During the meetings and gatherings that I attend, held by « platform coops » activists, I often talk about my experience in Quebec. In 2017, I’ve attended the first meetings of the « laboratory of sharing economy ». This lab is mostly managed by the Quebec coop movement in order to modernize its model, thanks to the opportunities of sharing economy.
This work is at an early stage and is not perfect. But as platform coops have few success to put under the spotlights, baby steps should be shared.
As I’ve never found the documentation in English to send to my non-french-speaking friends, I risk here some vulgarization of this work in the mother-tongue of Leonard Cohen.
A « laboratory of sharing economy » financed by the government
In March 2017, the Quebec government financed the creation of a « laboratory of sharing economy » through the Ministry for Economics, Science and Innovation (MESI). This lab had been proposed by the cooperative movement in Quebec, especially by the Conseil Quebecois des Coopératives et des Mutuelles and the Maison de la Coopération du Montréal Métropolitain. All the members of the lab can be found in this article (in French).
The coop movement in Quebec is looking for new ways of talking about cooperative and collective entrepreneurship, which suffers from the myths of Silicon Valleys’ success stories. The rise of sharing economy critics, and especially the platform cooperatives movement, have revealed a path to explore in order to propose an alternative to the glamorous and monopolistic model of fast-growing unicorns.
Beyond the well-documented stakes of private centralizing platforms (algorithm opacity, data centralized ownership, workers neo-alienation, centralized governance and monopoly tendencies) which should be fought, some platform projects just don’t fit with this model and could be successful through shared ownership and decentralized governance. This alternative should have more traction for entrepreneurs.
The main objective of this Lab is to propose solutions for the modernization of the coop model in Quebec by gathering the main experts and academics of this field. Based on the existing literature and case studies, 2 deliverables have been produced and released in April 2018:
- A report about the sharing economy and its opportunities for the co-op movement (not available online)
- Recommendations to implement in order to accelerate the platform coops creation in Quebec (not available in English)
The main obstacles to the implementation of platform coops in Quebec are legislative, cultural and financial.
The law that defines the cooperative status doesn’t recognize the validity of digital deliberations and votes. That’s why the working group recommend the modernization of the law to enable digital General Assemblies and digital decision making processes.
The working group has also identified that a cooperative is culturally seen as an obsolete and very complex model to implement. Most of the recommendations focus on communication actions to the new entrepreneurial generation and make it easier for them to start a collective project with the first community of users instead of a limited company.
The investigations toward the main investors in the digital or social economy sector also led to difficulties in launching platforms that are owned by their user community. The lab finally advocates for more flexibility to finance cooperative and incentives for investors that bet on collective projects (mitigating the risk by a public warranty for instance).
15 recommendations about platform cooperatives in Quebec
- Modify the current law on cooperatives in order to enable digital and remote voting in annual general assemblies
- Provide an ecosystem of nurturing partners to collective startups: Create a database of specialists about coop business models, business analysis, effective business plans, result and impact measurement, coding, UX, web-marketing and making it available for collective entrepreneurs.
- Study the opportunity of an incubator dedicated to the launching of cooperatives projects, in a university, based on existing resources (CDRQ, Réseau, etc.).
- In the same time, study the opportunity of creating offices dedicated to cooperative entrepreneurship within existing incubators: Desjardins Lab, L’Esplanade, District 3, etc.
- It could also be important to study the demographic and sociodemographic caractéristiques of entrepreneurs attracted by collaboration, mutual help, P2P interactions and ergonomic design of digital apps. A dedicated formal study should help to identify the places that have to be équipe in dedicated tools, especially in Montreal.
- Develop a starting kit (digital and printed) for cooperative entrepreneurs
- Put these tools on CDRQ, CQCM and other entrepreneurs supporting websites.
- Propose cooperative startups workshops in scientific universities, incubators and leading coworking spaces.
- Organize vulgarization events about platform coops models in order to share existing case studies.
- Enhance the capacity to use preference shares by making their retribution models more flexible
- Promote these new retribution models to the investors’ ecosystem
- Create a framework of financial support for investors in the launching phase of coops, progressively transferring capitalization and funding to local stakeholders and coop members. National financial institutions could take the first risks.
- Centralize and publish a database of financing tools from existing institutions, public grants and even venture capital and business angels investment that could be interested in collective companies.
- Promote the training of platform coops business and performance evaluation within financing institutions.
- Organize a vulgarization tour about platform coops for VC institutions including Anges Quebec