A few hundred people just gathered for the 2022 PCC conference, Owning the Future: Sustainably Scaling Platform Cooperatives With the Global South. 66 speakers from 11 countries spanning across four continents. Over the course of three days, in the Museum of the Future, amid the beaches, and following the narrow electoral victory of Workers’ Party candidate Lula.
It was time to move the conference south to re-energize and be re-energized by the growing platform cooperative movement here after prior conferences in cities like Berlin and New York City. As Latin America is seeing with political shifts in Chile, Colombia, and now Brazil, there has never been a better time to bring together cooperators, entrepreneurs, researchers, policymakers, technologists, union and social movement organizers.
Rafael Zanatta has released a comprehensive report of Brazilian platform cooperativism in the Fellowship program for the PCC’s Institute for the Cooperative Digital Economy. The paper, available in English and Portuguese outlined the state of platform co-ops in Brazil and conducted a thorough analysis of all the relevant parties. In Brazil, the Owning the Future conference actualized what Zanatta had begun on paper. During our three days at the Museum of the Future, we shared experiences, connected with new people, learned about experiences from diverse contexts, engaged in discussion, and ultimately energized the building of platform economy alternative that is scalable and sustainable.
The Conference reaffirmed that there is no one solution to the problems with the capitalist platform economy, but that we do have a chance to change the status quo and create a platform economy that is more equitable by utilizing a variety of types of worker initiatives and multi-stakeholder models of collective ownership. The broad backgrounds of the Conference attendees, both ideologically and in terms of sectors, who represented cooperatives, unions, IT entrepreneurs, municipalities, and social movements, served as an example of this.
The event embodied a holistic perspective by including samba and poetry jam sessions, and an
unconference where participants decide what to discuss, policy roundtables, tech workshops
among participants, and nuanced academic presentations.
It will take some time to roll out appropriate, thoughtfully curated video documentation and follow up discussions, but here are some examples of what was introduced, considered, and proposed. The central question was about Scaling: how do we do it (especially in the Global South), how do we measure it, and how do we account for the value that platform coops do generate?
Aline Os and Jacira Sousa of Señoritas Courier discussed the value of belonging to a group that purposefully fosters a sense of visibility and empowerment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual black women. Señoritas Courier is exploring a collaboration with CoopCycle, a federation of 70 worker co-ops, to share their digital infrastructure. Erik Foreman, founder of the 7,5000-driver-strong platform co-op Drivers Cooperative in New York City, now the largest worker co-op in the United States, explained how they are competing with Lyft and Uber. Pedro Andrade discussed the difficulties of the platform economy during the COVID-19 pandemic, which motivated him to co-found App Justo, an open source delivery platform intended to increase worker autonomy. Speaking on the necessity of using technology from the standpoint of the worker, Raul Amorim from the Homeless Workers Movement (MST) discussed how they utilize it to assist training so that workers can earn a living. Mundano talked about how the Cataki collective of waste collectors has grown throughout Brazil, now employing over 45,000 waste collectors and functioning in over 1,800 cities. They created an app based on the requirements of the waste collectors. Turkish company NeedsMap’s Evren Aydogan gave a presentation about how their platform, which has over 1.5 million users, serves as a link for social solidarity and social assistance.
In his book Platform Socialism, James Muldoon demonstrates how the fundamental dilemma of the capitalist platform economy—getting rich off the value creation of others— can be rectified through what he called the “platform coop +” model: a much wider spectrum of stakeholders producing technology within a cultural and political context. In order to provide legal expertise for the solidarity economy, social firms, and collectives, Rafael Zanatta discussed legal clinics, the necessity for a knowledge ecosystem, more players, free/open software, management and business skills. When it comes to public policy innovation, Rafael highlights the value of collaboration between institutionalized and non-institutionalized sectors. He said that this is not just a possibility; it is the way things will go. Rafael Grohmann called for feminist platform co-ops and South to South collaborations. Grohmann’s policy manifesto reached broad support. For Alexandre Barbosa, platform cooperatives should be the norm in policymaking. Speaking about cooperativism and what it entails through cooperative capacity building, Vivian Alves Pacheco from the city of Araraquara where the municipality was instrumental in the launch of a platform co-op, stressed the significance of altering workers’ attitudes. Platform Cooperativism was stressed by Renan Kalil of Brazil’s Labor Prosecution Service as an important alternative that must be taken into account. Based on his personal knowledge of legal and regulatory problems in Brazil, he discussed how workers must be able to multi-platform so they are not trapped into one. Platform cooperatives, according to Anita Gurumurthy of IT for Change in India, are a brand-new digital mode of production. Gurumurthy identified the Kerala Food Platform initiative in southern India, where the state government is establishing a platform ecosystem to leverage data value for supporting a state-wide cooperative network focusing on the production and distribution of safe-to-eat organic food. She showed the progress being made by this initiative and emphasized that there are numerous fronts in the fight, all which need to be mapped. The President of the International Cooperative Alliance, Ariel Guarco, closed the event with his video address.
Thank you to everyone who helped make Owning the Future: Sustainably Scaling Platform Cooperatives with the Global South a success, including our sponsors, Circle members, partners, and venue hosts. An event like this takes at least eight months of preparation. We are truly humbled by the amazing response we received. We are grateful to have had such an engaged and enthusiastic audience. We are currently in the process of processing the talks and interviews and we will be sure to share them as soon as they are available. So, please keep checking back for more coverage. Thank you to all who traveled from many countries to take part in this important conversation. We look forward to continuing this grand adventure with you over the next years, united in our goal of creating a more just and sustainable future for all.