On businesses that sustain the commons

Republished from Mark Corbin:

Today I listened to a talk by Michel Bauwens of p2p foundation, from last years’ International Commons Conference, and I read an introduction to a book on high-yield organic farming called ‘How to Grow More Vegetables (than you ever thought possible on less land than you can imagine)’.

And they shared a theme. Like so:

Conventional farming in fertile soil achieves high crop yields from plundering the soil’s minerals of the nutrients needed for flourishing crops. In intensive monocultures, a freely available, complex and rich environment build up over hundreds of years is exhausted to the point of desertification within a few. In contrast, the essential approach of high book is to focus intensively on building up and maintaining the quality of the soil, and in doing so also increase yields.

Michel spoke in the context of emerging commons-based communities in the interface between the ‘traditional’ commons practises of cooperatives and protest, and the new digital commons practices (open source software/hardware/data/design). When they first emerge, it can be hard to see how they can be ‘economic’ at all, when they threaten jobs by creating an almost disconcerting and unbounded potential – businesses are geared very often around innovating and then protecting that innovation, not sharing it.

A basic need in both contexts is for an community of protectors of a resource, be it a natural ecosystem or a collection of open source hardware, that are firmly committed to sustaining and building this common resource, and work effectively together to do so.

But the crucial next step which Michel describes, the one that hooks it fully into a society’s , is for organisations and businesses to emerge from the community of practise, steeped in the values of that community, that fit into the ecosystem in a way that increases, rather than decreases, that commons store. You don’t fit into the wordpress ecosystem by stealing code and copyrighting it. You fit into the wordpress ecosystem by designing great themes that work alongside it, offering customisation and support and building up the ecosystem that feeds you.

His more pragmatic observation is that even businesses from outside that community will be forced to find models that align with its values, when the power of what the commons offers becomes too strong to compete with.

So we need to recognise what we hold in common, the store of wealth that we have access to, and make sure that we build up communities and practices that sustain these commons, whether it be soil fertility or open source hardware. We also need business models that recognise the commons as not something to exploit but a rich communal provision to sustain, and find models which are only viable for the individual when they are viable for the ecosystem. We need to concentrate on the soil.”

Michaels’ talk can be found at: http://www.boell.de/economysocial/economy/economy-commons-10451.html

Also recently discovered: http://www.schoolofcommoning.com/

Link to the book: http://www.amazon.com/gp/reader/1580087965/ref=sib_dp_pt#reader-link

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