic planning, and collective projects. Social Economy ventures need to have access to suitable tools for development including financing (access to capital), market access, research and development supports, and training and management systems. Sectoral policies often respond to needs that neither the market nor government can satisfy. Polices that support the emergence of Social Economy actors in economic sectors (such the environment, housing, new technologies, communications, food services etc.) are important tools for strengthening the Social Economy. Policies in favour of supporting disadvantaged communities and populations contribute to addressing access, services and employment to marginalized groups. These policies use the Social Economy as a vehicle to integrate citizens with barriers to socio-economic participation.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Tale of Two Ecovillages: Damanhur and Findhorn

Jonathan Dawson
32 Resurgence No. 227 November/December 2004

There are signs of a growing awareness of the multiple dangers entailed in the loss of small-scale, locally based production systems. This is reflected in the growth in popularity of farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture schemes, credit unions, buy-local campaigns, Fairtrade link-ups, and other initiatives to win back some community control over the processes of production and consumption. For the most part, these remain isolated initiatives: subscribers to organic box schemes, to give but one example, may have gone some way towards localising their food supply, but more than likely, in most other areas of their lives, they remain as dependent as ever on the global corporate economy. For the individual, for the household, even for groups of households the system is very hard to short-circuit. For a community of several hundred or more, however, especially if that community has a shared vision of creating an alternative to the global economy, the chance of success is significantly increased. And this is where the ecovillage model comes into its own as a seedbed for experimentation and innovation. Damanhur in Italy and the Findhorn Community in Scotland have consciously set out to reduce their dependence on the global corporate economy and to re-weave the web of a more complex, locally based, social economy. In an era where local shops, post offices, schools and other facilities are closing down in unprecedented numbers across Europe, these two communities are experiencing substantial growth and diversification, opening new enterprises and generating new employment. Findhorn and Damanhur have much in common. Both started as small initiatives in the 1960s and early 1970s. Both had, and continue to have, a strong spiritual focus to their activities. Both located themselves in economically marginalized areas: Damanhur in the alpine foothills of Piedmont, Findhorn in northern Scotland. Finally, both have experienced substantial growth in size over the decades: today, Damanhur is a federation of communities of more than 900 people, with many more supporters in the surrounding areas and indeed throughout Europe and the world; the Findhorn Community is home to around 450 people, with an extended international family of friends and partners. What is immediately striking on entering both ecovillages is the tangible feeling of activity and vitality. New buildings are being constructed, generally by companies owned by and employing community members. There are bakeries, theatres, shops and cafés that draw in visitors from far and wide. Local, organic cheeses, fruit and vegetables combine great quality with very low food miles. Crafts studios turn out beautiful ceramics, textiles, carvings and candles. Schools and training centres for both children and adults are flourishing. Publishing houses, printing presses, solar-panel manufacturers, waste-water system designers and consulting companies abound. Everywhere there is evidence of economic vitality and diversification. AT THE HEART of these success stories lies an astute understanding of the true nature of money and of how the rules that govern its movement can be managed so as to benefit the local economy. Damanhur and Findhorn have found a dual response to money management: to set up their own banks to retain their members’ savings within the community; and to create their own currencies to keep money circulating locally. Within Damanhur, the role of banker is taken on by the community’s real estate co-operative. This body was created as a vehicle for investing the savings of community members in the purchase of land and the building of accommodation, workshop and office space for community members and businesses. More recently, it has also come to play a role more akin to that of a mainstream bank, helping to identify business opportunities and providing loans and advice to community members who take them on. At the end of every year, the real-estate cooperative undertakes a study of the community economy, identifying which goods and services still need to be bought in from the outside, and seeking to promote new community enterprises to fill these gaps.The Findhorn Community has created Ekopia, a body with the status of an industrial provident society, to recycle locally the savings of its members. Here, projects in need of investment are identified, and share issues are raised against them. Each investor has one voting share only, irrespective of how much he or she invests, thus promoting a strongly communitarian ethic. This has enabled the community to draw on the financial resources of both current members and the wider Findhorn family, many of whom were previously members and all of whom share the community’s vision to create a more self-reliant and low impact human settlement. Both communities have also created their own currencies: the Credito in Damanhur and the Eko in Findhorn, each of which trades at parity with the national currency. While all transactions within Damanhur are undertaken using Creditos, residents and visitors to Findhorn have a choice and most use both national and community currencies. In both communities, all goods and services — for instance educational courses, building services, books, food, theatre tickets and printing — can be bought with the community currency. The beauty of these currencies from the point of view of the community economy is that they can only be spent locally and thus remain available to community members wishing to trade with each other. They are, in this sense, identical to Ithaca Hours, the currency system created by the social activist Paul Glover in the New York State town of Ithaca, in that they represent, in Paul’s words, money “with a boundary around it, so it stays in our community. It doesn’t come to town, shake a few hands and then wander out across the globe. It reinforces trading locally…they are untravellers’ cheques because you have to use them here — you cannot take them away.” SO MUCH FOR the theory. To see how the system works in practice, let us look in a little more detail at the Findhorn Community economy. The first of the share issues raised by Ekopia involved 220 individuals investing a total of £225,000 in a community-led buy-out of the community store, the Phoenix shop, which had previously been owned by the Findhorn Foundation. Share issues have also been raised to provide finance to the Findhorn Foundation (£100,000 has been raised) and the community educational facility, Newbold House (£25,000). Further community-based projects to finance the purchase of new wind turbines and affordable, eco-friendly houses are in the pipeline. This system delivers several benefits to the community. Investors become co-owners of the businesses in which they buy shares, they gain a five per cent discount on all purchases in the Phoenix shop, and they receive a dividend reflecting the growth in the value of the business. Ekopia calculates that, together, these various benefits equal a return of £100 per annum on an investment of one £500 share, compared to around £10 interest payments on £500 deposited in the bank. Secondly, community businesses are able to draw on the monetary savings of community members without needing to pay commercial bank fees and interest rates to do so. With bank interest rates at historically low levels, this factor is less important today than it is likely to be in the future; however, community businesses still make a saving of around £2,000 per annum on bank charges. Meanwhile, the Eko was launched in 2001 with an initial issue of 18,500 Ekos and a second issue of 20,000 Ekos. It is estimated that the first issue of Ekos generated a turnover of £150,000 in the first year of the scheme: almost ten full spending cycles. This is money that has stuck around, shaken plenty of hands and provided much valuable lubrication to the community economy. For sure, many of the products for sale within the community shop and other businesses originate outside the community and so money will necessarily leave the system to pay for them. Nonetheless, the use of the Eko has prevented a substantial leakage of purchasing power, making it much easier for genuinely local enterprises to emerge. Ekos are purchased from Ekopia with pounds sterling, one Eko to one pound, thus creating a loan fund for community businesses. The first of these loans, to the Phoenix shop for the renovation of its crafts department, generated enough in interest payments to pay for the printing of the first issue of Eko notes and the purchase of a marquee for community gatherings. THE CREATION OF Ekopia and of the Eko in the Findhorn Community and of the real-estate co-operative and the Credito in Damanhur have gone some way towards setting up a virtuous circle in which everyone wins. Investors gain more in terms of both financial returns and ownership of community businesses. Businesses get access to credit at a cheaper rate than through the conventional banking system. Expanding local businesses generate extra employment and purchasing power. And more of that purchasing power remains within the community.
Last, but far from least, though less easy to measure in purely economic terms, is the strong social dividend inherent in the strong feelings of ownership and participation felt by members of the community towards their own economy. Decisions relating to consumption, investment and work cease to be made purely according to criteria of profit maximisation. The divorce between head and heart that the current global economy enforces (whereby people often make consumer choices that they know to be socially or ecologically exploitative because of financial implications) is, to some degree at least, overcome. This ecovillage model thereby enables people to bring their desire for justice and sustainability back into alignment with their aspiration to live well and happily.
For proof that the model works in practice, one need look no further than a 2002 study undertaken by the local enterprise company Moray, Badenoch and Strathspey Enterprise into the economic impact of the Findhorn community on that of the north of Scotland. This study calculated that the community generates 400 jobs and over £5 million of business annually and commented on the value to the Scottish economy of the community’s diversification into economic activities beyond its original educational heartland. Meanwhile, the Damanhurian economy goes from strength to strength, its latest expansion being the purchase of a former Olivetti factory located nearby, a metaphor, perhaps, for the evolution from a corporate to an ecovillage-based society. These experiments demonstrate that it is, in practice, possible for local communities to short-circuit the global economy and to take back a good measure of control over their own economic destinies. They also suggest that at least three complementary elements need to be in place to permit them to do so. First, there needs to be a strong, shared vision and community of interest within a defined population to engage with the task. A population of around 200 people suggests itself as the minimum necessary to create an economic unit with sufficient diversity of enterprises and adequate purchasing power to make this viable. Secondly, leakages of monetary wealth out of the local economy need to be carefully identified and, to the degree possible, staunched. And finally, following the observation of Michael Shuman, the success of the model appears to be dependent on the synergies that emerge when local investment is combined with local ownership, local production and local employment. Converting the vicious cycle of today’s global economy, which effects such a strong and divisive fracture within the human heart and mind, into a virtuous and nourishing cycle will be no easy task. Community-based action in an economics of solidarity is required. The ecovillage movement has begun to develop interesting and strikingly effective models. The next task is to transfer these out of the intentional community seedbed and into the wider society.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Coops and Currencies Unite at Conference

At the California Coop Conference in Santa Rosa, Friday April 9 from 1:20-3pm
For more info and registration:

“Local Currencies – Reclaiming Our Economic Power”

A workshop led by 3 leading local currency experts and innovators. We will evaluate local currency best practices using real existing and historical programs as examples, explore the potential of the cooperative structure for developing community trade networks, and highlight exciting innovations happening in the field.


Derek Huntington

Derek Huntington graduated from San Diego State University in 2005 as a Bachelor of Science in corporate finance with a minor in international politics. Since 2006, Derek has been researching and developing community-friendly credit and financing structures, culminating in the development of the Sustaining Capital model and the formation of Sustaining Technologies, LLC. He was one of the main organizers of the Sonoma County relocalization effort, and now serves as President of the Sonoma County GoLocal Cooperative.

Sustaining Technologies has developed an integrated website, business directory, and rewards card system currently being piloted with the Sonoma County GoLocal Cooperative. The platform will evolve into a social media and trading platform designed to strengthen relationships between individuals, businesses, and non-profits in communities. Visit to check it out.

Thomas H. Greco, Jr.

Tom Greco is a community and monetary economist, educator and former college professor at Rochester Institute of Technology. He is a leading authority on cashless exchange systems, monetary history and theory, credit clearing systems, complementary currencies, statistical analysis, and community economic development. He is the author of several books, including Money and Debt: A Solution to the Global Crisis and The End of Money and the Future of Civilization.

Chris Lindstrom

Chris Lindstrom is a long time student of community economic development and community exchange systems. He worked for the E.F. Schumacher Society as staff and program developer from 2003 to 2008. He was a founding board member of the BerkShares, one of the most widely acclaimed local currencies located in the Southern Berkshire region of Massachusetts. In 2004, he organized a conference for the Schumacher Society titled Local Currencies in the Twenty-First Century: Understanding Money, Building Local Economies, Renewing Community.

Lindstrom is currently a student at Goddard College and is writing his senior thesis on the philosophy, theory, and spirituality of money. He serves as the advisor and consultant to a number of complementary currency projects through out North America including GETS Plus, an incubator for green business barter and exchange systems

Saturday, March 13, 2010

To jumpstart US job market, turn workers into owners

Reposted from Christian Science Monitor
Many Americans build wealth through their home. Why not through work?

By Melissa Hoover and Beadsie Woo / January 11, 2010
San Francisco and Baltimore

Seldom do the United Steelworkers, the United Nations, and film director Michael Moore express the same idea at the same time. But all have, in their own way, promoted the benefits of cooperative businesses in recent months.

The Steelworkers Union, North America’s largest industrial union, has signed an agreement with a 100,000-member European co-op to help workers here gain an ownership stake in their workplace.

Just last month, the UN declared 2012 the International Year of Cooperatives. It’s urging governments worldwide to collaborate with the co-op movement to reduce poverty and create more productive societies.

And Michael Moore sent a valentine to the co-op movement in his latest film, “Capitalism: A Love Story.” As a form of economic democracy, he said in an interview, co-ops are “the patriotic thing to do.”

In hard times like these, the co-op model makes sense. After all, public confidence in corporations, banks, and the larger financial system is at low ebb, while unemployment is at its highest level in 25 years. Homeownership, historically a reliable way to build equity, has been rocked by foreclosures. People are looking for other ways to do business and save money.

Turning workers into investors isn’t new. We’re all familiar with dot-com employees whose vested stock options turned them into overnight millionaires. And Employee Stock Ownership Plans have long allowed workers to invest in their companies. But worker-owned co-ops are unique because employees own 100 percent of the business, so they have a voice in how it’s run.

Many people think of co-ops as the hippie-dippy grocery store that sells organic goods. In fact, a 2009 study by the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives found more than 29,000 cooperatives in the US, which make $500 billion in annual revenue, support 83,000 people, and pay $25 billion in wages and benefits. They include national firms such as credit unions, and local businesses such as the Alvarado Street Bakery in Petaluma, Calif., or the Evergreen Cooperative Laundry in Cleveland.

Cleaning ladies in the San Francisco area and home-care workers in New York have banded to pool resources as worker-owners of profitable enterprises. White-collar workers are getting involved, too: One of the most successful cooperatives is Isthmus Engineering, a Wisconsin firm where engineers bought the company from its owner.

For low-wage workers, owning a business cooperatively can play a particularly important role in helping them climb out of poverty and build savings. Cooperative Home Care Associates in New York’s South Bronx, for instance, lets its 1,600 members save money toward a $1,000 stake in the co-op, entitling them to annual dividends. The business offers them affordable health insurance, retirement plans, and other benefits.

In America, most families build wealth by buying homes, investing in businesses, or putting money into employer-sponsored retirement accounts. The federal government subsidizes this wealth-building to the tune of $367 billion a year. But most low-income families don’t have the money to buy a house or start a business. And they don’t have jobs that come with 401(k) plans. Many of those who stretched to buy a house this decade have lost their homes or their equity.

It was mass unemployment and widespread poverty in Spain’s Basque region that spurred the creation of the Mondragon co-op in the 1950s. Today it’s the region’s economic engine, with more than 100,000 workers. At Mondragon, workers make the investment and the decisions. They share the profits and the risk. The Steelworkers say the co-op structure empowers workers and makes business more accountable. It envisions converting an existing site or starting new ventures, a natural extension of the union’s role in giving workers a voice with owners. Except this time, the workers would also be the owners.

There is plenty America can do to help cooperative businesses flourish. The Small Business Administration could make clear that it guarantees loans to worker co-ops. Congress could set aside money for an urban co-op development initiative as it does now for rural cooperatives. State and local governments could provide tax breaks and loans to co-ops that create new jobs. They could also fund an employee-ownership bank to support these ventures. Charitable groups, too, could help develop and expand the co-op model as a strategic approach to creating jobs and building assets for working families.

A model based on human values rather than the unbridled pursuit of profit might be just what we need to create jobs, rebuild wealth, and support our communities. Keep your eye on co-ops.

Melissa Hoover is executive director of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives. Lillian “Beadsie” Woo is a senior associate at the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Reputation Currencies

Sunday, April 12, 2009
Posted by Alan Rosenblith on New Currency Frontiers

I do not claim to be an expert on reputations systems. There are many who have gone way deeper on this subject than I. Instead, I hope to seed a conversation about the complex interplay between reputations currencies, exchange currencies, and the marketplace. While there are a whopping variety of reputations currencies in play today on the web, I see two basic categories.

Do I live up to my promises?
When two parties come together to make a transaction, both sides make a variety of promises. As a player in a given marketplace I get a reputation about whether or not I live up to my promises. Some of these promises are explicit and some are implicit. The seller explicitly promises things about their goods or services, such as “This mouse works with USB.” If I get home and the box has been incorrectly labeled, I am legally allowed to return it, since the seller’s explicit promise has been broken. If the seller frequently breaks their explicit promises, they earn a bad reputation and buyers avoid them (they may even be sued). Ebay makes excellent use of this principle with their “thumbs up / thumbs down” system that allows buyers to rate sellers.

On the buyer’s end, the story is a little more complicated. In some marketplaces, the promise might have to do with timely payment. When I receive an invoice, I have until a certain date to settle my account. If, as a buyer, I stop settling accounts on time, I develop a bad reputation.

However, if we look a little deeper we see there are explicit promises backing up the exchange medium itself. Money is an IOU, and, as such, someone had to make an explicit promise to a bank to pay back a loan (with interest) in the future for it to be issued in the first place. While that kind of explicit promise is at the foundation of exchange currency, we rarely perceive money that way. If I develop a bad history as a borrower of money, my credit rating (a reputation currency) is negatively affected, and I lose access to exchange currency.

Reputations outside the explicit promise
Let’s say I own a pizza place. I advertise that, because I care about the environment, I will only employ people who deliver pizzas with their bicycles. You care about the environment too. You order a pizza, but when you get it, the delivery person is driving a Hummer. You feel cheated. Part of what you were paying for was benefit to the environment. This is an example of the first kind of reputation. I as a seller broke my explicit promise.

But what happens if everything is the same, except I didn’t promise bicycles for delivery vehicles? You might still be outraged that a Hummer was the delivery vehicle, but I didn’t promise anything to the contrary. This situation is an example of the second kind of reputation. This kind of reputation may have been what Adam Smith was talking about with his prescription for successful markets: there must be symmetrical information between buyers and sellers. I didn’t know I was supporting a pizza place that used Hummers. I accidentally caused an environmental externality that could have been avoided if I had had access to better information. We could solve this problem by introducing a reputations currency that measured buyers’ perceptions of sellers’ ecological impact. Buyers who cared could go to only those sellers who also cared (or more precisely, imbued buyers with that perception).

This situation gets murky very quickly, however. What happens if, in the above scenario, I advertise that I, as a pizza seller, care about the environment, but don’t make a promise about delivery vehicles? Perhaps I compost all my waste, or recycle soda cans, or use environmentally friendly cleaners. Since, you as a buyer sitting at home don’t see those behaviors, you are not getting the whole picture. Again, we have asymmetric information.

I might incur an unfair reputation as an ecological monster, since the people who contribute to my reputation don’t see most of my environmentally friendly behavior. A buyer-issued reputations currency would therefore bias me towards enacting environmentally friendly practices that were visible to buyers. However, many of the most important environmental practices might not be things that buyers normally see.

Enter the third party rating service. I, as a seller, can choose to be environmentally audited by a disinterested third party. An auditor gets a thorough look at all my practices and issues credentials to me based on them (another reputations currency). However, there is a tricky balance in this transaction. Since I, as a seller, probably have to pay for this service, I want to make sure there is a good chance I will receive the credentials in question. Therefore, I am biased towards hiring less stringent auditors. However, buyers are not served by this arrangement, and if word gets out that the auditors aren’t stringent, the auditor loses its reputation as an auditor. This means that auditors are trying to appeal to sellers as likely to grant credentials, while simultaneously trying to appeal to buyers as stringent.

One way to solve this dilemma might be to have the buyers rather than sellers pay for the auditing. However, sellers still need to grant access to the auditors. They might only want to grant access to auditors who are less stringent. And if auditors don’t get access to a broad enough swath of businesses, how can they charge buyers for their service?

Also, there are clearly situations where sellers make implicit rather than explicit promises. I might, as a seller, imply something about my practices or my product without making an explicit promise about them. Into which category should we put reputations around these promises? Due to the subtle nature of these reputations currencies, an open source development process that includes the communities that make use of them is the only way to ensure they can be sufficiently dynamic.

Domains of Trust
One final complication: Let’s say we are aggregating reputations about the first kind of reputation (do I live up to explicit promises?). Because (in a hypothetical near future) we have transitioned into a fully open data context, we can see the Ebay seller rating of someone as we buy something from them on Craigslist. But, does an Ebay rating have any meaning in a Craigslist marketplace? It does, IF AND ONLY IF, the rating can travel in the other direction as well, and I incur a consequence on Ebay as a result. If I transact with someone on Craigslist, and they decided to trust me on the basis of my Ebay rating, I could very easily abuse that trust unless they have the ability to post a rating about that transaction back to Ebay. Therefore the consequences of my actions must be applied across all relevant domains.

This gets even more complicated though, because how do we know that the person on Craigslist is rating me based on the same criteria? If they weren’t, we would be comparing apples and oranges, and my Ebay rating would cease to have any meaning at all. The only way to solve this problem is to have open standardized reputation currencies that could be imported and exported across domains. Meta-currency project, here we come!