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Governance Matters: Replicable Rules for an Accountable Economy

Re-posted from the New Economy Coalitions’ New Economy Week 2014, 10/15/2014

nonprofitA new economy must do more than distribute goods and services. It must also more equitably distribute meaningful opportunities for participation and wellbeing to the communities – human and ecological – so long exploited by our dominant political economy. A clue to how this can be achieved may lie in the very word “economy” itself. Derived from the Ancient Greek word οἰκονόμος, meaning “management of the home,” oἶκος is, of course, the same root found in “ecology,” meaning “study or knowledge of home.”

So how can the management or governance of our shared home – this one fragile yet resilient planet – be more deeply rooted in knowledge of that home?

The entities that provide for our most fundamental needs – food producers, grocery stores, energy utilities, water utilities, banks, housing providers, hospitals, schools – can be far more accountable to the people and communities that use them. Around the world, a multitude of projects are adopting more democratic, fluid, and purpose-driven governance models that are meeting our needs in more socially just and ecologically regenerative ways: worker cooperatives, community-supported farms, renewable energy cooperatives, cohousing communities, seed saving collectives, community land trusts, local currencies, credit unions, healthcare collectives, child-care cooperatives, community-controlled water districts, and more.

An insight emerging from these democratic projects and our understanding of ecosystem functioning is that “system structure is the source of system behavior,” as Marjorie Kelly of the Democracy Collaborative has said. Governance matters. Our governance structures must both reflect the diversity of our communities and embody the values of the growing new economies movement through democracy, justice, and appropriate scale. At the Sustainable Economies Law Center, we are working with a diverse range of new economy entrepreneurs to create replicable governance models for a wide range of projects that generate and keep wealth circulating locally: Spanish-language bylaws for an immigrant-owned catering cooperative, a distributed governance system for a freelancer-owned tech platform, and our own publicly-available organizational policies for democratically-run non-profits, to name a few.

A new economy demands new operating systems for the entities that make it up. The operating system of the status quo economy – highly centralized and multinational corporations accountable only to wealthy shareholders – has proven inadequate for the depth and breadth of change our economy requires. To the extent that new economy organizational structures empower communities to decide and co-create their own economic future, replicable innovations in governance can be a catalyst for deep transformation at scale.

As the study of our home has shown us, ecosystems are only as resilient as the health of their component parts. A more resilient economic future calls for more accountable and democratic ways of governing our home that ensure the health and fulfillment of all members of our communities.

Read more on building power and bringing a new economy to scale.

(image courtesy NEC)

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