A group of people are gathered amid sunflowers holding a banner overhead that reads We Were Built For this. Constellations connect their arms to each other. THe figure are wearing shirts that read Black Lives Matter, No Border No Nations No More Deportations, and they have a variety of human skin colors and they are many ages. One of them is a wheelchair user.

The solidarity economy can’t exist without democracy. Unfortunately, more often than not, our organizations, enterprises, and coalitions fail to practice internally what we demand externally. This leaves us unpracticed and unprepared for power. If we want to build a stronger movement, we must figure out how to come together in groups and make all manner of decisions through a process that shares power and decision making between all stakeholders. Doing democracy is not easy, and sometimes it requires us to slow down at first, but democracy is necessary for robust, strategic, and sustainable decisions in the movement. Democracy also allows us to create a microcosm of the world our movement is trying to build. 

PRINCIPLE: We practice democracy in all aspects of our work. Democracy is defined here as the whole body deciding how power is shared and where decisions or work can be delegated.
  • PRACTICE: Strategic Planning should always include meaningful member input and approval.

     

  • PRACTICE: Organizational mission, vision and values should be reviewed by the membership regularly (e.g. every 1-5 years).  This could be done in the context of a Social Audit of the organization (as in the above practice under financial and data transparency).

  • PRACTICE: Leaders should be evaluated each year based on their performance in the service of organizational mission, vision and values. A committee of members could perform this function.

 

  • PRACTICE: Democracy requires transparency. One practice co-ops or SE groups can use is an Audit Committee. Audit Committees were common among US cooperatives for most of the 20th century at least, but no longer. This tool allowed a committee of members to review all aspects of an organization’s operations and work, and to report on their findings to the membership. The Audit Committee does not sanction or intervene in any work, just documents what is happening and passes it along to the membership who then decide what actions should be taken. For a high profile SE organization using this tool, check out Seikatsu Consumer Club Cooperative Union’s bylaws.

 

  • PRACTICE: The organization should create formal ways to recognize and appreciate the many perspectives and contributions made by members
PRINCIPLE: We make decisions and organize work at the most local level possible, by those directly impacted by the decisions.
  • PRACTICE: National, regional, and local  SE organizations need to make all organizational documents, including budgets, meeting minutes, bylaws, strategic plans, etc. should be available to all members and easily accessible. Members should have the right to decide what information is available and at what level of detail. Internal transparency is distinguished from general “public” transparency. (An example of this work is the Chantier in Quebec, which has built regional networks and movement capacity to engage in long-term strategy development and implementation as a network of networks).

  • PRACTICE: It’s insufficient to just elect a board and call it democratic, if decisions have impact in a community that community needs to have a meaningful say in what those decisions are. It should go beyond “input” to actually having decision-making power.PRACTICE: Don’t be afraid to experiment! Exercise democracy in varied and creative ways; both impromptu and defined process.

  • PRACTICE: Each historical moment of the organization should be carefully documented and archived, so that we can learn from our successes and missteps. Investing in documentation also ensures that the power that comes from information is better distributed within and between our organizations. It also makes our organizations more resilient to leadership transitions.
PRINCIPLE: We see our solidarity economy enterprises (both formal and informal) as autonomous, sovereign self-help organizations democratically controlled by their members in keeping with International Cooperative Principle #4.
  • PRACTICE: If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their autonomy.

  • PRACTICE: Challenge the ways that state and philanthropic funding operate so they are more responsive to our needs.

  • PRACTICE: Challenge “charity” approaches, invest in building power and agency for member and community self-determination. Never do for an SE organization what the members inside it can and should do for themselves. Instead, support them with guidance and solidarity.

  • PRACTICE: Organizers, developers, funders and incubators should always include explicit exit plans for themselves while working with new entities so that the new entity can move on to exist independently and sustainably after the initial support or investment.

  • PRACTICE: In worker co-ops specifically, honor the Mondragon principle of sovereignty of labor over capital, which means the interests of the workers are considered primary, especially when making financial decisions.
PRINCIPLE: We take into consideration the impact that our decisions have on the broader community, future generations, and the earth.
  • PRACTICE: Solicit input from the broader community of stakeholders by conducting community meetings, interviews, or surveys, or even inviting folks to sit on our board or on an advisory group. This won’t be necessary for every decision but when we have a big choice to make we can make room for the perspectives of those impacted. This is in alignment with the International Cooperative Principle of Concern for Community, and should be exercised with discernment, as not every decision requires input from every person.

  • PRACTICE: When designing the governance of an enterprise, consider whether the board includes representation from all the key stakeholders, including those in the broader community who may not be directly involved in the enterprise but who may be impacted by it. Representation may be strengthened by reserving seats on the board for different constituencies and designing democratic processes for those constituencies to vote on who is representing them. Some examples include multi-stakeholder cooperatives or social co-ops where both the providers and recipients of social services are equal members of the cooperative.

  • PRACTICE: From Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux — consider the “empty chair” practice of having an empty seat to represent the organization’s purpose, and in any meeting any participant can sit in that seat to observe the discussion and reflect on whether the discussion or decision serves the organization’s purpose. This could be expanded to include an observation from the perspective of land, water, or another non-human who we want to consider in our decisions.