“Building the Cooperative Internet”
The “Platform Cooperativism: Building the Co-operative Internet” took place At The New School and Civic Hall in New York City on November 11-13, 2016, with The Co-operative University being represented by Prof. Esther Gicheru, director ICD who participated in the 3-day event and on day two participated in a powerful interview about the Co-operatives in Kenya.
Almost unnoticed, in the gaps and hollows of the digital economy, a new economy is emerging that follows a different ethical and financial logic. Platform Cooperativism, as it has come to be known, is an emerging movement for democratic governance and collective ownership on the Internet and a fairer future of work. It is a concrete, near future alternative to the on-demand economy; it reclaims humane principles like mutuality, sympathy, and solidarity by bringing together the rich heritage of Cooperativism with 21st-century technologies.
At the conference it was clear the pieces are coming into place. Freelancers are forming cooperatives to find clients and pool insurance through platforms of their own. Uber drivers are leaving the mothership, organizing in co-ops, and designing their own taxi apps. Photographers are offering their work for fair prices on a platform where they’re in charge, and journalists are crowdfunding news portals co-owned with their audiences. New decentralized networks are enabling people to share their data with each other without relying on a corporate cloud. Contrary to the rules of the dominant algorithmic gatekeepers, platform Cooperativism puts the online economic infrastructure into the hands of the people who depend on it most.
The cooperative platform economy is poised to become one of the counter forces to the defects of the on-demand economy. It is a strategy for reversing wealth inequality, gender inequity, environmental degradation, and systemic racial injustice. The experiments now already underway show that a global ecosystem of cooperatives can stand against the concentration of wealth and the insecurity of workers that yields Silicon Valley’s winner-takes-all economy. They show that the Internet can be owned and governed differently.
Since the “Platform Cooperativism: The Internet, Ownership, Democracy” event in November 2015 at The New School, conferences and community meetings about the cooperative platform economy have taken place in Berlin, New York City, Florence, Bologna, Weimar, Melbourne, London, Brussels, Boston, Budapest, and Philadelphia. A new book, Ours to Hack and to Own, gathers many of the rationales and experiments that are driving the movement forward. The Platform Cooperativism Consortium was launched at this event, creating a global network of institutions to support this eco system of businesses. The vision is spreading. A year later, the momentum is building and there is need to keep it building and continue forging the critical connections necessary to make this vision even more a reality.
The Conference Chronology
On Day 1, brought together an international group of policymakers to discuss regulation and investment in alternative models. In the afternoon, the conference thought through the legal and design implications of the cooperative platform economy.
On Day 2, discussions focused on global opportunities for convergence among worker resistance, unions, and cooperatives. How can online co-ops meet some of the platform economy’s challenges that the labor movement has struggled with?
On Sunday, Day 3 an unconference co-sponsored and hosted by the New School’s partner Civic Hall allowed for an open stream of project proposals for the platform co-op space.
Building the basis for a popular movement in support of a fairer cooperative digital economy requires countless people, projects, inventive organizations, publications, and events around the world. “Platform Cooperativism: Building The Cooperative Internet” will be part of this effort.
And Kenya will not be left behind. Working with the consortium, The Co-operative University will creatively bring on board projects especially for our Youth.
It was great to be part of the team that is building a case for Co-operative Internet governed by the Co-operative Values and Principles.
By. Prof. Esther Gicheru