Digital transition: our manifesto towards sustainability

11_Nov_2020Cooperative, Friends & Partners, Overtourism, Vision

We join the manifesto “Towards a people and planet-oriented (digital) transition in Europe: Platform cooperatives and their fundamental role in the context of recovery”. Fairbnb.coop can help develop tourism keeping the value in the territories, Co-communs wrote.

transizione digitale

Towards a people and planet-oriented digital transition in Europe: Platform Cooperatives and their fundamental role in the context of recovery

Digital transition, platforms and the alternative model of platform coops

Digital transition figures high on the EU policy agenda and among the main priorities of policies and programmes to come – starting with Digital Europe and the digital single market, but including also others related to the EU Recovery Plan, Cohesion Policy, etc.
The COVID19 crisis further contributed to the fact that an increasing number of national governments, cities and regions put digitalisation – including the development of the platform economy – at the very top of their investment priorities.

At the same time, however, civil society and scientists, but also a number of local and regional policy makers, express concerns on how digital platforms have disrupted the way persons move, consume, travel… Gigantic players such as Amazon, Uber or AirBnb are about to monetize and “platformize” almost any aspect of people’s lives, including the most sensitive ones: personal opinions, daily activities, the functioning of democracies.
Their practices transform access to resources (food, energy, transportation, local services, housing…), data and territories. At the same time, they contribute to a deterioration of working conditions and quality employment, bypassing rights such as access to social protection, social dialogue, training or equal opportunities. New monopolies emerge which threaten local economic tissues, SME development and a diversification of economic players and activities.

Other digital start-ups in the platform area follow their example.

Platform economy

Digitalisation – including the platform economy – has to serve territories!

To this purpose, a certain number of so-called platform cooperatives have emerged in different EU Member States to develop alternative models. They differentiate themselves through values and practices: democratic governance, cooperation and mutualization, territorial links, a fair sharing of the created value, a particular care for users’ wellbeing, ethical use of data, specific attention to enhancing social utility and environmental protection, inter-cooperation between projects.
As economic actors, platform cooperatives are active in a variety of sectors (provision of food, mobility, care, support of SMEs, tourism, IT, …). They contribute to the creation of jobs inside – but also outside – the digital sector : they have the potential and aim of reinforcing local and micro-enterprises rather than destroying them, hence promoting diversity of products and services rather than the homogeneity of big companies. Platform coops have an important capacity to foster community-based entrepreneurship involving also and in particular younger generations.
These alternative platforms have proven their value for the resilience of territories once again in the framework of the Covid19 crisis. The lockdown of populations has brought new challenges for organizing local solidarity, re-organizing supply chains, identifying available housing for workers, local production of protection equipment, etc.
Dominant platforms have answered to this situation as an opportunity for their business model, but have not really taken part to the resilience of territories where they operate, whereas many platform coops did – e.g. by enabling local plug-and-play bike delivering platforms, by organising local solidarity between neighbours or by enabling decentralized local food systems, etc.

Examples for such platform cooperatives (and their federations) are Coopcycle, Pwiic or Open Food Network. The contribution of the platform coops to the local resilience in Europe has been documented in a webinar, hosted by the DG Grow of the European Commission.

The replicability of the platforms makes them a key success factor for sustainable digital transition able to respond also to future crisis.
An increasing number of cities and regions have been and are developing partnerships with platform coop initiatives or are looking for instruments to set up or reinforce this cooperation. Moreover, platform cooperativism is also increasingly becoming a means to strengthen solidarity between local communities and territories within Member States or even at European level.
However, a lot remains to be done so that platform coops can compete on a level playing field with dominant platforms and are able to attain sustainable economic models.

Digital transition

Towards a platform economy that fosters the gender perspective

Moreover, according to different authors, platform economy until now reproduces gender, race, and social class hierarchies. Currently, gender inequality is exacerbated not only in the profit-oriented models, but also between the most open models and those associated with the social economy.

Policies and programmes around the platform economy should raise awareness about the negative impacts of algorithms used by the platform economy regarding race, gender and social-class hierarchies. They should underline the necessity of transparency and community ownership on these digital tools. More generally they should contribute to solve any kind of gender gaps in platform economy.

Platform Cooperatives

The EU recovery plan and related policies as an important lever of change also in the platform economy – Specific sectors

Specific programmes and policies in tourism and culture – sectors for which the European Commission proposes a dedicated specific objective under the ERDF – should also consider strengthening and spreading models developed in Europe by platform cooperatives in cooperation with local communities, communities of artists, etc. The latter have, for example, shown to be able to develop fair and sustainable tourism in Europe that keeps and creates value in territories.
The ERDF for example could contribute to further exploring this model and stimulate cooperation between the platform cooperatives, on one hand, and cities and regions, on the other. Programmes promoting interregional cooperation regarding innovation in the tourism sector could stimulate transnational exchange and experimentation in the field of platform cooperatives.

Fairbnb.coop – could be a public-supported fair platform to develop tourisms in Europe without exposing territories to overtourism and keeping the value in territories (without extracting a substantial fee).

transizione digitale

“Going digital” and “platformize” – not an end in itself!!

If the purpose of technological progress is not the wellbeing of humankind it should not be pursued, if it is creating an imbalance of power it must be regulated, accordingly to the benefit of the communities it affects. 

Beyond rules and regulations, interesting initiatives that counteract the negative effects of capital-cased digital platforms exist and should be supported.
Platform cooperatives such as they have been set up in Europe (and on other continents) today have the objective to respond to real needs of communities and territories. The digital infrastructure – platforms – they use are only an instrument here for communities of persons and organisations (including enterprises) to foster the creation of quality employment, exchange and mutualization among different players, joint creation of (social) innovation serving local territories, creation of clusters, but also to support – physical! – interactions and encounters between different players.

That’s why natural partnerships are multiplying between platform coops and “third places” (coworking spaces, fablabs, hackerspaces, etc.) as they share the objective to foster collaboration and innovation.

European, national and local policy-makers should thus encourage and monitor respect of the principle of proportionality, but also sustainability in digital transition-related elements of the future national recovery plans and cohesion-policy-related programmes.

In the EU, many of these projects are connected through Co-communs, a working group between commons activists, social economy networks and academics, acting as an emerging European Alliance. They are also in relation with the different movements supporting platform cooperativism worldwide, especially with the Platform Cooperativism Consortium, based in the New School (New York).

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