Co-operative Impact conference: How to make the most of platform co-ops

Keynote speaker Nathan Schneider used several examples of the model to show how it could improve services in purchasing co-ops

Since 2015, platform co-operatives have been growing across the US, laying the foundations for a new sharing economy model, but where do we go from here?

One of the leading advocates of the model is journalist Nathan Schneider, who co-edited the book Ours to Hack and to Own: The Rise of Platform Cooperativism, a New Vision for the Future of Work and a Fairer Internet, published in 2016.

Mr Schneider was a keynote speaker at the Co-operative Impact conference in Alexandria, Virginia, USA, organised by apex body NCBA CLUSA. In a session on purchasing co-operatives, he explained how most of these new models to improve services for members.

One of the first to adopt the model was Stocksy United, an artist-owned platform co-op that provides photos and videos. The co-operative was founded by a group of executives from iStock who believed the demands of investors and owners had negative effects on photographers, making the product worse.

“They aligned the quality of the product with the business structure,” said Mr Schneider.

Another platform co-op is AgPro Exchange, an initiative to create the agriculture industry’s first cloud-based platform controlled by growers. The platform collects agricultural data to be turned into actionable insights and information.

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Similarly, social.coop showcases a different model of a social network, built on software similar to that used by Twitter. “It’s a kind of social network that puts privacy at the front while interacting with the broader network,” said Mr Schneider.

Social.coop uses Open Collective as a crowdfunding platform to fund the project and made decisions using Loomio, a tool developed by a worker co-op.

Likewise, an alternative system built on blockchain technology, buyco.io enables individuals and businesses to join forces in buying goods or services, and offer suppliers access to new markets. The platform enables a decentralised ‘collective purchasing’ marketplace using permission-distributed ledgers and smart contracts. By using the Ethereum blockchain technology, the tech start-up aims to compete against purchasing co-ops, which it describes as time and labour intensive to set up and run.

The potential of blockchain technology in payments is also explored by CuLedger, a prototype research-to-action industry initiative, which aims to make the case for a distributed ledger platform owned and controlled by credit unions.

“Co-ops can renew the internet promise – they share features with the technology of internet itself,” said Mr Schneider, adding that “co-ops don’t need to hide their real rationale from users, their mission can be aligned with their activities”.

He called on co-ops to think about how to leverage these kinds of co-op tech communities, support tech co-ops with purchasing, and enable co-operative risk-taking.

“Enable people who want to try something out to consider the co-op model,” he added. “Enable promising startups to exit to co-ops. Already a lot of co-ops are involved in corporate venture capital but they are not involved in investing in co-ops.”

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