Income inequality is a global crisis. Oxfam projects that just 26 people now own as much wealth as the bottom 3.8 billion people worldwide. A coalition of non-profit advocacy organizations, grant-making foundations and community organizers working on a range of related social issues must come together to address this issue. At the heart of income inequality, and the depressed wages and deteriorating benefits it brings along, lies a serious problem: lack of worker voice and control. Companies that respect their workers pay them fair wages and treat them with dignity. The current form of capitalism is not working for most people.
None of this is more true than in the gig economy. Because of its rapid expansion, disruptive technological innovations, and billions of dollars in venture capital investment, the “sharing economy” has shifted jobs dramatically. Stable, 9 to 5 employment opportunities are few and far between. Gigs are taking their place. Yet, workplace organizers and demands for worker rights have yet to catch up with the rise of the gig economy.
Grant-making foundations have an essential role to play in counteracting this decline in labor power. By investing in anchor institutions and by directly funding platform co-ops and related research, foundations can meet a broad range of goals. Platform co-ops improve wages, boost worker voice, democratize business decisions, encourage workforce diversity, and incorporate community needs into their business plans. Platform co-ops often organize businesses in unchartered waters, too. Just look at Savvy.coop. This enterprise brings together patients with chronic and rare diseases and connects them with companies and researchers looking for data, through the platform co-op model in which users own the platform.
Several foundations are already leading the way in supporting the cooperative digital economy. Cooperatives UK and the Nesta Foundation announced an investment fund for platform co-ops in the UK, and in 2018 Google.org committed $1 million to support the Platform Co-op Development Kit. Open Society Foundations has committed to support more research on how platform co-ops could take hold in Southeast Asia. But many more platform co-op initiatives are in need of support! Platform co-ops are capital-hungry and offer investment opportunities. Foundations should step up to serve this need.
Beyond just financial support though, this movement needs the support of non-profits and activists working across a range of political issues. Because platform co-ops address a slew of social and political problems — including the lack of privacy rights, racial and gender discrimination, the underrepresentation of edge populations, and many other issues — we need to build alliances across movements. Through this alternative economic model, we have an opportunity to create solidarity across a spectrum of political movements. Philanthropic organizations and advocates, must join forces with community leaders and platform co-ops to make this happen!
Who Else Benefits from Platform Co-ops