You are here

Solidarity economy networks & Software 1

The failure of state-level economic policy is driving the emergence of many independent 'solidarity economy' networks accross the world. While the old story says that resources are short and the fittest will survive, these movements are forging a new story about creating local abundance together. As well as creating a new culture, a new spirituality , they are learning how to

  • feed themselves from their gardens better than supermarkets
  • maximise exchange between themselves (and each other) to keep the value local
  • finance sustainable enterprises,
  • pool risk
  • use underemployed people to enhance collective life.

While seeking similar objectives though, these movements are largely separated by geography, language and class. Each struggles with software issues as if their needs were unique. But I believe they could be working more closely together and achieving more with less.

Transition Network is an umbrella for hundreds of independent transition towns. Software resources are channeled to supporting the centre rather than the edges and to strengthening internal information flows. All is in the popular hardcore open framework Drupal. Their incubator, Reconomy, is incubating some isolated prototype projects, but I have seen no notion of building an economic infrastructure.

Global Ecovillage Network (GEN) is a larger system with a broader mandate. A policy decision to use Drupal has not paid off because ambition has been greater than volunteer capacity. Even so the new GEN sites tool offers a localised integrated Ecovillage database, project management and social networking system potentially very useful. As the inter-village economy becomes a priority, there will be deep questions about whether to pile complexity on complexity in Drupal or whether to create a new trading network that any community can join.

The LETS movement is very localised with little national or international coordination. My org, Community Forge hosts over 100 active, mostly French-speaking LETS systems for free using a Drupal Distro. They need a marketplace, an accounting system and simple social networking tools, Meanwhile the largest such network in the world, Community Exchange Systems (CES) is also migrating to Drupal and plans to implement an intertrading protocol which will allow CES, Cforge and other networks to account for value exchange between them, forming a global private open source exchange network.

The timebanking movement started in USA, but has national organisations elsewhere and grass roots initiatives in many countries. The software needs to support one or many communities not much different to LETS but more centralised / top down / moderated. Software policy has been chaotic as the TBUSA platform Community Weaver II (Drupal) was badly managed and hOurworld started providing a superior, free alternative custom php application eventually winning all UK. Meanwhile Israel developed their own and Australia partnered with CES (see above) and TBUSA will shortly release Community Weaver III. Soon there will be 4 semi-pro packages which don't talk to each other. Is this the shape of the solidarity economy? See my 10 min talk to Timebanks USA about that.

The Catalunia Integral Cooperative (CIC) is a network of local cooperatives. Since the 15M movement pre-occupied the plazas of Spain, CIC has been building the solidarity economy, including experimenting with currencies. I know of an abortive attempt to build a social network and now they are about to deploy their own emulation of CES. From this there is a new project, the Fair Coop which looks like an attempt to do the same thing globally, with intellectual support of P2PFoundation. This year they launched cryptocurrency Faircoin, and other monetary initiatives are planned. Software is far from the only priority, and aspirations are far greater than resources.

One final initiative I want to show you is the Mutual Aid Network (MAN) from USA. The intention is to provide a much more rounded economic system than existing timebanks, to support communities to create and share wealth, and govern themselves using existing legal structures. (Full disclosure: I'm their software strategist). With no resources so far, they have built a content sharing tool, but they really need something much more comprehensive.

As I see it, these solidarity economy networks share a great many software requirements, and should, in principle, be building trust-relationships and investing in infrastructure together because the economy is a network and the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. So what do they all need?

  • Social organising & governance tools, to form groups, discuss things, decide things.
  • Accounting tools, to facilitate exchange, award points, vote, give feedback
  • Productivity Tools such as Task management, Google docs, Google Drive, Google Calendar, Google Mail etc
  • Publishing tools so they can have a collective voice.

Of course all these tools already exist, many times over, but most tools perform one function only, and most of them are data traps owned by those who have been destroying solidarity for decades.
In addition to the function requirements above, an ideal solution

  • MUST be open source so that it cannot be owned or controlled by money power
  • needs to connect the groups together, so they can see each other and use the same tools
  • should be decentralised so private data can be placed in trusted hands
  • would stand on platform as ubiquitous as Facebook and as flexible as Drupal.

All this is too much to ask, and even if it landed in my lap, would the above actors use it? What tools do you think could be useful for joining/coordinating these networks? Comment below for inclusion in my next post.


I explore requirements for a next generation of integrated collaboration tools and collect links to existing tech here:

What is missing is an acknowledgement of a science common to all money systems.

A good idea would be to define a common Implementation Agnostic Problem Statement for the generic problem of stable trustworthy abstract value representation a.k.a. money/community currency/etc. and subsequent requirements:

It is also worthwhile to make some general realisations starting with the fact that the science requires that for money to be stable it must be implemented as a passive system, but passive systems cannot co-exist with non passive systems if both most compete for common resources.

In reality the issues is not implementation of mutual credit the issue is survivability of mutual credit which requires dealing with the predominant non passive (national currencies) head on.

Add new comment

Theme by Danetsoft and Danang Probo Sayekti inspired by Maksimer