So there’s been a bunch of mean people supporting terrorists by spreading xenophobic hate speech in the news recently. In response Common Roots Cafe in Minneapolis put up a sign in their window stating that “All are welcome here“.
A few weeks ago I went to the Platform Coop conference in NYC. It was an interesting cross section of several circles of friends. There was my coop chums, and my nerd friends, and my free libre open source people, and the intentional community folks. Everyone who is doing cool things was there.
What follows is a dump of links and information I randomly collected in my notebook. It’s not really linear and you can just jump around picking up links and little gems.
Is it Valuable to Them!?
Get your value proposition correct. Why should I join your coop, platform, group, etc. what’s in it for me? Nail this down early. Why is your thing valuable.
There was a lot of talk about how Airbnb and Uber are bad actors who exploit their providers (the drivers and homeowners) yet again and again people said how happy those same providers were with these exploitative platforms.
Personally I think that most people have been trained to roll over and accept abuse, especially if it’s not as bad as it could be. Most people don’t seem to care who steals their data or if they get a fair cut. At least they are getting a little scratch while some big guy fucks them.
College Educated people are taking blue collar jobs.
All these over educated millennials are taking jobs that others in their cast would scoff at. Taskrabbit and house cleaning services are making it okay to work jobs that only immigrants and high school dropouts would do.
Labor Displacement, or stealing jobs from immigrants. Which is kind of funny considering how freaked out everyone seemed to be about it being the other way around. Turns out cleaning someone’s home isn’t beneath a masters in art history… This, of course, means that tech savvy young people are pushing out the working poor (they just can’t get a break).
Start with the people you want to end up with.
This is a cool idea, when you start a project consider that the people you start with might very well be the people you end up with. So you might as well pick good people.
I think this also gets into diversity of groups. If you want a diverse group you can’t start with a homogeneous one, or you can but it will be more difficult to end up with something that isn’t just as homogeneous.
Society seems to think that Monopolies are okay, but we hate cartels.
The International Organisation of Industrial, Artisanal and Service Producers’ Cooperatives, or CICOPA, has been a sectoral organisation of the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA) since 1947. Its full members are representative organisations of producers’ cooperatives from different sectors: construction, industrial production, services of general interest, transport, intellectual services, artisanal activities, health, social care, etc. Its associated members are support organisations promoting cooperatives in those sectors.
This idea seems close to what Agile Learning Centers is becoming. A coop of small businesses (schools) that pool their resources to manage a central marketer who maintains branding, web, social media, etc. for the coops involved.
[10/19/14: This was a draft post I had written back in January of 2013, I never published it for some reason]
Last week I was invited to facilitate a meeting of the Occupy Sandy Incubation Team, Monday (1/27). As it happens I didn’t facilitate, but had an opportunity to be a fly on the wall with the people who manage a large chunk of funds donated to Occupy Sandy. Money in Occupy is a strange and often terrible thing. There aren’t many time tested procedures to deal with money within a flat organization which has no real beginning or end. When all it takes to “be” and member is to state that you are a member, how do people manage something as controversial as money? It’s clear to me that money within #OCCUPYWALLSTREET is like the one ring. To control it gives you great power, but also drives you mad.
Occupy Sandy believes in mutual aid and that community is formed through in-kind donations. We recognize that there is more than one form of capital, the money in this account will be used in the following ways:
Emergency Relief Fund that distributes money to point people at relief sites.
Recovery Projects Fund that provides support to initiatives that help communities recover from Sandy.
Participatory Budget Fund that will be distributed to affected communities and allocated through a “participatory budgeting” process.
The Funding Trinity
As of writing the current net funds raised are $933,280.79 according to the Incubation Team’s documentation. This money is to be split between three areas, emergency funds, project budgets, and community lead budgeting.
Even an organization as loosey goosey as Occupy has immediate cash needs. The Incubation team took this into consideration and set aside money for immediate needs, from the OccupySandy.org funds page:
While we strive for community building and sustainability, the reality following Hurricane Sandy’s destruction requires direct aid. Due to the large amount of in-kind support we have received— through the registry and in person—we estimate that we will not be required to use emergency funds in excess of $100,000.
As of writing $33,282.13 has been spent on “emergency funds”. This includes printing, office supplies, food, hardware, dust masks, and more. Here’s a general breakdown from the expense document:
I have no background in this sort of thing, but these numbers seem pretty low considering the impact Occupy Sandy has had. The process for how emergency funds get allocated is a mystery to me. Incubation team members seem to provide money to trusted members of the Occupy Sandy community in exchange for receipts money spent. This process is not publicly documented as far as I know. While the lack of process is understandable considering that the Incubation team developed right along side everything else in Occupy Sandy it makes it hard for people who aren’t “in the know” to access these funds.
There were no well documented procedures for handling money passed down from #OCCUPYWALLSTREET apart from the memories of some members on the Incubation time who were involved with the former OWS finance group.
Project budgeting, gasping for a process
There are about three signers on the Occupy Sandy account who ultimately make the choice to take money out of the shared account. Beyond the signers is a “budget committee” which reviews and approves budgets for projects. At the meeting we reviewed the budget for an Occupy warehouse in Coney Island. The review process was hawkish and demanding, but overall I felt positive about it. I’m glad that there is very real and constructive review of projects seeking Occupy Sandy money. However, it isn’t clearly articulated what the group is looking for. There are some guidelines on occupysandy.org:
Projects must address relief and recovery needs of communities affected by Superstorm Sandy.
Projects must publicly align themselves with Occupy Sandy.
There is a $10,000 cap per project per funding application.
We do not fund budgets that include salaries.
We do not provide funds for alcohol or cigarettes.
Projects must be in compliance with all local laws.
Projects must be publicly endorsed by members of the Occupy Sandy community.
We cannot fund individual families at this time. Please visit our resources page or connect with your local hub for assistance.
Beyond that, there isn’t much in the way of making it clear why a project gets funding or not. Overall the current process that I witnessed was fair. Concerns with the warehouse project were brought forward and discussed. The budget that was given to the team can be seen here. Within an hour the team had adjusted the budget from $14,253.76 down to the following agreement:
one month: $4200. second month would be $2,600: Amendment would be that a signed agreement is made before other groups use the space
The results of that budget decision along with many more can be found on the Project Budget Decision Spreadsheet. As you can see the process currently being used isn’t perfect, but does get money to projects while protecting over zealous projects from over reaching. It might be too careful in some situations and leave some projects, especially those that are inexperienced with budgeting, without needed funds.
The major issue is a lack of project advocacy within the Incubation Team. There just aren’t enough members of the team to manage the money and help projects meet the hard-to-define requirements. This leads to project funding that favors personal trust of those bringing the project, which can lead to unfair treatment.
Participatory Budgeting: putting the money where it belongs
The ultimate goal of the Incubation team is to build themselves out of the job. Having communities control and decide on their own budgets is far superior to having a handful of un-elected people decide behind closed doors. I could write a full post about participatory budgeting but here are the basics. A group (read: community) comes together around an agreement on how to distribute money. The agreement outlines how money is collected, what criteria projects must meet to be considered for funding, and a process for choosing projects. The process could be anything really, just as long as the community accepts it. Once the agreement is made, the idea – as I’m told by some of those involved with the Incubation Team – is to then deliver a chunk of money to the community group to jump start their system. From there money can be raised directly to the community, bypassing Occupy Sandy all together.
Moving forward to rebuild
I am always amazed with Occupy. It doesn’t seem like it should work, but it does. Perhaps it’s not perfect (it’s not) but it gets the job done. There are many who are frustrated with the work of the Incubation team. Be it the lack of transparency or not being able to provide funds in a timely manner. Like many things in Occupy if you know the right people you can get what you need. While this is not ideal by a long shot it also isn’t the same crooked dealings we are used to seeing in our corporations and government. Knowing the right people maps out where you need to go to get what you need. The complexity of Occupy makes navigating the network very difficult if you don’t have people pointing you in the right direction. Overcoming these obstacles isn’t easy. It’s made much worse by the burden and liability that comes with money. Although the Incubation team is losing members, has lots of internal tension, and operates in a less than perfect way it is made up of good people who want to do good for the people of NYC and the Occupy Sandy community.
How you can help
The Incubation Team needs help. You can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with some background about yourself and how you can help. They need help with book keeping, record keeping, and interfacing with projects. If you are a Occupy Sandy community member, don’t forget to thank those who are part of the Incubation Team.
Last week was the first week of Agile Learning Facilitation training. I've found myself in Charlotte, NC with a group of folks from here, NYC, and afar. Some have come from the former Manhattan Free School, now the NYC Agile Learning Center. They are sharing with the group what has been working in NYC. Others live here and have been running the Mosaic school which has recently moved to practice Agile Learning.
We did lots of different exercises together, this was the outcome of one about archetypes. Each circle represents how strongly I feel for each wedge.
Most of my time here has been spent either in the ALF (Agile Learning Facilitator) training, or socializing with other ALFers. Part of my role here is to learn, but the other part is to build the agilelearningcenters.org website.
I've got most of the site online and ready to go, we will be doing some design work on it in the coming days. I'm using a cool plugin called "Commons in a Box" which was developed for the CUNY network. It's been mostly painless to set up this social network for the schools, but there is lots more work to do.
I was able to catch up a bit with friends and family this week as well. Which I tend to enjoy when it happens but never want to make the call.
In the ultimate act of serendipity the director of The Farm's School contacted me out-of-the-blue asking for help with their wiki (they are using a service called Wagn, which I've been a little bit involved with). As it turns out one of the ALFers is on the board of Wagn! I've coordinated to meet the director next month when I start driving west.
I finally cleared up most of the e-mail backlog that had collected over the past month while I was at Acorn.
The KNOMEN.com site has launched and I've settled up with them.
I've implemented a Kanban board within my wiki (my wagn wiki!) and have set the intention to write these kind of follow up posts each week.
I want to clear out some of the 60+ tasks currently in my system this week, I've been putting up some of the low hanging fruit into my to-dos.
I'm looking forward to a trip to Myrtle beach this weekend. We'll see if it's still as off putting as it was last time I went there.