Across generations, people engage in mass protest and young people feel justifiably betrayed. In this complex context, how do we relate to the notion of “changing society” that has echoed through Ouishare’s mission since the beginning, and where do we go from here?
The global climate strike took place from September 20-27, 2019, organized by Fridays for Future and multiple other organizations like WWF, Amnesty, Change.org, Greenpeace, Avaaz and Extinction Rebellion. We are using this as an opportunity to share our sensemaking around the emerging perspectives about Ouishare’s role in the unfolding environmental and human crises – as a community and as a collective of individuals. We highlight the ever-increasing need to reinvent not only society but also ourselves and the way we interact with the world.
Explorers connecting the dots
In Ouishare, the idea of challenging the status quo and reshaping the way we work and live has often been expressed through a vision of a society based on values of collaboration, fairness, openness and trust. An early description of our mission shows this:
“OuiShare is a global community and think and do-tank. Our mission is to build and nurture a collaborative society by connecting people, organizations and ideas around fairness, openness and trust. We believe that economic, political and social systems based on these values can solve many of the complex challenges the world faces and enable everyone to access to the resources and opportunities they need to thrive.”
From Ouishare’s early days, the quest for a more just society has been central, as can be seen in a number of articles critically reflecting the collaborative economy. In The Sharing Economy: Capitalism’s Last Stand? Arthur de Grave wrote that “if the collaborative economy cannot help you solve our growing inequality problem, it should be of no interest to you”. Further elaborating Ouishare’s position, Diana Filippova outlined in a series of three articles called The Quest for New Value(s), that Ouishare was far from naively accepting the collaborative economy as flawless or a monolithic answer to a “better” world. Instead, she upheld the vision of a collaborative society and suggested that questions of fairness and sustainability are value-based choices that cannot come from the economy alone, but that collaborative practices could be seen as useful tools for indirectly impacting the social organisation and culture needed to achieve a longed-for paradigm shift away from neoliberal capitalism.
Ouishare has also always been close to open source, maker and hacker movements, with their contributory models based on values like openness and collaboration. Looking back into an article by Simone Cicero in 2012, Hacking Society (and learning how to fix it), he explains that:
“The basic difference between social hackers and politicians or even buzzword activists is that hackers live as examples. Their goal is to provide evidence that alternative ways of producing wealth can work”.
Approaching sustainability challenges through open source, the POC21 innovation community co-led by Ouishare in 2015 aimed to do just that, and to be an accelerator for open source hardware innovators, prototyping the most functional and replicable cells of a sustainable society.
The role of Ouishare to “connect the dots” can also be seen in the themed Ouishare Fests and events held at different locations around the world, such as Ouishare Fest Paris and Barcelona, Eco2Fest in Québec, Colaboramerica in Río de Janeiro and Medellín and AltShift in Cairo. What these events have in common is that they aim to bring together forefront thinkers and doers in the quest of transforming society based on the values Ouishare stands for. Themes like “The Age of Communities”, “Lost in Transition”, “Society in Beta”, “After the Goldrush” and “Cities in the World, Unite!” echo the thought process that go into the events, while calling for action beyond words and theoretical approaches. In an article leading up to the 2016 Fest, the need to hold space for debate in highlighted:
“rather than describing what’s happening, it’s far more important to experiment, support and foster debate and connection among protagonists and dream-makers”.
Ouishare’s mission to nurture collaboration and to transform society is also embedded in each of our ongoing projects. With Mille Lieux, for instance, we explore the impact of third places on local territories, while Back to the Future fosters a local community around participatory urban future-making. Our project Capital Numerique looks at how digital tools can reduce inequalities and empower neighborhoods and Le Grand Braouf Numérique discusses the political, cultural and ecological implications of digital technologies. We foster open source innovation and the prototyping of a zero carbon and zero waste society with Eco2Fest and our research on the future of work opens conversations about fair and sustainable future working conditions. In organizational and urban contexts we foster collaboration, horizontal practices, organizational transformation, sustainability and human-centered innovation.
All of the examples above contribute – directly or indirectly – to addressing bigger issues like reducing our envionmental footprint, adaptation to changes that can’t be avoided, or build resilience and cohesion in communities to face challenges together.
However, today we ask ourselves if these approaches and the practices we promote are enough? Or do we need to be more radical in our choices? Can we be more explicit in our role vis-à-vis the environment? What are the ethical, philosophical and political considerations at stake? Questions like these lead us to the sensemaking process we embarked on a few months back.
Trusting that the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts
In a time when environmental and human crises unfold and the threat to human survival are vividly debated, the need to experiment, connect the dots and foster change has never been stronger. Yet, the enormous complexity and magnitude of the challenges ahead can leave us paralysed and cause suffering for both individuals and our community.
While the science is clear about the fact that we’re heading for a climate crisis, we don’t know exactly how our futures will look like. We can’t afford one-sided conversations, single-minded solutions and intellectual monocultures. Instead, diversity allows us to make sense of the world through multiple lenses.
In March 2019, the urge to understand how we relate to the new “reality” of climate emergency led to the start of a targeted conversation within Ouishare. In what we call a sensemaking group about the “Environmental and Human Crises and Ouishare”, we came together to exchange our observations, hold space for our emotions, share our individual approaches and try to understand our role as Ouishare in the current context. This “space” now includes a Telegram channel for the ongoing conversation, regular group calls and occasions to meet in person, like during the last Global Ouishare Summit.
Our first conversation was framed around three layers that we thought would be open enough to let ideas and emotions emerge freely, yet sufficiently structured to capture the “big” topics involved and allow us to question our own reasoning and paradigms (see image below). A mix of frustration, introspection and urge to “do more” surfaced in our first meeting. Questions about Ouishare’s role came up and through self-scrutiny we seemed to agree that these topics need greater attention, regardless of the exact form or angle.
The ongoing conversation has helped us to understand the diversity of viewpoints within the community. Some members embrace environmental and system collapse as inevitable in the Anthropocene era, while others feel that narratives of hope are needed. Some have expressed the need for Ouishare to continue to work on community building from a social point of view rather than focussing on environmental activism, while the need for “hacking the current system” is mentioned recurrently. Nevertheless, a common “Ouisharean” desire can be felt: connecting forces across society to foster systemic change.
Two broad themes have started to emerge, one focussing on actively shaping the discourse, creating awareness, supporting outreach and socio-political action and the other one contemplating systems research and lifestyle projects. We observe interest in spaces like eco-villages or multi-disciplinary research labs, as well as the need for mapping and sharing knowledge about initiatives to better understand different contexts. Opinion pieces that question Western epistemology and identity are commonly shared, while more pragmatic ideas, like digging deeper into our travel habits and finding alternative solutions has also become one line of action.
When the sensemaking group got back in touch with the wider Ouishare community after some months, we encountered a consensus about the immense importance of the topic and broad support for climate movements. At the same time, some members voiced concern about a full on endorsement of groups like Extinction Rebellion without further observation, discussions and a more in-depth understanding.
Instigators of action
During the week of the Global Climate Strike, various Ouishare members participated in the strike in cities like Barcelona, Berlin, Lima, Mexico, Munich, Paris and Vienna, some as part of Extinction Rebellion, some as concerned citizens. A number of our communities are further organizing climate-related events, which will approach the topic from different angles. In Barcelona we are hosting a fishbowl to discuss the relationship of the climate emergency to the future of work at Reshaping Work, in Munich a “BFTF Stammtisch“ – a Global Climate Strike Week themed drink in the line of the Back to the Future project is taking place and more events are to come.
We are inviting members of Extinction Rebellion, Fridays for Future and the public. We want to use the opportunity to connect to the wider ecosystem, ask burning questions together, share perspectives and thereby foster individual sense-making by allowing everyone to draw their own conclusions. Through our sensemaking group, we will continue surfacing observations, tensions, diverging viewpoints, research and map alternatives to the current system and discuss how we can support environmental movements.
Seeing that we have between 18 months to twelve years to limit the crisis, we are not only experiencing an environmental, but also an epistemic crisis as we fail to conceive the enormity of the predicament, address its colonialist roots and process our grief and overwhelm in the face of it.
Life itself is under threat and even if we are already working on parts of the solution, the imperative to “Keep calm and carry on.” is threatening our ability to do what is needed and question ourselves down to the core of our identities.
Making sense of and reacting to the unprecedented “reality” we live in, needs to be at the center of everything we do and every decision we take, as individuals and as a community. We often get asked what Ouishare is, and every one of us will give a slightly different answer. We are far from infallibly inclusive or culturally diverse – in many ways Ouishare as an international community is a very privileged space – and we go through our share of tensions. But, we have learned to hold a diversity of opinions and ideas.
We don’t agree on one single narrative or answer, but we’re really good at asking better questions together. And that might be the most valuable contribution we have to bring to the ecosystem in the current context.
Connecting people and holding conversations will surely not save the world, but by getting together and holding each other accountable, we may be able to find the collective strength to be more daring in our actions, more active in shaping the discourse and more outspoken about the culture change we want to see to create a future that is not only livable, but worth living.
We hope our shared feeling of urgency, our holding space to go through frustration and despair together, our diversity in viewpoints and capacity to hold diverging opinions can provide us with the energy to face the reality we live in and act accordingly: with the appropriate speed, conviction, consideration and love for what is alive.
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Photo credit: istockphoto