In recent years, there has been a lot of enthusiastic but naïve chatter about “distributed autonomous organizations”, which use blockchain technology to create companies that are “autonomous” in the sense that no humans are in charge. This concept is basically a digital realization of an offshore shell corporation, which mainly solves the problem of pesky taxes and local laws.
The same period has seen a rising interest in “platform cooperativism”, which uses digital technology to create various forms of user and worker owned cooperatives. The basic intuition is that digital technology a la Uber works just as well when it is owned by the users, so we can “disrupt Silicon Valley” with cooperatives.
One example of this is Anyshare, which is a company that runs a platform for cooperatives and similar groups. Anyshare is, they say, the first “complete cooperative” in the US. “Complete” turns out to mean that they have five classes of stakeholders, which they believe is the complete set.
- Users (Coop members)
The fifth stakeholder receives a rake-off which is intended to be spent on environmental improvement.
AnyShare has a “platform” that you subscribe to (and thereby become a voting stakeholder). The platform gives you the templates and digital tools to set up a cooperative that “Share, Rent, Trade, Gift, Borrow, Buy/Sell or any combination of these you desire.” The idea is that AnyShare makes it easy for you to set up your own digital site to support whatever your community or group are doing. Furthermore, Anyshare itself is a coop and it helps you set up coops.
That’s cool, and useful.
These guys have done a lot of hard legal work, and are working to let others benefit from it. Whether this is my ideal version of a fair economy or not, this is certainly an interesting platform. It will be interesting to see what people can make with it.
That said, I had difficulty swallowing some of their marketing hype, and there is a lot of it to swallow.
Anyshare wants to be “a beacon of light of how to run fairer companies in the future”. That sounds good, but notice that this isn’t about how to be fair or to break out of corporate ideology, its only about “fairer” companies.
Indeed, Anyshare turns out to be pretty much a standard company. The founders modified the coop model to include “what we knew was necessary from our experiences in growing high tech businesses”. Growing businesses? How is that the goal of a coop?
The founders’ strategy is “to find ways to unlock the abundant value that exists in our communities”. Unlocking abundance? This is usually a code word for exploiting the customer and/or commons. I thought cooperatives were about helping solve the problem of fairly distributing limited resources of ordinary people, not about monetizing voluntary cooperation and common resources.
The non-disruptive nature of this organization is very clear from the governance model that is basically the same as any private start up company, except that employees and customers are technically stockholders. It is democratic, though scarcely egalitarian.
- Founders – 10%
- Investors – 40%
- Employees – 25%
- Users (Coop members) – 25%”
The board is apportioned to
- “Founders – 3
- Investors – 2
- Employees – 2
- Users (Coop members) – 2
- Nature – 1”
This, then, is their model of a “fairer company”, and a “complete” coop. It is still a company, controlled by investors and management, who rake off a major share of the profits. Users get a tiny vote and a tiny share of the profits that they create for the company. ‘Twas ever so. It’s called “capitalism”.
Another of their “innovations” is a rather aggressive approach to intellectual property. They explain that one of their modifications to FairShares is to the rules for ownership of intellectual property.
“One of the principles of the FairShares model is to license intellectual property under a Creative Commons license. We added a clause that allowed us to release software under the open-source license of our choosing. This allows us to contribute to the global commons, whilst building a profitable business. It is something we hope to see become the gold standard for profit-making ventures.”
I note that Creative Commons has a great variety of possible licenses, so the licenses “of their choosing” are presumably more restrictive than CC. Clearly the emphasis is on profit-making, more than contributing to the global commons.
The icing on the cake is the “Nature” stakeholder. The basic idea is to build a commitment to the environment, by making ‘Nature’ a full participant in the enterprise rather than an unaccounted dumping ground.
I like the idea, though it’s no clear to me that embodying this in a person is a particularly great way to implement it. I mean, how does one human represent all of Nature?
In any case, what they have actually built falls far short of this idea, and is little more than corporate PR.
The “Nature” director is appointed by the company stakeholders, not by Mother Nature herself. She has limited decision-making power (one vote on the board), and the only benefit she receives is a small slice of the profits, Currently, Nature’s 2% of the profits is “donated to Nature and Environmental Causes” whatever that means. And they “are currently exploring other ways to increase the benefits for Nature.”
Sigh. The company can do anything it wants, so long as it pays 2% guilt money to “causes” of their own choosing. This is not exactly what I would hope for, and Mother Nature surely can’t be impressed.
Honestly, this and other similar products are a good idea in all their variations. We shall see what people make with them.
- Anyshare. Make a Share with Anyshare. 2017, https://anyshare.coop/.
- Darren Sharp, Why AnyShare is the First ‘Complete’ Cooperative in the US.March 21 2017, http://www.shareable.net/blog/why-anyshare-is-the-first-complete-cooperative-in-the-us