Democratizing companies and alternative forms of companies with Elisabeth Voß

Aug 16, 2017 by

by Alexandra Göd & Ricardo Vargas

Another world is not only possible, she’s on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing. – Arundhati Roy

On AEMS Monday’s lecture, business economist and freelance publicist Elisabeth Voß gave an interesting talk into alternative forms of companies. In the first part of our lecture, we theoretically discussed amongst others the concept of paid work and business inside the market-economy. In the second part, we focused on practical examples.

According to Elisabeth, alternative companies are part of Solidarity Economy and the Cooperative world. The term “Solidarity Economy” was defined by the Chilean Luis Razeto Migliaro in the 1970/1980s. It is an attempt to combine social change with environmental awareness. Further, Solidarity economy is based on self-management and boomed in the 1990s, when Latin America was facing an economic crisis and high unemployment rates. The Intercontinental Network for the Promotion of Social Solidarity Economy (RIPESS – Réseau intercontinental de l’économie sociale solidaire) states “This social and solidarity economy values work over capital. It aims at satisfying the needs of individuals and communities rather than seeking to maximize profit or financial gains.” Cooperatives work in many fields, such as agriculture, housing, handcraft, etc. Their characteristics are among others voluntary membership and independence from the state. In addition to this, members are contributing a share to the capital. For further reading, see the website of the International Co-operative Alliance.  

In the lecture, Elisabeth Voß introduced us to the following categories for alternative companies: self-managed collectives, occupied factories, workers cooperatives, social cooperatives, cooperative groups. Various examples for each group were discussed, such as self-managed collectives in Berlin, women’s collectives, different cases of occupied factories after corporate bankruptcy such as Scop Ti in Marseille, worker cooperatives with the purpose of recycling such as “Cartoneros” in Argentina, social cooperatives such as Barcelona en Comú and cooperative groups as Mondragon Corporation, the largest cooperative group worldwide.

Democratizing companies requires to overcome multiple challenges to avoid potential risks. For instance, informal hierarchies and self-interest are source of possible conflicts among members and disengagement. In a market economy, cooperatives need to be competitive, for which an adequate organization management is needed as well as strength towards external pressure and market dependency. Social acceptance and political support are key legitimacy elements for the success of alternative companies. Different strategies can be implemented to avoid internal risks such as the common definition of values, vision and agreements. Rotation of roles and leadership can reduce possible power conflicts. Through training programs, members can obtain skills and competencies required to operate and achieve the objectives proposed. Implementing and learning from best practices by networking with other cases offer interesting opportunities for success. Creating a demand for the goods and services offered is a fundamental point to ensure economic sustainability in a market economy as well. For instance, the same cooperative members and workers represent an important market, as well as the local community.

A crucial aspect discussed is the possibility that alternative and democratized companies have to transform society and multiply “seeds of change”. Supporting community projects and local sustainable development promote social benefits, empower society and create public engagement. Examples developed by students are related to cultural value, building identity, offering education and inclusion options as well as connecting with other environmental and social causes.

An important conclusive remark: There are always alternatives to reshape an economy for the needs instead of an economy for money.