Tags: co-op, EU, social enterprise
To open, a digital cooperative joke: “How many cooperators does it take to change a lightbulb? – 11011/1100100”.
I’ve just been really impressed by the workshop on the digital social economy at the second session today of the EU social economy summit (EUSES). Chaired by Luca Pastorelli of DIESIS, the workshop made it an online conference that was definitely worth taking part in.
The key message is that 75% of the world’s digital economy is run from the USA, and only 3% from the EU. The social economy, by building bridges between innovation and local communities, plays a crucial role in Europe’s digital strategy, which aims to deliver technology that works for people, a fair and competitive digital economy, an open, democratic and sustainable digital society, and Europe as a global digital player. To do that, the digital social economy needs to scale up, and this requires investment and ecosystem support.
At the moment, the digital economy does not work for people and is unfair, closed and undemocratic. An acute analysis by Professor Trebor Scholz of the Platform Cooperativism Consortium (PCC) shows that it provides insecure low-paid and risky jobs that leave workers subject to harassment and unable to plan their lives. It fragments the workforce and makes it difficult for them to organise. “Behind every Uber driver on the street are hundreds of invisible workers in care and tech,” he said.
Giuseppe Guerini of CECOP pointed out that the digital economy has created new forms of inequality and exclusion, and that trust has become a scarce social resource. Cooperatives can help rectify this by providing work which offers dignity and a sense of identity.
Leading edge platform cooperatives
Damiano Avellino defined platforms – they don’t own or produce what they sell – they connect people. And in so doing, they extract money from local economies through the commissions they levy. during the pandemic, the owners of major platforms have enriched themselves inordinately. Contrast this with the behaviour of Fairbnb, which donates half of its 15% commission to local community projects. In the Emilia Romagna region of Italy, 1/3 of production is cooperative, and next month sees the launch of a new platform initiative called Coop Valley. Connecting people is what social enterprises are great at doing.
Sven Bartilsson reported that in Sweden, Coompanion is working with the Fairgig and Giglab projects to set up open date platforms which will allow freelancers to keep control of their own reputations. It is difficult to challenge monopolistic incumbents, and new cooperative platforms need capital if they are to survive the ‘valley of death’ as they build up a critical mass of users. He hopes to set up a €10m investment fund for digital cooperatives (Fairfond).
Timo Berg of Germany’s largest freelance cooperative, 4freelance Recruitment offers its 700 members a low (10%) commission, transparency through an open books policy, fair contracts with no ‘handcuffs’, control over their CVs, and benefits like cheap liability insurance.
It may look like Goliath has won the day, but the social economy has distinct strengths. David is starting to flex his muscles.
Presentations are to be posted on the DIESIS and EUSES websites.