Supporting an ecosystem

What the twentieth century turned out to be about was scale. It started out as fully integrated entities: iron ore, coal, sand, etc. came in at one end of Ford’s River Rouge facility and a Ford Steel Mill poured steel, a Ford Glass Plant made glass, and so up the way until, at the other end, Model Ts rolled out. Along the way companies came to understand that pushing on their reach — expanding from their starting point to cover the globe — and instead dealing with other similar oligarchies and monopsonies to handle the range of sub-assemblies and components required made more sense. But scale remained the core.

Take a look at any start up business plan. How many of them talk about global footprints? (Answer: too many.)

What the twenty-first century is turning out to be is about networks. Being part of an ecosystem is far more important than being part of a name brand anything.

An ecosystem is more than a supply chain. It’s a suite of reciprocating relationships to go with the non-reciprocating ones. (A car part manufacturer gets told what price targets and designs to produce to: that their bill might get paid when the part gets consumed in assembly doesn’t mean the relationship is in any way reciprocal. Neither is a consumer goods distributor’s power when trying to get placed into WalMart on an equal footing.)

Supporting an ecosystem means constantly looking for others to work with. Could someone else build a part you’re currently having shipped in? Can you join a local currency network to keep monies circulating in the community? Are you banking with a credit union or other mutual institution that’s owned locally? Have you looked at ways to “share” employees, not by each of you hiring part-timers and leaving the employee to figure out how to deal with conflicts (or live without full-time benefits) but to actually coordinate with others and create a full-time position with shared benefits that spans two or more “owners”?

These ecosystems aren’t necessarily small — think of the Basque country’s Mondragon companies, which have 83,000 employee-owners in addition to 20,000-25,000 employees working their way toward ownership — but they are localized in their attitude. Mondragon’s not looking to solve unemployment (youth unemployment in Spain at large is over 50%) in Sevilla or Granada. Their ownership is tied to the communities it lives in; we grow (if we grow) here, or not at all.

As with Totnes in England, having finally convinced chain coffee purveyor Costa that they weren’t going to prosper in a town with over forty independent coffee shops, communities can grow and prosper through the ecosystems that are built there.

Or they can falter and fall with employers who remain trapped in the “global reach is everything” mindset.

That’s why in the early going ecosystems of this sort will often be found leaning on mutual or employee ownership, networking ventures, and the like. Culturally, most people aren’t in the twenty-first century yet — they’re still in the twentieth. So tools like this will need to be used to ensure (as Langan pointed out in Tradition and Authenticity in the Search for Ecumenic Wisdom) that the institutions that are set up aren’t perverted hypocritically.

It’s so easy to have that happen when cultures collide!

Totnes was able to pull together because most of Totnes’ key players, residents, etc. are now familiar with the twenty-first century, thanks to its being an early and highly active Transition Town. Where I live, and likely where you do, we’re not that far along. So we’ll need to structure strongly enough to outweigh culturally-imposed norms.

These are less jobs than callings. They make it easier to survive and thrive while the twentieth century continues its slow collapse.

So what’s stopping you?


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