Stephanie Rearick and Leander Bindewald: If it wasn’t crystal clear just weeks ago, it is now: The economy as it stands is currently positioned in direct opposition to social and environmental objectives. For the sake of the wellbeing of our communities, our children, and our planet, it is imperative we change the voracious path of our consumption culture and consider how we might create opportunities for people to find meaningful work.
At the Mutual Aid Network, we have developed a new type of networked cooperative — one that, among other things, lets people find talented collaborators for personal, neighborhood-wide, or even city-wide projects. Here’s how we make it happen:
The first step is to bring people together around a common goal of any size and scope to form an individual “Mutual Aid Network.” The common goal can be anything — a group of friends aiming to redesign each person’s work life, a watershed restoration initiative, a city-wide energy efficiency and renewables program, a decentralized cooperatively-owned manufacturing initiative, a travel and culture exchange, or a meal program to ensure that everyone in a neighborhood has enough to eat. While each network is entirely autonomous, the underlying principles it follows are from drawn from commons governance and cooperative models.
To achieve the common goal, members pool and steward resources by combining any of the following tools — all tried and true in the patches of solidarity economy, big and small, over the course of generations:
Shared resources or the commons: Participate in tool libraries, makerspaces, shared laundry facilities, and so forth.
Timebanking and swapping: Exchange time credits — for example, an hour worth for a service, be it babysitting, cooking, cleaning, rides, light carpentry, gardening, art/music/language lessons, in exchange for a service. Contribute frequent flyer miles, meals, plots of land, buildings, equipment all to be acknowledged in community credits that are fair, transparent, and always mutually beneficial.
Price-based mutual credit currencies, for business and highly professionalized service: Buy a $1,000 piece of equipment from a participating business for 1,000 points of interest-free credit, to be paid back by selling $1,000 worth of goods and services to the network. Taxed according to applicable laws.
Savings pools and community investment: Contribute to a common pool of money to be allocated to collectively agreed causes or members with one-off financial needs, be they for a home, health care, or even burial expenses. Examples of this abound around the world and include the Mutual Aid Societies in the U.S., the original Building Societies in the U.K.
And then there is the “Humans United in Mutual Aid Networks,” formerly referred to as the Main Mutual Aid Network, which is one big global cooperative owned by all individual Mutual Aid Network sites. The members connect, share resources and best practices, and support new Mutual Aid Network sites all around the world by using the same approach and principles applied in the local sites.
Of course we don’t expect everyone to be solely working in the Mutual Aid Network context, but expect that more opportunities will build over time. Our strategy is to start with a number of pilot sites with different focus areas, strengths, and limitations, and have each one commit to supporting one another and help foster new sites. Eight pilot sites have signed up already, and at least eight more are in the works.
The economy of the 21st century is something we’ve been prototyping throughout human history. Now we can connect those ideas and practices that have proven to be sustainable over time and use technologies to connect, exchange, share, and learn collaboratively and effectively. Networks of networks can quickly connect to create a world where everyone has the opportunity to build the skills needed to make whole, happy communities. We are already doing it, across the world, independently and increasingly interdependently. Please join us. What you can do:
Join an online orientation
Join the Humans United in Mutual Aid Networks (formerly Main Mutual Aid Network) global co-op (U.S. based, global membership)
Join the Humans United in Mutual Aid Networks work groups
Explore creating a pilot site
Participate in our Summit in Madison, Wisconsin, from Feb. 17-20
Sign up for our e-mail list
All of those opportunities, plus more learning resources, can be found at: www.mutualaidnetwork.org
Here are some of our pilot projects:
Allied Community Co-op is the first Mutual Aid Network pilot site. It’s where some of the organization’s fundamental ideas were born. Located in a food desert with little infrastructure (no school, grocery store, library, or neighborhood center), the Allied Co-op is working to bring a food buying club and a cooperatively-owned grocery store to the neighborhood.
The Social Justice Center, a multi-stakeholder nonprofit building in Madison’s affluent East Side, is a convening partner in exploring Madison’s second Mutual Aid Network pilot, which will be an inter-city partnership connecting Allied Co-op and many other local stakeholders in a network of resource-sharing and exchange initiative designed to create more equitable distribution of existing resources across the city.
The Mid-Michigan bioregion is home to a number of both for-profit and nonprofit cooperative enterprises, including the Mid-Michigan Time Bank, the Lansing Maker’s Network, and the Mid-Michigan Renewable Energy Cooperative. By leveraging time, tools, and talents, these groups will form the backbone of the Mid-Michigan Mutual Aid Network to help the region find new ways to build a sustainable new economy.
“Mutual Aid Networks provide a platform for communities to build from the ground up through identifying strengths and resources that are present globally which can be put into action through local location-specific projects,” says Marshall Clabueaux, a renewable energy activist and social entrepreneur.
Providence, Rhode Island
In the Providence Bay Area, the Fertile Underground Natural Cooperative is working to get a catering truck on the road. This truck will take food from farms and supermarkets and offer the raw, natural ingredients for free, while selling the prepared food. The goal of this project is to reach places that have limited access to fresh food and provide cooking demonstrations using seasonal produce.
Wellness Weaver, a timebank, has collaborated with partners around the US to connect people who want to create a FUNctional Health and Wellness Workers Cooperative — a wellness-oriented Mutual Aid Network.
“The value of the Mutual Aid Network is to bring the wisdom and expertise of those that have used time banking formally as a way to help develop and support the best functioning Wellness Oriented Mutual Aid Network,” says Helen Stucky Weaver, retired nurse and founder of Wellness Weavers.
St. Louis, Missouri
Solidarity Economy St. Louis is currently working to incubate African-American cooperative businesses, co-host a local conference around the theme of “Health, Wealth, and Disrupting Capitalism,” develop a time bank youth court program, engage in community organizing efforts to create a neighborhood food hub in the food desert of North St. Louis, and promote community development of vacant land.
“Being part of the Mutual Aid Network allows us to connect to and co-create a global movement of people who are working to build just and sustainable economies,” says Julia Ho, founder of Solidarity Economy St. Louis. “The only way for us to truly achieve mutual aid in our own communities is by extending mutual aid to others.”
Bergnek, South Africa
Bergnek Community Projects is a community development initiative that was started to empower and uplift women and youth through sustainable business ventures. The program provides access to food, clean water, and reproductive health care for women and girls in school. The long-term aim of the group is to build a community health care center.
Hull, United Kingdom
This Mutual Aid Network aims to create a chain reaction that goes back into communities. It meshes a thriving timebank with 600 members and the Hull Coin initiative, the City of Culture’s 2017 nomination, which is currently mobilizing 4,000 volunteers.
“When I started the TimeBank back in 2010, I saw it as the solution to everything,” says Kate Macdonald. “I realized in time that it is ‘one’ solution and that to have a viable parallel economy, we need different options which have strengths to use in different circumstances. When I heard Stephanie speak about Mutual Aid Networks a couple of years ago, I realized this had been what I had been looking for. What is often missed is a mechanism to join things up.”
Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania
The Mutual Aid Network of the Lehigh Valley addresses the social determinants of health of communities’ most vulnerable members, including formerly incarcerated people, juveniles aging out of the foster care system, homeless populations, individuals recovering from addiction, and newly settled refugees. This project address tackles these issues by tackling social isolation, one of the key factors that contributes to poor life and health outcomes.
These eight initiatives demonstrate that building a solidarity economy that serves every human being on the planet is possible.
A previous version of this article appeared in the July 2016 issue of STIR magazine
Header photo courtesy of the Mutual Aid Network.