Caring Economy, part 3: Public-Civic Collaboration and an Incubator for Coops
How can Amsterdam drive the caring and cooperative economy? How does Amsterdam truly become a cooperative city? This is where the government plays an important role. In this blog we explain.
This is a contribution by our partners at Commons Network.
The current system offers little guidance on how to approach people as community beings. But people do need commonality and collectivity. Civic initiatives and neighborhood networks respond to this intrinsic need and put caring at the center. Also in a cooperative, people do things together. A cooperative is an association of members who jointly own a business, with a common goal for all members. There is shared ownership and management there, so that the value produced together is also preserved for the participants and the environment. To support this emancipating and democratizing movement of neighborhood networks, cooperatives and citizen collectives, an assertive government is needed.
Earlier in this series we discussed how the economy is more than the state and private actors in the market. The household and the commons are also part of the economy. In fact, informal care networks and neighborhood initiatives and other places where we care for our children, family, neighborhood and environment are the foundation of the economy and our society. This is also the point Kate Raworth makes in her book on the "doughnut economy," which pays close attention to thriving communities.
It is crucial that governments recognize and encourage the caring part of the economy. If we want to support this sector, we will have to invest in it structurally. For in order to give substance to the caring economy, people need sufficient resources to care for each other and their environment. If we recognize that communities are interdependent, it is obvious that the attention paid to individual development should also focus on collectivity. Everyone lives in a particular context; there are always neighbors, a mother, a friend, a home. We live together, not individually and we always live somewhere.
There must be enough space and opportunity for citizen collectives, which are still too often curtailed by the working methods of the administrative domain. When people want to develop initiatives, they often encounter obstacles: the silos of funding streams, for example, impede an integrated approach to the provision of public services. While citizen collectives often take an overarching and coherent approach. Because they are built from within the community, it is crucial as a government to work close by and demand-oriented.
By structurally investing in this cooperative and solidarity economy, the city can give people more control and direction over the organization of their basic needs: shelter, food, care, energy and more. Cooperative self-management goes hand in hand with democratic control. Look, for example, at Buurtcoöperatie de Eester, who are doing just that in the Eastern Docklands area in terms of care and energy - they are doing it themselves. At Food Cooperative Osdorp, members jointly decide where and what to buy. The members run the cooperative themselves without making a profit and together determine what reasonable prices are, how much goes to the collective.
Governments will need to see citizen collectives more as partners and structurally provide support mechanisms to enter into collaborations. This form of cooperation is also called Public-Civil Partnership (PCP), or public-collective partnership. Such a partnership occurs when a collective of citizens, sometimes as cooperators, works together with public institutions, such as the municipality, in the management, administration, ownership or provision of services and or goods. These are innovative approaches that can take different forms depending on the context.
A public-civil partnership is a vehicle for equal cooperation between citizens and local government. Public-civil partnerships offer the opportunity to work toward a greater role for citizens in managing and producing public goods. It is a model for governments to effectively build strong communities and autonomous and resilient neighborhoods and citizens at the city or regional level. Traditional economic development and urban development fail at this and fail at addressing the major challenges of our time, such as inequality and ecological unsustainability.
Instead of always looking to the business community through Public-Private Partnerships (PPPs), in a PCP the government looks to the citizen to collaborate and shape the city. For example, by working with cooperatives.
There are many examples of this type of partnership, such as the energy management in Wolfhagen where a citizen cooperative co-owns the municipally owned energy company and participates in deciding on its strategic orientation. But also cooperative cleaning services in the cities of Valparaiso and Recoleta in Chile. The Chilean cities support the creation of cooperatives, and do so in part by awarding tender contracts for the cleaning of public spaces to new cooperatives.
A PCP is not so much a pure outsourcing of services, but really a collaboration, with a strong public sector that also has the capacity to do so. A PCP is an ongoing collaboration in which co-creation takes place with government and citizens, and through that co-creation also democratizes institutions. PCPs can also be instrumental in implementing a different logic than that of competitive market forces, by not relying on competition as a guarantee of quality, but relying on cooperation.
Municipal Cooperative Incubator
A structural approach is needed from the government to give substance to this cooperation and the building of the cooperative city and caring economy. For this, a place where everything comes together, where investments are made in communities and initiatives are supported, helps. Just as investments are made in mainstream start-ups, the city can also invest in cooperatives and community initiatives.
Initiatives run into all kinds of obstacles, from lack of recognition to silo funding, lack of knowledge about legal forms and little connection to the institutional 'system world'. An incubator could support initiatives in this and explore innovative financial models to support them. This municipal institute could also link the city's procurement to this sector; municipal procurement can act as a flywheel for the cooperative sector.
Ultimately, the transition to a caring and cooperative city is a social cultural change. How do we produce but also how do we live? What do we value? This requires a learning process, both for officials and for up-and-coming cooperative members. An incubator should also focus on this, in the form of a school or curriculum.
A municipal cooperative incubator gives the opportunity to support this caring and cooperative economy from the municipality, to bring together what is already there and to investigate what is needed. At the same time, it also allows the municipality to give shape to picking up public-civil partnerships.
Towards a new economy
The call for a different, more solidary and sustainable economy, where the community and the neighbourhood are central, is becoming louder. The municipality of Amsterdam is the first municipality to embrace donut thinking. In doing so, it indicates that it wants to pursue an economy that functions within social and ecological boundaries. This offers good hope for the transition to a new economy. But the donut is also about flourishing communities and neighborhoods, and a regenerative economy that contributes to local welfare. Only if there is a structural administrative commitment to enabling these thriving communities can we actually start walking the transition paths that are already being mapped out by citizens. The commons and the cooperative solidarity sector are indispensable for this.