Alternative Editorial: Three Game Changers

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By Indra Adnan, co-initiator of A/UK

Another week, another full set of new perspectives on where change begins.

From the greatest altitude - the view from outer space - I caught up with Simon Anholt’s Good Country Project. Its next move, in September, is to actually create a new country.

Those of you who’ve been involved in The Alternative UK from the start will recognise Simon as an early member of the vision team . The idea that nations have to shift from being self-interested to being world-centred, hence collaborating more than competing, is core to our ability to save the planet.

But it seems like a lofty ideal to most of us. Simon’s work in bringing that down to simple actions and incentives, helping us to rehearse new ways of behaving like citizens of a Good Country, have offered a compelling new narrative. Check out the Good Country Index that measures country’s not by GDP but by the extent to which they are contributing to the global commons.

More recently he invented the Global Vote, offering citizens of every country a vote in the elections of other countries than their own. Not a legitimate vote, but maybe one that helps us all to develop an awareness of how our nation’s behaviour impacts others.

And now, his audacious plan to start a new country. Simon says: “We’re not doing this because we want to build an ideal country, but because we need a new country to build a better world.  Four years after I launched the Good Country Index at TED, our research has shown that at least ten percent of the world’s population fully shares the values of the Good Country. That’s seven hundred million people, the world’s third largest nation.”

What are these values? “These are the people who, like me and perhaps like you, think of themselves as members of the human race first, and citizens of their own nation second; people who’d like governments to focus a lot more on collaborating and a little less on competing”, says Simon. “People who don’t mistrust or dislike other people just because they come from a different background; people who see a great future for humanity if only humanity could learn to work as one. 

“We all belong to that nation: it’s where we were born. We speak its language, we share its values, and we’re longing to spend more time there, to meet our fellow citizens, and start working together”.

Along with Co-Founder Madeline Hung, the plan is to launch in two stages: enrolling up to 200,000 citizens between September and December this year, then closing again for citizenship while they work with that ‘First Nation’ to ensure that everything is running smoothly.

As I understand it – though you will have to join to see - they will be crowd-sourcing policy ideas, identifying new ways to act in the global interest, imagining new global institutions but also making them happen through a (very modest) membership tax. In short, they’ll be modelling good county behaviour. Then, all being well, they’ll re-open for good in September 2019 and start reaching out to the rest of those 700 million people around the world.

With the current scepticism about global citizenship, I appreciate this new approach. Citizens of the Good Country are not May’s ‘citizens of nowhere’ or Goodheart’s global travellers who could be at home wherever they find a co-working space.

They are more likely to be humanists, environmentalists, people of multiple heritages who never belonged to any one nation. Or those who just yearn for us all to overcome our differences and put the planet first. It’s meaningful, courageous, futuristic but also playful and creative. It could come a cropper - but it could also shift us all: not just the citizens but the observers too, into a new relationship with the globe.

Radical Help

Meanwhile, at the complete other end of the spectrum of how we can shape the future, I met with not-so-old friend Hilary Cottam mid-week, to talk about her new book Radical Help (the podcast conversation is here). Some of you will be familiar with Hilary’s work on relational welfare, which we’ve talked about before in the Daily Alternative as core to an effective care system.

Hilary identifies the waste of time and resources in throwing multiple kinds of disconnected interventions at single persons or families that are not able to thrive. Most of the time and money is spent on managing the system of care, rather than responding to the vulnerable person’s needs.

Instead, she has proven how a small team of dedicated helpers, creating a constant support structure - but led by the actual persons/people who need help - can deliver outstanding results. What makes a person able to become responsible for their own life is making a relationship with one or more people they can trust, to help them as they grow. 

These “radical helpers” have to be willing to take the rough with the smooth, experiment with different forms of help and not bail when results are slow in coming. It’s a journey in which the vulnerable develop the capabilities needed to engage in the networks that surround them - in ways that give them their own autonomy and independence in society.

This book writes up ten years of testing out Hilary’s approach, working as Participle. It covers help for struggling families (Life programme), developing the youth engagement (Loops), effective help for the unemployed (Bakr), general health (Wellogram) and combatting loneliness for the elderly (Circles). It adds up to a complete re-imagining of the welfare state for the 21st Century, using simple technology and better resourced community support.

Platform cooperation

Then having focused on both ends of the spectrum – from place-based to virtual community – we spent the last part of the week in the world of “open platform cooperatives” at Open2018. At first this is not an easy concept to grasp. Some of the practitioners are steeped in the more-than-a-century-long tradition of the cooperative movement. And some have been part of its step-by-step development into the digital realm of peer-to-peer networks and virtual community.

But if I was to hazard a very simple description for the uninitiated, I would describe this ongoing experiment in this way: An attempt to enable the best of human behaviour, using technology as well as face-to-face self-organising, so that collaboration can happen between local and global levels of society.

If we keep in mind that is the goal – and its utopian nature - it’s easier to think of everything anyone is doing in that arena as necessarily experimental and developmental.

To give you some idea of the frontiers currently being negotiated on this journey we had workshops on the collaborative economy; how blockchain enables Elinor Ostrom’s 8 collaborative principles; the transformative power of narrative; patterns for decentralising organising; solving the crisis of the gig economy and decision making for participatory democracy. It was a lot to take on, cognitively – but nevertheless it offered moments of true recognition of a collective movement towards a more humane future.

One of the most surprising calls, which I heard more than once, was for the deliberate feminisation of the platform coop culture developing in this space. Feminisation meaning not only more women in the room, but also softer ways of interacting and more emotional literacy. When Cristina Fominaya quoted En Comu’s redefining of politics as ‘caring for life’ it got the whole room applauding.

Event director Oli Sylvester-Bradley may well have prompted this with this blog leading up to the event, in which he connects my own call for more listening to the female voice with software development at Holochain. But it was echoed regularly in the audiences I sat in, as much by men as women.

Suffice to say, it was an exciting couple of days and we will be revisiting the event, as well as exploring further collaboration with Open2018 in the future.

There’s no doubt that each of the three very big ideas we joined in with this week are game-changers. But to be transformative they have to translate into action on the ground at community level where people live, in ways that don’t depend entirely on government or philanthropic funding.

For that connection to be made, we may need primary social software – new practices and tools, new methods of coming together and learning the basics of collaboration – that precede the adoption of these bigger visions.

The most important tech is human. By that I mean the profound capability to connect, empathise, imagine that we were born with, that may have been disabled by experiences or simply by our modern lifestyle. But we are bringing those qualities back into the heart of politics, both individually and collectively, and beginning to make use of these big new ideas coming on tap - right now. The potential for rapid change, on a global and local level, is here.