Platform CO-OPs: We connect cooperatives with the digital economy


The “Real” Sharing Economy

The sharing economy started as a good idea of how to efficiently share over the Internet in response to individuals’ challenges such as the financial crisis. Today, platforms are enabling large-scale micro-renting, whose profits are forwarded to centralized organizations. The global corporations are not assuming accountability for the working condition and economic participation of the ones who create their value, let alone allowing users to co-determine the future of the online platforms. If citizens not only want to share the work, but also want to have a stake and share in their platforms, they need to take them into their own hands. Platform cooperativism provides a proven alternative economic model promising not only a fairer but also a more secure and innovative way forward for a thriving digital economy for all. 

Maturing Platform Capitalism

Flexible online work shifting risks and costs from Internet companies to global low-cost workers is boosting corporate profits, while people realize that the online sharing economy is increasingly monopolized and dictated by few players serving the small number of major shareholders. For example, Uber drivers having to make a living from their full-time engagement started to form their worker-owned taxi co-ops in protest against their precariously unsustainable situation as “independent contractors.”

More examples can be found here.

People increasingly rely on online services for their work, daily business, leisure, and information needs. However, what they get served and how their data is used is determined by platforms owned by a small group of profits seeking investors. This platform capitalist system’s paradox becomes even more evident when considering that the platform users are the primary value creators of the online environments. A trend that is going on as technologies like smart devices, Internet of Things sensors, robotics and artificial intelligence are becoming more ubiquitous. Concerns about the commercialization and privacy of people’s data remain vastly unanswered.

“We are in a period of transition to a platform society one in which we carry out the economy less from fixed workplaces and more through tools of connection – an infrastructure of online tools that enable us to connect with each other and create value together. […] We’re seeing this continued process in this online platform economy, in which we are increasingly disconnected from the benefits of the very economy we’re creating.” – Nathan Schneider (Journalist and Author, “Let’s buy Twitter initiative”)

The dominance of sharing economy applications like Uber, Amazon, and Facebook, etc. allows Internet players (including content providers like Google, and carriers and telecoms) to lobby politicians to their favor successfully. Only small parts of the immense profits are given back to the employees and local communities or re-invested to improve products and services. Citizens are more and more standing up against the virtual world (but real-effect) landlords who are in the process of completing to irreversibly appropriate the cyber space to secure future exploitation and control claims.

Emerging Platform Cooperativism

There is history now in the presence of choice between Platform Capitalism and a new model of platform cooperativism that is following a significantly different ethical and financial logic, as well as an increased potential for deliberated interoperability and person-centred innovation. A shift to a cooperative Internet is possible if organizations consequently anchor in collective ownership, inventive unions, social justice, as well as ecological and social sustainability.

What if there was a “real” sharing economy?

Examples like the regained independence of Uber drivers who started to organize in co-op’s and develop their own taxi applications, represent returns to traditional values of cooperativism that were always accompanying industrial capitalism too. A cooperative economy has been thriving around the globe in diverse sectors through open membership, democratic control and ownership, shared profits, autonomy, and a deep concern for community. Such cooperative values inherent in the original idea of the Internet are currently threatened, why movements calling for Net neutrality, democracy, and freedom are growing stronger.

“Platform Cooperativism is an international movement to democratize the Internet. Think Uber, but co-operatively owned and controlled by its workers (Green Taxi Cooperative), or Amazon, but co-operatively owned and controlled by consumers (Fairmondo).” – Darren Sharp (Director Social Surplus, Shareable)

Platform cooperativism is a growing international movement that builds a fairer future of work and governance of the sharing economy. Democratic ownership by the cooperative members of the web services and technologies ensures that user interests rather than investor-interests get prioritized. Cooperative profit can be re-invested in people-centric innovation benefitting the people where they are and according to their contributions. The platform co-op ecosystem ranges from alternative financing models, labor brokerages for nurses, massage therapists, and cleaners, to cooperatively owned online marketplaces, and data-protection platforms for patients.

The cooperative platform ecosystem ranges from alternative financing models, labor brokerages for nurses, massage therapists, and cleaners, to cooperatively owned online marketplaces, and data-protection platforms for patients.  Successful platform co-ops already today make a meaningful difference in the lives of those who participate in them. Photographers are offering their work for fair prices on a platform where they’re in charge, and journalists are crowdfunding news portals co-owned by their readers. New decentralized networks are enabling people to share their data with each other without relying on a corporate cloud.

We now know that an ecosystem of cooperatives is an exciting field for entrepreneurs, one that is feasible, and last but not least, one that is providing for a social alternative against the concentration of wealth and workplace insecurity caused by playing the winner-takes-it-all game.