Monday, November 26, 2012

Scaling mutual aid

This is a fantastic article on #occupysandy, #rollingjubilee and the opportunities/challenges of scale in today's social economy.

Occupysandy is the disaster response network birthed from the #occupy movement in response to Hurricane Sandy. Individuals have been out there serving as bike messengers, food runners, pedal powered cell phone chargers, apartment stair runners for water delivery, and managers of Amazon wish lists for purchasing and distributing goods.

Now four weeks past the storm (recovery still underway), the network has introduced #rollingjuibilee - a global, mutual aid effort that is relieving individuals of their debt burdens. Donors buy debt for pennies on the dollar and then forgive them. Simple. So far, individuals have donated a bit more than $400,000 and freed other people from more than $8.5 million in debt.

Simple, yes. And wonderfully pushing the boundaries of political ideology, organizational structure, and the age-old expectation that mutual aid involves knowing the people you are helping. This is one fantastic example of how we are changing the ways we use our own resources to help others, or, as we so alliteratively refer to it at Stanford the ways we use private resources for public good. That it doesn't fit neatly into existing political boxes is an intellectual bonus from my perspective - falls right into line with Steven Berlin Johnson's arguments in Future Perfect about peer progressives. (See my review in SSIR - but really, you should read the book.)

And now, to the question of scale. In Paul Ford's New York article he describes how the Rolling Jubilee effort is built on the Amazon IT backbone. This infrastructure is available for mere pennies compared to dollars. Researchers use it, businesses use it, (more) nonprofits probably should use it - when it comes to cheap, scalable infrastructure this is one example of the corporate world's best and biggest made available to anyone.

What once may have seemed ironic now seems ordinary - occupy, a network noted for its lack of hierarchical corporate structure and its anti-corporate focus -  has found a way to deploy one of the corporate world's most reliable, biggest, and "first class" systems to scale its debt-erasing efforts. Scaling social change efforts ain't what it used to be.

Using Amazon's servers requires one to behave by Amazon's rules for data ownership, portability, and surveillance. You use their systems, you play by their rules. This is just one more example of why data (policies, practices, ownership, rights) are so important - a theme I've been barking about for years and which, I'm happy to announce, is quite prominent in the upcoming Blueprint 2013.

What's my point?  Infrastructure, cost and assumptions about proximity are not the impediments to scaling social change efforts that they once were. Data rules might be. 

The rules are changing. We all need to be part of how they change - please follow my work on this at #ReCodeGood and at Stanford PACS, in the Blueprint 2013, in our SSIR blogs, and in our soon-to-be-published white papers.

No comments: