In a casual encounter with a friend I have not seen in years, I learn that he recently entered the world of cryptocurrency and now develops systems that will make it more accessible and usable in ‘standard’ markets. Our conversation quickly turns to how he views future economies, especially in the light of the economic crisis we live through today. The main idea in the brief talk we had, was the conviction that something has stopped working, and that the social and economic rules that run our lives are starting (or rather continuing) to lose their validity and assurance that they work in our service. In times where numerous populations experience the consequences of the economic risks increasingly imposed on individuals, I turn intuitively to explore creative and compassionate approaches towards social-life and livelihoods. Such approaches seek to shape thinking of neo-capitalism or serve as alternatives to the prevailing capitalist concepts in our world economy.
Minouche Shafik DBE, the director of the London School of Economics (LSE), had recently launched her new book “What We Owe Each Other: a new social contract” in LSE’s series of online lectures. Joined by Nobel Laureates Professor Amartya Sen and former Prime Minister of Columbia, Mr Juan Manuel Santos in conversation, she presents her theory about the Social Contract and explains that all of us participate in the social contract every day through mutual obligations among our family, community, place of work, and fellow citizens. Caring for others, paying taxes, and benefiting from public services define the social contract that supports and binds us together as a society. However, there has been a break of this contract due to changes in gender roles, technology, new models of work, ageing, and climate change. In the talk, Shafik elaborates on the level of risks that individuals must bear, with the increasing privatisation of health and welfare services and decreasing levels of social security. Ultimately, individuals seek ways to secure themselves and their relatives, therefore lack the practice of social cohesion, community care, solidarity and collective responsibility. I profoundly anticipate reading her book in depth, where she suggests how every country can provide citizens with the basics to have a decent life and be able to contribute to society. My curiosity about Shafik’s theory grows as I notice the escalating social rupture in my country, Israel, intensified by the Covid-19 crisis. Tax-payers increasingly doubt the method and equity in the share of public goods, as they experience the non-sufficient support they are given from welfare and social services. With decreasing levels of trust in state-authorities, questions around how the economic paradigms we practice shape our lives start to ascend. ‘What values and principles pivot our working-lives and sense of gain?’, ‘Which methods can sustain a fair living?’
Thoughts around fair economies, sustainability and just social constructs resonate with me and lead me to investigate the concept of Solidarity Economy. “The solidarity economy is a global movement to build a just and sustainable economy where people and the planet are prioritised over endless profit and growth. Growing out of social movements in Latin America and the Global South, the solidarity economy provides real alternatives to capitalism, where communities govern themselves through participatory democracy, cooperative and public ownership, and a culture of solidarity and respect for the earth.”
The Solidarity Economy movement operates in the light of racial and cultural justice, and with high awareness of vulnerable communities. Even though the concept of communal management can be criticised as utopic and unrealistic to life in the 21st century, I use it as an inspiring force and focus on what I find highly interesting and innovative – their approach to grant-giving, and their operative vision of funds’ use.
(Photo taken from website: art.coop)
In the report ‘Solidarity Not Charity!’, dedicated to art & culture grant-making in the Solidarity Economy, Nati Linares and Caroline Woolard describe how a system built on sustainable equitable community-control of work, food, housing and culture, as well as mutual aid networks can best use and leverage money. It works in such a way that the funds received are channelled to support and strengthen existing infrastructure, making it more robust and resilient. A more robust infrastructure helps in increasing the quality and quantity of production and therefore promotes revenue. The revenue in this closed-end circle of investment then returns again to the community, and thus continues to circulate and generate growth.
A similar principle is adopted at the Arts & Culture Finance by Nesta in the UK. For a quick understanding, think of the closed-end circle of the Solidarity Economy community as the network of organizations in the UK creative sector. The Arts & Culture Finance offer to creative organizations in the UK unsecured loans, repayable at low-interest rates. Organizations applying to such loans must prove how exactly the money will help them to develop, enhance resilience and yield growth (revenue, surplus). This is in addition to their explanation of how social impact will be obtained as well. The Art & Culture Finance call this ‘social impact investment’ – Generating both financial revenue and social impact. The nice part of it is that the interests paid back at the Arts & Culture Finance are being ‘recycled’ in the creative sector as they will be loaned to other organization in the future. Therefore, not only organizations can be more robust and resilient thanks to the money and expertise provided, they are conscious that the interests they pay back will benefit other organizations too. It can be assumed that such conduct promotes a sense of solidarity and the sharing of knowledge and experience.
Eloise Malone, the creative director and CEO of Effervescent, who received a loan from Arts & Culture Finance shared her thoughts in the online webinar about ‘Creative Business Models in the New Normal’. She reported that the Covid-19 crisis required her to rethink her organization’s position in the local art sector and in relation to her partner organizations and groups. She found great comfort and strength in cultivating interdependency, sharing knowledge, and collaborating with those who used to be her ‘competitors’.
I reflect on the changes that the art sector is going through in its evolution process forced by the pandemic constraints. In my quest after the so-called ‘future of funding for culture’, I observe and mind the vulnerabilities as well as the opportunities innovative thinking yields. I give much respect to, and draw inspiration from, thinking that cultivates interdependency; trust; fair and sustainable dissemination of resources; and smart solutions. And of course, so happy to share these with you.