Edgeryders: should we morph into a social enterprise?

Alberto's picture

 

Edgeryders has been a foundational experience for me personally. Even though I am not being paid to work on it anymore, I find myself spending time on the website and interacting with members of the community in various ways. And it's not just me. There are many signs of a powerful story unfolding: people around us treat Edgeryders as if it were a reality – from the Huffington Post to the many people and entities that offered help, free venues for future #LOTEs and so on. Nadia pulled off an amazing stunt, getting Swedish think tank Global Challenge to pay Edgeryders (which does not even exist!) for the Mission: Baltic gig. And of course the amazingly high-quality conversation on this website (that runs on community-donated time and money) is the strongest sign of all that there is something valuable in our staying close.

I think we might have a credible product for a social enterprise. In a nutshell, it's this: we know how to produce a new kind of knowledge product. You can think of it as a hybrid between consultancy and consultation. Like consultancy, it is as technical and narrow-scoped as required: there are citizen experts on everything out there, and the Internet (and our own community-building skills) makes it cheap to reach out to them). Like consultation, it is open to everyone and scales quite well. Unlike run-of-the-mill consultancy, our method:

  • is self-correcting. Radical openness guarantees that, if a particular group of citizen experts takes a wrong turn, their mistake is likely to be spotted and corrected early on by others – just like what happens with open source software.
  • is truthful. For almost all participants being a citizen expert is not a job – although it can occasionally lead to paid work – and there are too many of us to buy us all off. This takes away the incentive to keep the client away from inconvenient truths. 

Even more important than a model, we have great, world-class people in the community. I can think of at least half a dozen of the "young guns" in Edgeryders that I would definitely make a project with. And – as agreed in Brussels last December – the young guns have the support of the older Edgeryders who are too deep into their own things to want to build another company themselves, but will play ball (and bring along invaluable expertise) if the young people make the first move and build space for them. 

If I am right, I would very much like us to morph into a social enterprise, because this would kill several birds with one stone. It would give a natural point of entry for "people on the edge" to interact with the policy making process, strengthening our democracy; generate the revenue to keep the community together and keep it growing (maintain a website, have people paid to explore the planet for more people riding the edge to join forces with, pay for a #LOTE conference each year); and produce some paid work for, well, you guys, and even a couple of jobs. So, with Nadia's help and inspiration, I developed a pitch for potential clients and gave it at the Stockholm seminar last week. The slides are at the top of this post.

The day after, we met with fellow Edgeryders present at the seminar in a sun-washed cafe in SoderMalm – and we agreed that the pitch has traction, and that we have in Nadia a powerful saleswoman. We also discussed various ways to make this idea attractive and fair to the whole community: I will write about this in a forthcoming post. I am very aware that making Edgeryders a business, even a social one, might shatter the sense of community. We all agreed that there is no way this is going to work without the active support of the community.

Encouraged by Alek Tarkowski, Nadia entered Edgeryders in the Knight Foundation's Open Government Challenge. It would be nice to win, of course, but that was not the point: the point was, rather, to continue developing the idea and give it a written form. Now that it's written, I would like to ask you all for feedback. What do you think? Can it work? Would you like to be involved? What am I missing here, besides the social contract with the community at large (a proposal is forthcoming)? My text (less than one page) is here: the best way to leave feedback is probably on the same website (until March 30th – on the odd chance that we get picked up for the next stage of the OG Challenge), but you are definitely welcome to leave it here too. Following James's recommendations, even if we go ahead with this we are definitely going to prioritize revenue building over fundraising. 

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Comments

If I understand 'social enterprise' correctly,

Freelab's picture

it goes like this: "an organisation that applies commercial strategies to maximize improvements in human and environmental well-being". The problem of being social entreprise is, well, in being an entreprise.

You not only are seen differently by people - you are also supposed to see the world differently, through spectacles of 'commercial strategy', so to speak.

Being a business entity (even different in it's relationship with shareholders, as it is the case of social entreprise) imposes business language, logic, all emotional and cognitive structure of a, well, business entity. And it is not just you (we) - it is the whole world that changes the perception of you. Defining yourself as the enterprise, ties you to the vast mental burden (and heritage) of capitalist system - the burden we are actually trying to get rid of.

It's tempting, indeed. We (almost) all have been born and bred to believe that this marvellous toolset of capitalist entrepreneurship can do anything. And in skilled and benevolent hands - our hands - will certainly sort the world's problems out.

Except it's not true. [metaphore on] Master's tools will never dismantle Master's house. And bootstrapping works in Von Munchausen's tall tales only. If you sit down to the blackjack table, you better not play chess there - or you perish. [metaphore off]

The good example of social entrprise approach is what James phrased so well: if your community needs steelworks and you have no money for steelworks, adjust. Run a community clothing bank instead. Be pragmatic. Show must go on. The fact that the community REALLY needs steelworks simply fades into a woodwork. Personally, I ceased to be that pragmatic. The world (or system, if you prefer) is ingenious in setting circumstances up to make us behave (according to it's rules) and our socially conditioned minds are relentless in finding rationalisations why we should conform. BUT I BELIEVE Edgeryders were meant to change the world - not to be changed by it.

In his almost iconical "The Fifth Paragraph", Alberto listed a set of advantages he sees in changing Edgeryders into an Edgeprise. These are advantages, I agree. But they are by no means unique to the business entity form. Every foundation or association can provide:

  • Linking point between freestyle activists and policy makers (provided both sides want to be linked).
  • A revenue stream. I do not know formal nuances for the rest of EU, but in Poland foundations and registered associations are allowed to run business activity, as a side one, to support their statutory objectives. Apart from that - a non-business entity has several additional funding sources available, like donations and wills.
  • Paid work or even some jobs. To whom it may concern (not me :-) ) - it's just the same with the foundation & association.

To cut the long rant brief, I think we may have most of advantages, with the least of disadvantages, if we decide to form (I stick with Polish legal framework, why not) a registered association, being internally structured as a cooperative, with strongly defined statutory goals and the charter allowing business activity to support them.

For those, who like doing business, it would give a lot of playground - and the important role to play in the whole community. For those who prefer Edgeryders as they are now - the non-business activity will stay unharmed, even reinforced.

And as long the direct democracy, in the form of cooperative, will be maintained, I do not expect any major trouble with the community spirit.

As a last thing - some of you may be aware of the situation of Couchsurfing after they decided to go commercial - how many people, often long-time dedicated members, decided to leave and join totally freestyle Bewelcome, just because of this.

We do not wont that for Edgeryders, I hope.

L'esprit d'escalier: If you want to see an organisation I would like us to be inspired of, see http://www.seashepherd.org/

 

 

 

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Fair points...

Alberto's picture

... but frankly I am not so concerned as to the precise legal architecture to be adopted. This, by the way, varies a lot across different European countries – and since we come from all over the place, we have a lot of latitude over what to go for. Whether you go for "international NGOs" in Belgium, "community interest companies" in the UK, "social cooperatives" in Italy or plain associations, you still have to be incorporated. You need a bank account, a tax number, an address, a governance structure. And that's a pretty clear-cut line right there, separating a shapeless, ever-shifitng unincorporated community from anything incorporated. One that needs thinking before you cross it.

I am confident that we can choose a legal form that makes sense for us – leaving, as you say, each one of us to choose which activities to engage in. Some will want to actually do the work, earn the money and keep the community services going. Others (like you, and probably myself too) will keep to one side, interact with the community on whatever they are passionate about, and hopefully enjoy a few freebies – like somebody hosting and maintaning a website, scouting for more interesting people, and paying for the occasional trip to a conference. If people like us acknowledge the usefulness of the work of the "business crowd" in keeping the community going and contribute occasionally to it, then we've got a potentially sustainable model.

One last remark: whatever form is taken, I think it should not be membership-based. Something like Edgeryders works because people can freely move in and out without having to become card-carrying members of anything – and I am sure we have yet to meet some of the best edgeryders. Far better to have a two-pronged model: an unincorporated community that nests an organization. Then you can build a governance model for it – for example, you could implement an algorithm that chooses five people at random among active Edgeryders users as a board of non-executive directors for the organization. Stuff like that.  Whatever is chosen, the goals are clear: allow each individual to choose their own path, including keeping to the present way of hanging out with no tasks or responsibilities; make sure the community does not feel exploited by the entrepreneurial people that put themselves forward to run the organization; and make sure nobody has veto power on what other want to do. This would help us stay close to our glorious motto:

Who does the work, calls the shots.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. :-)

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And again, the magic works. :-)

Freelab's picture

The incorporation - I am ok with it. The UnGovernance - even better. Especially, the randomly chosen "High Five" sounds appealing - as long as I can refuse, being drawn. :-)

Alberto, it is the magic I love - every time when I put a comment, internally being afraid that I am too sceptical, you take it and make something positive out of it.

Personally, I am not the one who will make all this - I am being constrained to occasional contributions and 'freebies' (what a quaint, capitalist word :-) ) but I will gladly stay in the cloud-shaped community to see what is the direction we all are travelling in.

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It's magic, because we don't need it!

Alberto's picture

I appreciate your consideration, my friend, but there is no such thing as "too skeptical". Edgeryders don't hold their punches, and don't hold grudges when they take a blow – we know they are dealt in love. If you sink my idea with a comment you are doing me a favor: it means it deserved to be sunk, the sooner the better. And in this case, frankly, it's better to err on the side of caution. I am confident a legal framework can be found, but still thinking on whether crossing the incorporation line will hurt the community, possibly shattering it. 

That said, if we don't find a common purpose the Edgeryders community is almost certainly going to peter out anyway. So... I have a slight bias towards action. There I go all sentimental again :-)

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I think they should be kept separate but linked.

Nadia's picture

The thing is that the work of keeping the community going, brokering arrangements that generate good paid work for community members like the collaboration with Global Challenge or connecting a project like the unMonastery with the city of Matera, organising events like lote and even just keeping the platform well run and useful to everyone and so on and so forhte. All of this costs huge amounts of work and money. So if we want the community to continue generating value we do need a reliable source of revenue and for that to happen we need people who are going to be taking responsibility for things getting done, and well. I  think the relationship between the business as an entity and the community needs to be a flexible, agile and lightweight. And we can look at different models for how this should be set up, but as all of us are quite limited on time let's keep that discussion solution oriented. 

I have put together a proposal for a social contract on the basis of past experience. But it would be good to poke holes in it and learn from other attempts.

 Does anyone know of any other concrete examples that have managed this kind of transition without screwing up like Couchsurfing did?

I think Douglad mentioned something about Indy Johar having thought about this a bit...but I am looking for concrete examples. Any ideas?

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As for Function, What do the Community think?

Eimhin's picture

This is important. For example, we have ties to various skillsets, organizations and organizational processes...and still we have no comprehensive view of what they are as yet. Given this I would like to ask what everyone thinks this SocEnt should do? Is there a plan, is it up for expansion, if we start at 'a' can we develop in the direction of 'pX3' ? 


For example, my area is of one type and I have certain needs of facilitation for what I do. I imagine the same can be said for most among us. In short , some of us are farmers, others thinkers, others programmers and others still sales-people, diplomats, social critics , anarchists, slack-and-hack-tivists and so on. If this is to work there has to be something in it that satisfies the 'potential future' aspirations of each member. 

If this kind of flexibility is built into the organization then I believe it can work and will support it wholly. It is important to set all of this out at the beginning because otherwise we place limitations on development that will both exclude and disenthuse people who would otherwise be very involved. 

http://ts3.mm.bing.net/th?id=H.4627909845385646&pid=15.1&H=97&W=160 


In the case of "the ones who do the work" I would like to offer contrast in the contextual image of a large rock, a lever, and a couple of people of sufficient ability to manouver the lever. These people 'can' move the rock. Now imagine, as is the truth of our case, that the lever is 'people' or 'community', without the lever there is no chance whatsoever to move the rock, the lever is not inanimate, in fact the lever must choose of itself to be 'applied'. This work is mutual facilitation, lets never forget that. There is no room for the 'precious' here, that is to say we should be ready to 'throw out our darlings' should that be required and remain as unattached as possible. We each have skills, together they are significant...there are unavoidable condiciones sine quibus non that deserve attention in advance.

That said, I think the potential is immense, I'll share the scope of the possibilities I see in a later post. For now though, is it useful to ask:

What does it do? What do we want it to do?

- ?

 







 

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Relevant!

Alberto's picture

Hey Eimhin and all,

the question is clearly relevant: what does Edgeryders do? It could do many things, but let's follow James's advice above (be sure to read his great comment) and bootstrap it. This means focusing first on the thing that we can do right now – and in fact we are already doing; and expanding its scope later. 

We can manufacture (since Edgeryders 1) and sell (this only started in 2013) a novel knowledge product, which is focused as consultancy, but open (hence legitimized, and truthful) as public consultation. I think this has a lot of potential to be scalable, because it empowers individual edgeryders to steer the whole community into new projects. 

Let's have an example here. Suppose you get interested in energy-independent communities. You get in conversation with, say, the City of Dublin, or an Irish energy utility company. The idea starts to develop to "do something" about the matter. Now, energy policy is the typical "big government" top-down kind of thing, crafted by professional experts at the top. It leaves no space for hacking – so, in a complex society, it has a high risk of being broken from the get go. At this point, you make your move: would you, City of Dublin or whatever, be interested in an ethnography of energy-independent communities? We can drive a conversation between the best energy hackers in the world AND the smart young citizens that would be the early adopters of any new way of doing things. We can figure this thing out in a way that marketing surveys and opinion polls can't, because we collectively turn the thing around in our head and that generates new knowledge – not just validates the existing one. Plus, we won't lie. If we think your idea sucks, we'll just tell you. 

Now let's suppose the City of Dublin goes for it. At this point, you have made a sale. You have become the project leader of one Edgeryders campaign (or whatever we call them). You'll write a budget, accounting for your own time and that of people that need to be recruited (for example, en engagement manager: somebody with social media traction in that community, that can cnnect you to it). You will also account for a quota of the Edgeryders core services: the community website, community management to make sure the broader ER community gets on board, #LOTE etc. If you have paid gigs, you try to look within the community first for suitable candidates (without it being contrived, of course). You can "be" the Edgeryders social enterprise in that context – we found it gives an individual credibility when they present themselves as spearheading such an cutting-edge and international community. I have seen this very clearly in Stockholm.

The beauty of this model is that we can do many of these things at once. While you work on energy, I could tackle a regional development issue. Matthias could get in the social currencies space, etc. Then, individual edgeryders will contribute according to their passions, knowledge and time – as always. 

This is for starters. Then, I don't see why – given the right circumstances – we could not do other things – European projects, for example. 

But all this needs me to complete the model, explaining what roles can individual edgeryders play in this story, and why they might want to do so. Have a little patience...

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Hopefully this is not repetitive

Noemi's picture

Hi Eimhin,

What do we want it to do for the community? (think current members and members to come, whose skills you don't know yet: this is not a design limitation, it's design for emergence) Part of this is in the social contract Nadia mentions, which we can ammend:

1. We offer you support, information and tools to help increase your social capital
2. We continuously invest in improving the community as an unschool for futurehackers where you
discover and learn by doing something meaningul
3. We (try to) offer you the possibility to do internships without needing to travel (added costs)
through the platform
4. We (try to) get deal with unemployment offices if needed for you to be able to work in and for the
Edgeryders community.
5. We make sure that other people, projects or organisations are behaving with respect to you. You
need to let us know though so we can step in and resolve questions before they become issues.
6. We'll ensure that the resources required in order to implement something are secured in advance
from organisations (clients) asking for your help.
7. We'll try to get some kind of certification or very public recognition of the skills developed in and
by being active in Edgeryders

We will strive as it is the case now to have people step in when things don't move in a direction that feels right (self-correction), instead of them stepping away..  

Thanks for the input, will try to reach out to more community members to hear their say..

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Social contract

noelito's picture

A really ambitious & radical proposal, but with an evidence-base that shows that it could work! I really like the social contract that you developed Nadia. I think this is really important as it sets out relationships between different participants. 

From looking at how the community works, it looks like on the accountability front, it will be "self correcting and truthful" both towards itself as a community and Edgeryder HQ. In particular  the mutual commitments as mutual support is so critical in new and collaborative environments like this one.

The following may not be relevant, as every community has its own understanding and motivations for the way it helps each other, so feel free to ignore. When the Transeuropa Network I'm involved in went from being a membership-based network supported by core staff from European Alternatives to becoming a cooperative, we looked to systematise particular collaborative behaviours that had worked between particular groups (cooperative being formed of 15 city groups ax Europe). This works on different levels - amongst which developing projects together, getting the resources to do them together and involving others in projects. On getting resources, a few members may want to develop a project where they have some skills and they want others - like filming, design or research. They can identify through the network who has the skills and then bring them onto the project. They can then identify people in the network who can help them with getting funding - some are better are getting grant funding, others more at fundraising, etc. A portion of the funding of the project is re-invested in building the network (in fact the majority of our fundraising is to invest in the network), (which is also complemented by members donations), which can either be to help projects who haven't been able to get funding or to help local groups/members work on transnational projects. In the space of two years doing this, Members have leveraged almost a third of the fundraising of the cooperative, with the skills learnt to raise funds, reputation of partners they've worked with and even opportunities for members to make part of their living through this (not the intention, but a nice by product!).

Aside from the particularities or eccentricities of this approach, I wonder if there's something needed for Edgeryders on how Projects re-invest resources (financial or non-financial, whichever works for them) into Edgeryders and how the Member can help Edgeryders to develop itself as a Network and where possible, provide advice from its own skills to Projects where it is possible and desirable for the Member to do so?

 

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Edgeryders morphs to Social Enterprise??

Darren's picture

I should start this by stating that I have a, possibly somewhat irrational, distrust if the term "social enterprise".

I know there has been a lot of buzz around "social enterprises" for the last few years but I find it a bit hard to clearly identify what one is.....

Here in the UK, I think I'm right in saying, they are defined in law (due to advantages defined in law) as businesses with some kind of social goals - these social goals can be rather thin and the enterprise can focus almost entirely on making money.  It appears to be in the hands of whoever governs the social enterprise to decide on where they draw the balance between social values and £$€ values.

A few years back I heard someone from the co-operative movement being somewhat dismissive of them, pointing out that co-ops offer more clearly defined social benefits when they make efforts to follow the spirit of the co-op principles  (which, it should be noted, not all co-ops appear to be following with great enthusiasm.  Looking at these internationally recognised co-ops principles all co-ops are social enterprises.

Having been somewhat dismissive I can see that there may be some advantages to using the 'social enterprise' term - being identified with the surrounding buzz etc.

I cant find the previous 'mission' where an incorporated Edgeryders organisation was discussed at some length (is it available anywhere??) but a few points/ideas from that conversation have stuck in my head. Particularly -

Strength through decentralisation.   Rather than trying to fit the whole, somewhat hard to define ragtag mob of Edgeryders into a neatly constituted incorporated organisation, we should set up different organisations for different tasks. 

I think Alberto may be touching on this in his last comment, which also made me think of an unincorporated (informal??)  co-operative consortia I have been involved with.  People involved with this co-op (which actually had no formal membership) would be passed work from the co-op which they would directly contract with the client to complete.  A percentage of profits from any job went back to the co-op to cover core expenses (which were minimal due to its extremely  lightweight structure) and to progress collective aims. 

I can see that this model could be considered too lightweight for Edgeryders and that having an incorporated organisation (or organisations) would offer various advantages - but running such incorporated organisation(s) will also provide an increased financial/workload burden on the community.

 

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I think this is the (very long) thread

Nadia's picture

where we discussed organisational forms in the old platform: http://edgeryders.wikispiral.org/node/1167

hi and welcome back by the way :)

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I suggest a closing date for this discussion: April 30.

Nadia's picture

Hi Everyone,

in order to be able to move forward I suggest a final date by which anyone who wants to add their input into the question of whether we set up an Edgeryders organisation, and in what form, can do so. My suggestion would be in 2 weeks time. I.e. April 15. After which  we will make a decision. 

There are two ways in which we handle the decision making about this.

1) Someone volunteers and commits to within the next month completing the following steps:

  •  summairse all the alternatives put forward and all the arguments against them
  •  put them into some kind of voting software
  • do outreach to the entire community and engage them in a vote

2) Together with Alberto, Noemi, Matthias and possibly a legal council (do you know anyone who could help?) I go through the ideas which seem to have most support in this thread. And run with the ones we think are most viable also in terms of time and resources to set up.

If you have objections to this, please propose a concrete alternative that you are also willing to put in the work to make happen...

 

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Thats the one

Darren's picture

Thanks for the welcome and the link Nadia :-)  Been unplugged for a while - which I found refreshing - getting my hands stuck in the soil and the organisation of a very interesting land project.

Although very long the link http://edgeryders.wikispiral.org/node/1167 covers some very intery interesting ground and I think helps inform any future decision.

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"Stuck in the soil" :-)

Alberto's picture

That's a neat, colorful expression. Good to see you man :-)

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I know that Partick Andrews,

Darren's picture

I know that Partick Andrews, who was at LOTE and posted towards the end of the mission has extenisve experience with creating organisational structures (I think he has a legal background???)

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He does!

Eimhin's picture

Patrick has extensive experience yes, coming over from corporate law to the socially beneficient side of legal practice.

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a good idea

Patrick Andrews's picture

Hi everyone, have come a few days late to this.

You are asking questions that more and more people are asking as they start to find the limits of conventional ways of organising.  I believe we are near a tipping point where we think less about "organisations" and more about "organising". To my mind a great example is the burning man festival in the US which is organised around 10 principles. From this the festival has grown to become a huge event but no one is in charge.

If we recognise that individuals are capable of responsible, autonomous behaviour, without external control, it suggests:

  • shared purpose and principles are really important. If you can agree why you are coming together, and some basic principles that guide all the participants in any given situation, then you can pretty much leave them to get on with it.   
  • minimal, and flexible, hierarchy;
  • no or few managers;
  • leaders, and groups, appear and disappear as the need requires;
  • information flowing freely; and
  • a “higher authority”, having legitimacy amongst the group, holding everything together through application of wisdom and moral authority, without ego and without controlling anything. These are sometimes called trustees.

Regarding legal forms, my specific knowledge is about UK law. There's no perfect legal form for what we are talking about - existing legal forms (including cooperatives) still tend to assume ownership by someone. The problem with ownership is that (a) it is subtly demoralising to be owned by someone else and (b) ownership tends to be inflexible - once you are an owner there are not usually machanisms for you to give it up.

But that is not to say that you can't modify existing legal forms - the limited company for example is pretty flexible. You just need to adopt different rules. In teh UK we have something called a company limited by guarantee that can be turned into a for-profit, non-stock business that is business-like but doesn't distribute profit - it provides a space where profit and joy and meaning can be created and shared. 

I am more than happy to contribute to this on-going conversation. I feel setting up more formally is a natural next step for edgeryders. 

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Agree!

Alberto's picture

Hey Patrick, welcome onto this conversation! 

I completely agree with you. ER started out, and still is, as fully fluid community, with lots of social dynamics, no permanent structure. Incorporation is a necessary evil: we already had to pass on several opportunities that might have benefited the community because we don't have a tax number and a bank account. So we'll do the absolute minimum to get a viable system. 

That said, my slides are more directed to people not in the community: prospective clients, more or less. I am preparing some thought directed to the community, that will concern the internal organization of what we (hopefully) will do together in the future.

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Money, as pure evil, and pure value ...

Matthias's picture

Some notes from me, rather drafty ...

Maybe the question should be: Should we try to make some money from what we do here? This revolves largely on our culture of using money, the values we attribute to it, and if and how we can avoid all the pitfalls that come in with money ...

Well, as making money could make this communty more sustainable, it has a pragmatic advantage for sure. But it's also a matter of fairness: as we provide something of value for society, it's just fair if it gets valued by society. One way or another. It's not about accumulating wealth or such nonsense, but basic economic exchange: we get what we need and can't do, by providing what we can do better (and others need).

This value does not have to be money (there's a whole interesting research area of "economy of the commons" which a friend of mine is dealing with). But as money is more or less the only major attribution of value that our "poorly expressive" capitalist society can come up with, we can go along and say, yea, we'd also accept money.

But then, let's make this "a business as it should be", far from the wealt-accumulation way:

  • co-owned (not just with shares that can be re-sold, that kind of meta level just opens up the way for speculation and loss of responsibility; instead, ownership in this cannot be sold)
  • open checkbook accounting: showing everybody how much money comes in, and where it goes, being open to correction
  • proper giving-back rules: there's nothing to be said against decent living conditions for those who contribute to an enterprise, but before it gets to becoming "wealthy", there have to be rules and ways that allocate the excess resources to where they're of better use in this world ... like helping the still-next generation to incubate their own social enterprises, for example ...

This goes pretty much with the spirit of what Petros proposed above:

"a registered association, being internally structured as a cooperative, with strongly defined statutory goals and the charter allowing business activity to support them." [source]

Because saying "social enterprise" does not mean to say "capitalist social enterprise", if there's such a thing at all ... . We're just talking about setting up a formal organization, one way or another (and it does not have to be an association to do business the right way ... though I personally also favor aliging the formal structure to some co-op one). So we want a formal structure (because potential clients want it, and we want the whole thing to work so it helps all of us towards reasonable economic standing, based on the services we can provide to surrounding society.

BTW, CouchSurfing screwed up because they were starting to extract money from their users (pushed to by accepting VC capital, implemented with a AirBnB partnership etc. ...). In contrast, Edgeryders has no intention whatsoever to extract money from Edgeryders folks. Which means, if the enterprise made money from contributions of Edgeryders folks, this is where the money should go to.

Maybe another note. Being a social enterprise (which earns money from clients) would be independent from the project hosting facilities provided on edgeryders.eu. People are welcome to host their project here by founding a "group", and maybe this could get traction on its own when specializing on social innovation projects – "the Github or SourceForge of social innovation". On top of that, those people who have their projects here or belong to the community for other reasons, could also contribute to the work for clients that the social enterprise does. The free service of project hosting would pay off because it attracts interesting people who might want to get involved more ...

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Changed my mind

Matthias's picture

I just changed my mind over the last hour after looking through this. Time is running out in Europe, we gotta use our little resources wisely if we want to have any effect ...

[You can watch with English subs!]

Basically, if we really want to be a social enterprise, we want to be valued for solving social problems. If consultancy contributes just to our clients' indulging in academic discussions, and to politics as usual, it's not worth the effort. Independent of any finances.

Which means, if we don't have and follow our own agenda of what to solve and how, we're not social enterprise. If teh consulting contributes to solve the problems we want to solve, all fine. If we do consulting to extract money from wealthy clients in politics and establishment, it makes no sense.

To the point: How to build a self-sustaining organization that brings on the revolution?

(The "revolution enterprise" will seek a democratic revolution of course, like it has been started in Iceland, sadly stuck now. But it has to be this profound shift in society that we all know has to come ...)

@Nadia: We had a little discussion about this lately. Seems I changed sides now ;)

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Action vs. services

Alberto's picture

Matthias: I think you might be confusing taking action with providing services that make taking action easier. People in Edgeryders might be involved in both, but the company (as I see it) focuses on doing the latter. 

Let me explain. I'll start by making a list of ongoing collaborations across people in Edgeryders. There is no repository, but just off the top of my head:

  1. Ben, Gaia, Anthony and I have tried (unsuccessfully, for now) to get a research project off the ground.
  2. Gaia and Anthony are collaborating around an offline social network analysis project.
  3. Elf and Max are involved in organizing OuiShare in Paris. So is Nadia, as speaker.
  4. Pietro Speroni and Smari are cooking up something around network politics/algorithmic democracy.
  5. Nadia and Jasmin joined forces for DIY days in Gothenborg.
  6. Simone and Yolanda are deploying Casa Buna as a waypoint to Petros's Expedition Freedom.
  7. Kat has organized a dinner with a bunch of social venture people for Nadia to present Edgeryders and make a case for the potential social entrepreneurs at the edge.
  8. Anthony, Rysiek, Kat, Felipe Gonzalez and I are discussing a Eurohackathon in collaboration with the European Parliament for the 2014 Euro elections.
  9. Ben, Nadia and Dougald have all been guest lecturers at the design course Ola is giving in Hyperisland Stockholm.
  10. The unMonastery (Ben, Gaia, Bembo, Ola, Nadia, Jay and others) has moved to the stage of prototype. I was instrumental in funding the first iteration.
  11. And of course, there is Mission:Baltic, in which some of us were involved with an Edgeryders hat (-ish).

There are certainly others I don't see. 

This is pretty amazing. If we were an incubator, we'd have on of the best success rates in propitiating new projects. This is an impact we can be proud of. 

So, you see. If you want some kind of systemic change, your best bet is to catalyze a lot of these meetings of minds. This will be the contribution of Edgeryders, the company. In order to make this happen, it will need to align this goal with the goal of others: and advise organizations, do research, write reports, organize events. Some direct solving might be there, but I think the people in Edgeryders are better at solving problems than an Edgeryders organization. Whatever creates learning and connecting opportunities, while giving changemakers opportunities to shine. Makes sense?

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Company or not-company?

Matthias's picture

Hmm, I see your point. Actually, being an incubator and facilitating change, if coupled with an agenda what to facilitate, is in my view even a valid strategy for "bringing on the democratic revolution".

Yet, facilitating interchange and incubation is not what an Edgeryders company would do. This might be cross-financed or supported by the company, but we could also find other ways to support this. From crowdfunding to community contributions to some philantropic money. The defining element of the company is rather, what it sells as a product. Which also applies to social enterprises, just that their product (hopefully) solves a social problem rather than creating one.

In our case, that product is our new Edgeryders-flavored knowledge product. So to see if that product makes sense, we gotta look at the change done, or facilitated by, this product. And I fear that the change effect of our consultation work is neglible, at least if we accept just any client who wants to hire us (esp. those from the establishment :D). So I propose we should rethink the product to be of higher impact. Or alteratively, to build a self-sustaining association / organization that exists solely to be this mind connector / incubator that you speak of. This one is not a company then: its primary purpose is not to offer and sell a (beneficial or not) product for money, but to fulfill its non-monetary goal, as resource-efficiently as possible ...

This is pretty blunt startup reasoning, I know. If somebody can explain me why it's better to broaden my concept of "company", (s)he's welcome of course ...

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This is very exciting!

TOOLosophy's picture

Great points Matthias, Alberto and others!
Indeed it is important to distinguish between the actions of individual edgeryders and the services that some Edgeryders memebers would provide. I think we need to work on several key principles of an Edgeryders SocEnt like those of Rochdale or Burning Man. They would come in handy in hypothetical moments when Edgeryders would be asked to deliver services to oil companies, corrupt and/or violent governements, TNC, ... you get the point.

For me the trouble is imagiing how would the organization look like. Here, I think some lessons could be learned from such structures as Al Qaeda. The secret to their longevity is the fact that that they are based on a specific ideology and a very loose structure spanned worldwide. With enormous (!) amounts of money targeted at destroying it, with losses in leadership it manages to remain resilient for more than 2 decades. Similarly many positive elements could be drawn from Anonymous.

I hereby subscribe to the proposal of giving the Edgeryders a more formal/de jure structure. I guess it will be up to all of us to further propose, discuss and vote on the final form it will be taking. Perhaps it is obvious for the rest of you, but my only caveat would be that Edgeryders would maintain a culture of noncooperation/civil disobedience in relation with the insitutions/structures that are (partly) responsible for the proliferation of impoverishment, violence, environmental degradation, democratic deficit... We should avoid collaborating with such institutions whose aim is improvement of their own image in the eyes ofthe wider public, simulation of social responability, creating marketing stunts to gain a wider customer base, etc.

It's a great pleasure to be follwing this conversation. I'll keep my eyes open for intereting forms of community organization.

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Evolution = not Revolting ;)

Eimhin's picture

Love the feeling, perhaps a few changes in the lexicon :) All of the good stuff that drives the things we love move in step with the exchange. Things are evolving and we find ourselves the frustrated fit for a way 'the world' hasn't caught up with yet. I like that folks like b-corp paved the way as they did...nice slogan too, 

B the change

What you said about the CoOp structure sparked with what b-corp did in establihing legal foundation for social purpose companies in the US. ( http://www.bcorporation.net/ ) so far in Europe there are no legal grounds for 'cooperative social business' organizations that are transnationally applicable. In Ireland a social enterprise goes under the Charity act...the system hasn't caught up, and because it so slow, things that could happen- can't. 

 

Edgeryders finds itself in a very interesting position here, forming in relative non-space in European organizatinal terms, and becoming increasingly fit to emergent circumstances, as far as I can see. Wise action here could be in taking the famed step back, observing the field, the actors and processes, look and see who and what is at work, ask the world what it wants, and based on that move with the whole as and when fit.

 

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Legal form

Patrick Andrews's picture

If you were setting this up in the UK, you would use a company limited by guarantee (and register it as a B corp, if you saw some value in doing so). This entity would own the brand and be a guardian of the purpose and principles.  I would then imagine a number of projects that operate under or in association with the brand. In order to use te brand you need to sign up to the purpose and principles and agree what % of the earnings go to Edgeryders Ltd and what would be retained by the project leaders. I wouldn't expect you would have any employees of Edgeryders Ltd (not initally at least) - you would have a board (paid a minimal amount to cover time and expenses). You would also need some strong processes to make sure:

- quality is maintained;

- everyone is held to acccount by someone else;

- important decisions affecting the group are made collectively;

This is not completely unlike the model of Apache Software Foundation (their software powers 70% of the world's servers). They are project led but have a charity that owns the brand and whose board members (unpaid members of the Apache community) set policy.

I am sure there must be similar legal forms to the Company limited by guarantee in France, Germany and other EU countries, and for tax reasons apart from anything else it might be better to have the entity in the Eurozone and not in this island floating off France.  

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My hat is off

Alberto's picture

Patrick, this is great input. My humble thanks. Nadia will probably want to be in touch with more questions...

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