We won! Open:2017 #Digiden kickstarter

We are delighted and honoured that fairmondo.uk was voted the winner at Open:2017‘s #DigiDen competition.  The dragon’s den style event saw three projects Re-publica radio (daily radio podcasts, supported by Paul Mason), Rhino Charging (community electric vehicle charging stations) and fairmondo.uk.  Each pitcher was questioned by the panel judges: Vivian Woodell from The Phone Coop, Emer Coleman, Disruption and Ed Russell, Co-operative Web.  The final decision was made by conference participants using slido.com app.  Felix Weth (fairmondo eG) and Jack Thorp (fairmondo.uk) both presented sessions on how a cooperatively owned marketplace could provide an alternative to the “extractive platforms” such as Amazon, eBay, etsy etc.

cooperative marketplace

 

 

The prize – 4 days of bespoke business advice from The Hive and  £2,000 from The Co-operative Bank – is a shot in the arm for fairmondo.uk during our start up phase.  The business advice will help with our aim to move from a Workers Coop to a Multi-stakeholder coop (MSC) and the knotty legal and insurance issues surrounding online platforms.  The cash prize will be used for platform development work and preparing for our 2017 crowdfund.

coop online

 

 

 

Open:2017 in a packed programme brought together people from around the globe who are actively collaborating to build the components of a new economic system built on fairness and sustainability.  The programme over 2 days at Goldsmiths gave builders and practitioners space to present, envision and deliberate on how we might collectively and peacefully transition to a “collaborative economy”.

stir magazine coop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See also Coders, Commoners and Cooperators for a fuller discussion on #platformcoops and fairmondo in the latest edition of STIR Magazine available to buy now.

Platform Cooperativism conference in the shadow of Trump

This is a text on my experiences at the Platform Cooperativism conference at the New School. A lot was discussed so this is not an attempt to report everything, but the bits I found most interesting and relevant. I hope readers will find it useful to check out links in the text.
It is Friday morning in New York and Trebor Scholz opens the conference attended by about 130 platformists, cooperativists, community organisers, academics and others. “After the election I thought that I should cancel the conference and instead hold another on what we must do now” Scholz jokes bitterly, “but then I realised that Platform Cooperativism is part of what we must do now. To come up with cooperative solutions to the crises we face.” The framing is set for what will be a conference in the shadow of the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States.

Scholz continues by stating that even though platform cooperatives currently employ few people, it has a pervasive model and is something to embrace for those of us who want progressive change. Ownership allows for the fruit of the labour to stay in the hands of those who perform that labour and in the face of automation workers can retain ownership instead of merely being laid off. “Platform cooperativism rejects that tech is the answer to all social problems but it embraces technology.” But in order for platform cooperativism to realise the promises it makes, Scholz argues that it has to overcome the main obstacles:

  • Marketing, to break through the network effect
  • Poor leadership
  • Competition with extractive start-ups
  • Theory being far too removed from practice

<h2>Workers voice</h2>
The First session at the conference is called Workers’ voice and is a discussion on the effects on workers in the digital economy. Mark Graham from the Oxford Internet Institute points at how jobs are only supplied in specific places but that labour is supplied everywhere, leading to an oversupply of labour. But he argues that the oversupply of labour in the Global South can be met with digital tools as it makes labour boundless creating global production networks. But the boundless labour has to align its sleeping hours to hours in the West, causing sleep deprivation to workers in East-Asia and it also leads to wages being undercut and an increased commodification of labour via the dependency of ratings of workers and discrimination of workers is rife online. He thus proposes a transnational digital workers’ union to organise labour globally for fair work but realises the difficulties of doing so Not only because of geography but also because cultural differences of people performing digital work as main source of income, or as a part-time job.’

The second speaker at this panel is Kristy Milland who has been working for Amazon’s MechanicalTurk, where digital work is reduced to tiny pieces that workers can sign up for to do in exchange for minimal remuneration. People work for a tiny wage performing tasks that lead to no training nor ability to further one’s career, but physical and mental illness. MechanicalTurk seems to be the platform equivalent to the first factories of the industrial era. Milland is now working with organising platform workers in North America.

Jack Qiu from the Chinese University of Hong Kong highlights what he calls “algorithm-based class struggle” in China, Hong Kong and Vietnam. Following the appearance of ride-sharing platforms (Chinas answer to Uber is called Didi) in China, the frequency of strikes has three folded. But the strikes are not only frequent but also increasingly militant. Now there are militant strikes in China every other day and 53% of workers admitted in a survey that they had taken part in strikes (Qiu argues that it is probably more). These platforms use different groups of drivers such as taxi drivers, private drivers and their own employed drivers to repeatedly undercut each other’s wages to get workers to work for longer hours, more intensely and for lower wages. But it is not all grim, in Hong Kong neighbourhood cooperative platforms have been developed by single mothers to serve hundreds of families bordering the poverty line with community services, connecting them through a new app.

A discussion followed of what mechanisms of coercion platform workers can use against employers and if that would solve anything anyway without ownership. What is the digital picket line? Milland argued that anything to cut off the platforms funds including negative campaigns was essential while Qiu pointed at targeting scabs through rating systems. If a taxi driver chooses to work during a strike, the other drivers can give her low ratings making it more difficult for that driver to find customers. It was also mentioned that labour activists and hacker activists have to meet each other and work together so that the individual attacks of hackers can be organised into more efficient and long term strategies. Workers in the Global North also have to connect with those in the South to avoid increased precarisation following digitalisation of labour.

<h2>Platform coop showcase</h2>
It is with this backdrop that the conference moves on into a showcase of various cooperatives. Nathan Schneider wants us to remember that we are not building from scratch, cooperatives have worked before. Platform cooperativism is an ownership design through which we can make value creators value owners, treat data as if it is someone’s stuff, commonify code, have representation and decentralisation, design policy for local benefit and control, rent capital without being rented by it, train owners and not just workers. But we need effective governance of these platforms and also to acknowledge the material basis of the digital economy and its dependency on mineral extraction.

Some of the platform cooperatives that are showcased are Green Taxi coop in Denver who through mixing tradition models with a platform in the form of an app now covers 36% of the Denver taxi market. They are also entirely self-financed without any debt as they managed to access capital through their own members. It is now 100% driver owned.

Loconomics is another platform cooperative owned by workers but it is active in the service sector and organises freelancers in the Bay Area. It provides an online market place for these freelancers and work with a points-based system for sharing profits and has a structure of by-laws for its governance.
https://loconomics.com

Coopify.us is a platform offering cooperative home services in New York City. Rylan Peery argues that the app was a way for these workers to circumvent discrimination through the veil of anonymity the app supplies. This was useful as most of their workers are Latina women who in the US earn 66% of the income of white males.
http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/want-to-hire-a-worker-owned-co-op-theres-an-app-for-that-20160420

The ICA Group is a consultancy firm focusing on coops who have successfully helped organise care workers living in poverty to form a coop. They also want to work in the platform sector and work together with the loan fund LEAF (Local Enterprise Assistance Fund) to develop coops.

Homepage

Farmondo.de is also at the conference with 12 lessons they have learned in their process. They started four years ago to build an alternative, cooperative marketplace to Amazon and see three main challenges to their platform, how to: build a successful business, build a community and to do good at the same time. Felix Weth who is their representative at the conference argues that it is important to talk about your project and to listen to people’s responses. Never hesitate to ask for help! It is difficult to have insight into what others need if they don’t tell you. Work hard to build the right team and to keeping the balance between work and non-work and to take your time as to not overwork staff. People need to have roles they are happy with in the team. Build a community of people around the project but manage expectations. Be transparent, Fairmondo.de for example publishes bank transcripts. Don’t underestimate the importance of software development, this is essential to get suppliers but requires funds. Be honest about leadership and provide enough of it! Keep your vision, have a clear strategy and keep going. And you can never celebrate successes enough!
https://www.fairmondo.de

Seedbloom is a crowdfunding platform providing access to capital for an ecosystem of coops and ethically driven enterprises. It helps coops with both access to funds and advising them on how to use them best. Victor Matekole argues that it is essential for platforms to reduce texts (for example legal texts) to bite size so that people actually pay attention to what is communicated.
https://seedbloom.it

Another organisation for access to capital to coops is Purpose, which is trying to help companies to adopt self-ownership. It functions through a foundation (Purpose Foundation) into which investors can invest but have no voting rights. This foundation then supplies funds to various coops in exchange for dividends through a complex investment system where voting rights and dividend rights are separated. Read more at
http://purpose.ag/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Purpose-english-short.pdf

Sasha Constanza-Chock the Research Action Design collective which is focused on helping communities and grassroots social movements build coops through technology. Sasha challenges us to ask who benefits, who participates and who might be harmed in the development of platform coops? Contrados.org was mentioned as an example of a platform coop for migrant workers to know their rights and organise.
http://rad.cat
http://contratados.org/en

These were some of the many platform cooperatives that were presented at the conference.

<h2>Barcelona, regulations and the EU</h2>
A longer discussion that was held on day two was related to how cities can gain or retain technological sovereignty in the age of digital platforms. Fransisca Bria, the Chief Technology and Digital Innovation Officer of the City of Barcelona explained how she was working to develop “non-neoliberal” solutions with technology for the city. The current municipal government is not constituted by professional politicians and thus “citizens are occupying the political space” trying to reframe society. But she argued that in order to do so we need a coalition of rebel cities, unions, political parties and others to work together instead of proposing a one-size-fits all solution. What the city has done is to develop a decision making platform called Decidim Barcelona (https://decidim.barcelona/?locale=ca) to make the local democracy more participatory. It is trying to regulate Airbnb but it is very hard to do so due to the international nature of the firm.

And part of the difficulty to regulate platforms is due to the restrictive regulations by the EU according to Wolfgang Kowalsky. A EU member state can only intervene and regulate a platform if it has 1 control over price setting, 2 mandatory terms and conditions and 3 ownership of key assets. Kowalsky argued that only when all three criteria are met which would require Uber to own cars and Airbnb to own the housing on the platforms first can a member state lawfully intervene.

<h2>Concluding thoughts</h2>
But it is very important that we develop tools by which to meet the increased digitalisation. On the Sunday we had a chance to break off into smaller groups to talk about our specific interests and I ended up in a group discussing the future of manufacturing in the age of digitalisation. But it turned out to be a discussion more broadly on automation and how automation of large portions of the labour market is imminent. In most US states being a truck driver is the most common job and with the prospect of driverless cars they risk unemployment. And this is why we need to redistribute not only access but ownership. And platform cooperatives can constitute a part in that transformation if we manage to overcome our challenges.

Jonas Algers

Big thank you to SolidFund who decided to help fund this visit! SolidFund is a worker coop solidarity fund to support workers to own and control their livelihoods. Join now for only a £1 a week!
http://solidfund.coop

They don’t want us to do this!

What google, facebook and twitter want is competition between sellers – their commercial users – in a head to head fight for every customer.  In this fight the only thing that matters is the size of each enterprise’s marketing budget, how much you have to spend building a website, boosting posts, tweets and buying AdWords.  Hopefully, for the businesses concerned these Customer Acquisition Costs (CAC) result in customers with Life Time Values (LTV) that show a positive Return On Investment (ROI).  The beneficiaries of this competition for traffic and customers are the advertising channels themselves.

Is it possible to stop playing this game? What if we stopped competing for customers and endlessly ramping up CAC  What if, instead of putting all of our eggs in one website basket and waiting forlornly for the traffic to turn up we started to develop cooperative and collaborative approaches to marketing?

When ethical sellers  work together in a single marketplace for the ethical, it will be mutually advantageous. To some extent we already collaborate.  When we are on privately owned platforms Amazon, Facebook, Twitter, ebay etc we happily (or maybe not) post their logo on our websites or create links between the sites.  We help to drive traffic (potential customers) into the marketplace. Privately owned sites convert this benefit into shareholder value.  Where the platform is cooperative owned – as with fairmondo – the benefit is shared between the platform users.

Marketplaces and shopping quarters in villages, towns and cities have always worked to create a mutual benefit for sellers and buyers.  The mere fact of sellers gathering together in market squares on market days provides buyers with choice and convenience.  There is a reason why banks, jewellers, green grocers etc cluster in areas.

So what are the practical steps of mutual or collaborative marketing?

Join -in, sign-up –  for network benefits to exist at all, sellers and buyers need to be in the same space: sign up to fairmondo!

Share – use our individual organic reach on facebook, twitter, google groups to show friends, customers and other businesses we are on fairmondo.

Invite – use the invite function on the sharetribe platform to invite others to the mfairmondo uk cooparketplace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Badge away – use the “fairmondo” icon, including it on your website and other marketing material – click on the image to download.

cooperative logo

 

 

 

 

Word of Mouth – those face to face chats help spread the word like no other, especially when trying to build local trading networks.

Stick ‘em up – download, print out and display “find us on fairmondo” for your window. We were thinking of vinyl stickers but a print out and sticky tape or glue dots are more sustainable! Be careful with the scissors. Download and print out the findusonfairmondo.pdf below.

Fly me  – pop a “find us on fairmondo” flyer in every customers bags and parcels.  If you would like us to mail out some flyers printed by Footprinters workers coop, please contact us at admin@fairmondo.uk.

findusfairmondo

 

 

 

Collaborating for change: how consumers, businesses, campaigners and governments can work together to advance ethical markets – #EC_conf2016

ethical marketplace platform

Ethical consumer conference for those working to develop the ethical sector  is one of the highlights of the year, a welcome opportunity to get away from the daily grind, reflect and explore ideas with like minded people.  This years conference asks us to consider the “how” of collaboration, the many ways that different individuals, enterprises, organisations, governments can work together.  Collaboration clearly covers a  broad spectrum and one that would require a much longer conference!

Cooperatives – like Ethical Consumer, Suma and fairmondo – have collaboration as part of their DNA.  Principle 6 – Cooperation among Cooperatives – is one of seven guiding principles that strive to make cooperatives one of the most ethical business model available.  P6 invites all coops to think about collaboration with other coops as part of their normal activity.  This is not always easy, especially for small and start up coops who oft times find that keeping the business afloat is challenge enough.  However, going the “extra few yards” and working with others is the cooperative difference and one that may be the difference between success and failure.

Collaboration is not alien to non-cooperative sectors.  The development of “lean thinking” in business theory over the past 10 -15 years places emphasis on working with people and enterprises in supply chains and processes to improve efficiency and remove waste and reduce costs.  Perhaps lean thinking coops ought to consider how value and control are distributed to make sure our supply chains are not only lean but also ethical.  We still have a long way to go level the power and wealth gradient between global south commodity producers and the goods that flow through our high streets and websites.  Collaborating on these social issues is at the heart of the whole ethical project.

Fairmondo’s vision of our ethical future is one where the participants in our trading networks are on a level playing field and each contributor is equitably rewarded and all can live decent productive lives with freedom, education, health and happiness etc. We are working towards this by building what will become a federation of cooperative marketplaces within different territories.  German cooperators have forged a path and created the a fully featured platform; fairmondo.uk has an “alpha site” running and is inviting people to join, test and form an active trading community.

It is currently free to join, there are no listing or transaction fees.  We welcome all offers of support and collaboration.

The World Transformed – #digitaldemocracy in practice

Fairmondo checked in at #TWT2016 – The World Transformed; four days of creative space running alongside Labour’s annual Conference that is reimagining our World.  The central question is how can we build a world where health, wealth and happiness are shared equitably, where no one is left behind and we respect the planet.  There is no greater challenge to creating this world than in the online space so stridently colonised by private capital in the guise of Amazon, Google, Facebook etc.

#digitaldemocracy is Jeremy Corby’s emergent manifesto for transforming relationships with the digital, the online world.  His is the first time that a mainstream political party has recognised the role of #platformcoops in delivering that vision:

“We will foster the cooperative ownership of digital platforms for distributing labour and selling services. The National Investment Bank and regional banks will help to finance social enterprises whose websites and apps are designed to minimise the costs of connecting producers with consumers in the transport, accommodation, cultural, catering and other important sectors of the British economy.”

Crucially, the first expression of policy recognises the importance of making funding available to “social enterprises”, those companies built to  deliver benefits to their stakeholders.  In the tech sector  we need this #socialventurecapital to stimulate and support this sector and build viable alternatives to “business as usual”.

Fairmondo is platform cooperativism in action – come and join this retailing revolution.  It is already an online marketplace (workers coop) destined to become a multi-stakeholder  cooperative. Platform cooperatives turn the world upside down – the users no longer work for the platform – the platform works for its users, the users determine strategy and policy.  At the moment its rocking a pay as you feel model, #PAYF – no listing or transaction fees. 

There is more to the project than fairness to the stakeholders (this would be enough!)  – the way we consume to meet our  everyday needs impacts daily upon the planet.  The ultimate prize is to build a system of creating, distributing and exchanging that works in harmony with the plant’s eco-systems.  Capital is hard-wired to exploit natural resources – draw down raw materials and dump waste back in to the environment.  We needs systems and enterprises that make it easy for consumers to meet their needs from producers with plant saving goods and services.  Along with fellow cooperators in Germany (who fired the starting gun in 2012) we are taking the first steps to make capital obsolete by building a better alternative.

The World Transformed is peace and cooperation at its best.

ethical marketplace

We are here – we want to be over there!

coop growthWe are here, deploying our alpha version marketplace and our destination is over there at the far end of the growth curve. It is a long way off, hard to reach and there is a lot of work required. So its reasonable to ask: why go there, why is travelling the exponential growth required? Received wisdom suggests that somewhere on this curve, the enterprise becomes, viable, it benefits from network effects, achieves critical mass and hopefully passes the break-even point.

At the lefthand side of the graph fairmondo uk is a small group of users (121 all counted, August 2016) who think the idea – a cooperatively owned marketplace for ethical sellers and goods – responsible consumption – is worth a punt, its our planet saving idea!. We are a team of 2 to 6 volunteers (depending of life, work family) putting in our own time and money to test the idea. It costs a few hundred pounds and whatever time we can grab from the daily grind. The software is off-the-shelf, it works well but will require development. We have zero marketing budget. Every new user and transaction is cause for a little celebration and a step along the journey.

Our destination is a sophisticated, multi-million pound marketplace for the “good stuff”, the things you know help rather harm people and planet, made by people we trust to do and to be the right thing. It generates enough revenue to pay the bills, support full time workers who maintain and develop the platform for the users. The workers, sellers, buyers, investors collectively own and control the marketplace as members of a multi-stakeholder coop.

Network effects – mutual benefit

Getting to the destination requires that more users, both sellers and buyers sign up and begin to use the platform to trade. Each new user adds a little more value to the product for the other users. A marketplace with 121 geographically distant users does not create much value, it is unlikely that anyone will find the goods they need or that sellers will find enough customers. A 121 users in a small neighbourhood or 12.1m users in the UK would make fairmondo a different proposition, it becomes much more likely that users will discover the things they need, it becomes more likely that fairmondo is the first place to look.

Attracting new users and encouraging activity is our current work priority. But we can’t do that alone, growing a cooperative platform requires – well cooperation and collaboration to grow our numbers and improve the product. We believe if we work together we can start to move along the curve.