Our takeaways from the PlatformCoop Conference 2017

When 70% of the web traffic goes through Google and Facebook, when personal data is stacking up in the hands of large corporations for unknown purposes, when the digital platform sector is led by only a few very large organizations … we are clearly facing a monopoly issue. Moreover, the landscape of labor is completely changing as well as the relationship between employment and work: small tasks are asked to the workers, most large platforms refuse to consider workers as employees and display highly value-extractive mechanisms not contributing to the local or national welfare. Issues the Platform Cooperativism movement wants to tackle.

The past & the present:

Since last year’s Platform Cooperativism conference, the Platform Cooperativism Consortium has been actively developing the movement worldwide and raising awareness around it:

  • Creation of the movement’s website platform.coop
  • Representation of the movement at the G7 in Torino
  • Last stage of a 10m$ grant application for a “Platform Coop Development toolkit” to build a learning app and toolkit for the PC ecosystem
  • Launch of sister organizations in Australia, Japan and Germany
  • Writing a policy brief
  • Nathan Schneider, Danny Spitzberg and their team mobilize the world to buy twitter and turn it into a coop. It is still ongoing and it created awareness around the idea of broad platform ownership
  • A platform coop network is being developed in the Canary Islands and a conference will take place there at the end of November “The Sharing Islands”
  • In order to bring Asian initiatives together and to develop a new network, next year’s Platform Coop conference will be held in Hong Kong

During the conference, existing platform coop initiatives and their innovativeness were emphasised. Many sectors are represented sur as: health, technical development, artistic, administrative help, cleaning service, mobility, social network, accommodation rentals… Here is a sample of the projects already in place:

  • MIDATA.coop is a platform coop based in Switzerland enabling citizens to securely store, manage and control access to their personal data by helping them to establish and own national/regional not-for-profit MIDATA cooperatives. MIDATA cooperatives act as the fiduciaries of their members’ data. As MIDATA members, citizens can visualize and analyze their personal data. They can actively contribute to medical research and to clinical trials by providing access to sets of their personal data across cooperatives.
  • Sharetribe.com an online service that originated in Finland to build a marketplace website online without any developer or marketplace software needed. This platform is not (yet) a cooperative but its service is obviously a great opportunity for future platform coops. It’s active since 2011.
  • Stocksy.com is a very successful U.S. platform coop that lists and offers Royalty-free stock photographies and videos. Its values are a fair pay to the artists and sustainable careers for its members.
  • SMart.be is an organization based in Belgium with offices in France, Spain, Sweden, Italy, The Netherlands, Germany, Austria and Hungary. It offers its 85.000 members realistic answers and administrative, legal, fiscal and financial advices. Moreover, they offer training and tools to simplify and legalize professional activities in the creative industry. It recently became a platform coop.
  • Upandgo.coop is a U.S. platform coop/workers coop helping people to quickly and easily access ethical, affordable home cleaning services in their area. It allows to check available providers, to get estimates, and to make fast bookings.
  • Faircarelabs.org is harnessing the power of technology to build a caring economy. It makes work better for nannies, caregivers and house cleaners. As the innovation hub for National Domestic Workers Alliance, we experiment with improving marketplace norms, collaborating with the private sector and launching sustainable ventures that will create a fairer future for the care industry.
  • Coworker.org created a space in the U.S. where data are in the hands of the workers allowing them to create strong networks and having access to aggregated data to create a more balance field while claiming their rights to large corporations (for instance a big success story for the Starbucks’ employees)
  • Carinacare.com is a non-for-profit U.S. platform helping to connect in-home care clients and individual providers who are contracted with the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) in Washington State.
  • Savvy.coop is a US platform coop. It is a marketplace for patient insights. Savvy empowers patients and loved ones to share their experiences, give input, and be fairly valued for doing so.
  • Modo.coop transforms communities by connecting people with places in a way that’s affordable, convenient, inclusive and sustainable by enabling access to the most diverse fleet of shared vehicles across the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island. Simply put, with Modo, you get all the benefits of having a car, without all the hassles of owning one (or two).
  • Social.coop is a coop-run corner of the fediverse, a co-operative and transparent approach to operating a social platform.
    Zebrasuntie.com calls for a more ethical and inclusive movement to counter existing start-up and venture capital culture. They believe creating an alternative to this status quo is a moral imperative.
  • bHive.coop is a world first, place based sharing economy cooperative, located in Bendigo (state of Victoria in Australia).
  • Fairbnb.ca is a political campaign in Canada led by a coalition of hospitality actors organized together in order to regulate the emerging short term rental market that is having negative impacts on housing market. In fact, people are not being able to move in certain neighborhoods or are forced to move out due to speculation and the subsequent increase of prices.

Research is also being performed: on Stocksy by a Boston College team, on the way gig economy is transforming labor relations in the UK by a University of Oxford team or on the cooperative platforms in a European landscape by the LAMA Agency and Cooperatives Europe. In addition, the ReDi School in Berlin provides technical development training to refugees to help them modeling and developing innovative businesses.

One of these innovative ideas was to generate income resources for people living in one of the largest refugee camps the world located in Zaatari in Jordan. The objective was to sell product and services through a platform making the match between the needs in refugee camps and what can be offered by a platform. They realize that these types of projects require a more systemic approach than current platforms’ way of functioning.

The importance of involving the widest possible range of stakeholders at the very beginning of the design phase has been highlighted on several occasions during the conference. The cost-effectiveness and the cohesiveness of the platform’s design will undoubtedly be higher if more fragile and generally excluded individuals are involved at the start of the platform’s development.

The future:
Here are some of the most promising emerging European platform coop projects :

  • Fairbnb.coop is a future platform coop being developed by a European team of entrepreneurs that will be involved in short-term accommodation rentals, where guests, hosts and neighbors will collectively decide, together with municipalities, how to make the rental process fairer, more sustainable and more rewarding for the whole community. It aims at making the platform’s profits not an end in themselves but a means to be invested back into the communities where the platform operates. A true cooperative mentality indeed!
  • P2Pmodels.eu is a project funded by a European research grant to build decentralized, democratic & sustainable collaborative economy organizations by using blockchain in order to “change the rules of the game”.
  • Aarhus makers is a developing platform coop planning to be the home to a highly curated collection of designed, handcrafted quality products and services created in the city of Aarhus (Denmark), by a community of independent artists. They are a cooperative driven by our core values, offering to their artists a supportive community, fair pay and equity in the company as co-owners.

If the cooperative movement plays its cards well, it will have a very important role in the future. The objectives of the project “Cooperatives for a Better World” is to make coop better understood by the general public and to help them connect with each other. Today, a great deal of attention is being paid to inequality and coops have the opportunity to display “capitalism with a conscience”: in coops, benefits go to the members, it is a highly entrepreneurial sector which has, at its core, the importance of the people behind the numbers. The coop movement is highly respected and trusted. If we build awareness to the larger public and connect existing coops, we can create true power and leverage for the coop movement as a whole. Without a doubt, platform cooperativism has an important role to play in this regard.

As New School professor and organizer Trebor stated: “Platform coop will be part of the digital economy, the question of how large of a segment of the economy, will be up to all of us.”

Let’s get to work then and let’s do it cooperatively!