Mapping & Economic Integration

Emily Kawano, U.S. Solidarity Economy Network

“Another World” is not only possible, it already exists. In the U.S. and all throughout the world there are people and communities who are working together to put people and planet over blind profit maximization and growth. There are worker, consumer, producer, and housing cooperatives; fair trade, community land trusts; credit unions; community currencies; participatory budgeting; eco-industry; community supported agriculture and seafood, and the commons movement.  

And yet, in the U.S. these many wonderful and inspiring examples add up to much less than the sum of their parts. One reason is that these initiatives are invisible – overshadowed by the mega-corporations, mega-banks, agri-business, the real estate market, malls, and big box stores of the mainstream economy. The second reason is that they are relatively unconnected, so that rather than reinforcing and supporting each other, each one struggles along, alone in a hostile, or at best, dismissive environment.

We propose to tackle these two problems with a web-based mapping and economic integration tool that opens up vast opportunities for SE actors and consumers to connect with one another to build a cooperative, just and sustainable economy. The mapping/economic integration tool will have the following functionalities:

1) Raising visibility

In mapping the solidarity economy onto a visual geographic map, we make it visible to a number of audiences: consumers who will be able to find SE goods and services; solidarity economy enterprises that become visible to each other, helping them self-identify and connect up with the larger global movement to create a just and sustainable economy; and the general public.

2) Developing Solidarity Economy Chains

Mapping facilitates the creation of solidarity economy supply chains that link SE producers, distributors, and finance. SE businesses will list not only what they sell, but also what their inputs are, so that suppliers can reach out to find buyers for their goods and services.  

3) Facilitating research

There is a dearth of good data on the solidarity economy. How many jobs does it account for, what is the economic ripple effect, what is its output, efficiency, what is the wage level, gender balance, sustainable practice and so forth. This data is crucial for making the case for resources and policies that support the solidarity economy. The mapping initiative will collect economic data which will be confidential and restricted for use by researchers who are part of the SE movement.

4) Supporting movement building

The mapping platform connects SE networks, social movements, and activists through a social networking component. SE actors will be able to create their own social networking page where they can share information about events, campaigns, meetings or simply recommend a SE business.

Precedents

In the U.S. we have some experience with a number of different SE maps, all of which are simple visual maps, without the other functionalities. The mapping process has been very de-centralized, each using its own methodology and platform:

 *  W. Massachusetts Solidarity Economy Map
New York City Solidarity Economy Map
Philadelphia Solidarity Economy Map,  requires you to have the Google Earth application on your computer, available on Google Maps 
*  *  Boston Area Solidarity Economy Map 
Jersey Shore Neighborhood Cooperative Map
Ann Arbor Sharing Economy Map
Detroit Solidarity Economy Map
Chicago Solidarity Economy Map
*  This is What Democracy in Ohio Looks Like: Ohio's Democratic/Self-Determination "Infrastructure" June, 2010 This is a directory, not yet in a map format.
*  There is an initiative starting up to map the solidarity economy in the south of the U.S.

 There are mapping platforms that exist in other countries that have some or all of the functionalities that we seek to include in ours.

Brazil has well developed and government funded Solidarity Economy Map of over 20,000 collectively run enterprises throughout the country. This platform enables consumers to find SE goods and services and also facilitates the creation of SE chains. Users are able to search by product and geographical area and can then download a pdf directory of their search. The mapping process gathers a substantial amount of economic data that is confidential and restricted. The social networking function is supported by a separate platform called Cirandas where enterprises, organizations, networks and individuals can create their own page to describe their history, products and so forth. There are plans to link the two platforms in the near future.

In Italy, ZOES is a platform that already links mapping and social networking functions, though this initiative does not collect the kind of data that the Brazilian one does. Enterprises, organizations, and individuals self-map after being vouched for by someone already in the ZOES network.

There are a number of other mapping platforms in other countries. The Intercontinental Social Solidarity Economy Network (RIPESS) decided at its “Globalization of Solidarity” conference in Luxembourg in April 2009 to undertake an intercontinental mapping/economic integration project. This involves coordinating the development of new and existing mapping platforms so that they will be able to “talk to each other.”   

SEN has undertaken the mapping/economic integration for the U.S. which will greatly benefit from the open-source sharing of cutting-edge, web-based platforms that have recently been developed by RIPESS collaborators in Brazil, Italy, and elsewhere. We are seeking support to study these platforms, and select one or a hybrid to adapt and use in the U.S. in a way that will grow our solidarity economy as an integral part of the global SE.

We hope to get a platform up and running starting in areas where we already have mapping projects underway: Western Massachusetts, Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and New Jersey. In the longer term, the mapping/economic integration vision is to scale up to cover the whole country and to connect with global SE supply chains and networks as well. This represents a bold innovation, creating a tool to ‘do business,’ not as usual but in a cooperative and ethical manner.

When mapping is used in a community, such as by the Jersey Shore Neighborhood Cooperative, it can become an organizing tool. Community researchers are uncovering a huge reservoir of social assets even in the poorest neighborhoods, which in turn is seeding mutual aid and cooperative business ideas. We hope to learn from and replicate this model.