Mutual insurance companies, agricultural cooperatives, Wikipedia, and Freelancers Union share something in common: they gather people together and give them the tools to help them solve problems collectively By:
February 8, 2011
In my last post, I introduced you to a concept that we’ve been thinking about a lot lately: new mutualism. You may not know that mutual organizations have been around for a long time, and many insurance companies that exist today (including Principal and MetLife) began as mutual organizations with all profits being re-invested in the company for the mutual benefit of the members. Unfortunately, many of these mutual organizations have changed their missions, becoming for-profit entities with no obligation to their original members.
But insurance is only one place that mutualism lives. Co-operatives—democratically run organizations owned and operated by their members—are more common than you might think. Agricultural co-ops provide most of our almonds, raisins, cranberries, and dairy. Farmers join together to promote what they grow, knowing that cooperating with each other helps ensure that all of them will receive a fair deal. And 91 million Americans are members of credit unions, pooling their savings together and ensuring that they have access to financial services that benefit their communities, not just corporate shareholders.
So if that’s mutualism, then what’s “new mutualism”? Well, we’re still figuring that out while we explore what it means to be a mutualist membership organization in the present day. We’re constantly looking at how we can bring you all together so you can build solutions to the challenges you’re facing—including better health care delivery, making a strong political impact, and connecting to one another for career support.
For one thing, I think new mutualism involves technology. Think about Wikipedia, which is collectively written by thousands of user volunteers creating content that is available to anyone with an internet connection. There’s also Etsy, the online marketplace that crafty and creative folks from all over the world use to sell their wares. By banding together, individual sellers have a platform to reach customers that is greater than anything they could have made on their own. Are Wikipedia and Etsy mutualist organizations? Not in the traditional sense. But they share a common DNA: they gather together people and give them tools to meet their needs collectively.
New mutualism also demands a new role for government and businesses. Historically, we have relied on these two institutions to provide our benefits, securities, and social support systems. As we move toward a gig economy, there are an increasing number of independent workers who aren’t connected to one traditional employer (which means less business support). Also, government is increasingly hamstrung by debt and a lack of public confidence (which means less government support). So if we can’t rely on them as we traditionally have, then we need to create new solutions to solve our own problems. And we must reinvent the role of government and business so that they enable us to do exactly that.
As we work toward practical solutions for the problems that freelancers face—unfair taxation, unpaid wages, a lack of quality heath insurance options, among others—we’re learning from and contributing to this new mutualist model. We’re looking to the past to see what worked, we’re creating modern-day solutions to current challenges, and we hope we’re making an impact on how mutualism grows and evolves.