Pattern #20

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Cooperative Ownership as Stewardship Card

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Cooperative Ownership as Stewardship

Cooperative Ownership as Stewardship Symbol
Credits: Hands: Arthimedus – Shutterstock / Group: Ashland Cooperative / Earth: Kevin Gill – Wikimedia

Pattern Heart

Extractive/absentee ownership tends to undermine whole-system wellbeing. Ownership of a resource by those who cooperatively create, sustain and use it — especially when that ownership doesn’t restrict access — tends to engender whole-system wellbeing. So support broad ownership by stakeholder stewards willing and able to care for resources on behalf of all involved.

  • Do I feel – and/or actually have – ownership for this activity? What kind of energy or responsibility are (or would be) connected to that? Is it something I can/want to offer?
  • What dynamics do we notice when the owners of properties, resources or activities are distant from and uninvolved with them?
  • How can those who co-create the ongoing life and productivity of the enterprise be owners as well?
  • Who has a say in how the yields or benefits of this enterprise are used or distributed?
  • What forms of life energy have various people – or kinds of people – invested in this enterprise and what rights does that give them?
  • How can those involved in this enterprise “hold” their activities as intimately tied to the welfare of their larger community and world?

Cooperative Ownership as Stewardship – going deeper …

This is an edited version of the video on this page.

Part of what I find intriguing about this pattern is it sort of blends at least two different ideas together, one of which is ownership and one of which is stewardship. This taps into the underlying idea behind the whole international cooperative movement.

I live in a cooperative house. I have shopped at cooperative grocery stores, these businesses called co-ops. The idea is that the people who own it are the people who live in it or the people who work there or the people who shop there or whatever: The people who are involved in it own it in a legal sense. There is not profit that is separate from the people who were involved. Some co-ops, if they make a profit, send a check to their members at the end of the year saying “This is your share of what we made”, etc. There are all sorts of different cooperative structures, but the idea is “We own it!”

And underlying that is an assumption – sometimes explicit, sometimes not – that goes with all ownership, that if you own something, on the one hand, you get to do with it what you want, and on the other hand, there’s a sense of responsibility for caring for it, which is stewardship.

And one of the interesting challenges with this whole frame of reference I got recently reading about Native American consciousness. In their ways of experiencing life, the idea of ownership is by and large alien to them, except in a very personal sense. You can own your moccasins and you can own your bow, whatever. But in terms of owning land and owning anything that’s natural, the very thought is weird.

And you don’t own the tribe, and the tribe doesn’t own itself. Their response to such ideas might be “What are you talking about? This is a web of relationships!” So even as I’m pushing ownership, I’m also understanding that there is an alienating dimension to the idea “ownership”, itself, especially as we in the West tend to extend the concept. Instead of being in relationship and interacting and being responsible because you’re in a relationship, you’re being responsible because you own it. The relationship is one of ownership.

I realize this is sort of like the difference between having an employee and having a slave, in that you own the slave. We all know that that’s something that’s not in any way desirable. And if you totally control a person that you employ, that comes close to slavery. There’s a whole spectrum there.

If people collectively own the business they work for, then that’s a whole different relationship. They are in relationship with each other. They’re in relationship with the purpose of the organization, etc. So the idea of cooperative ownership is that we are in relationship – we are in relationship with each other here in whatever the enterprise is; we are in relationship with our customers, our suppliers, whatever. There’s a sense that relationship is what this ownership is all about.

Now this blends over into care for the earth, which is part of why the earth is pictured along with this pattern description. There’s a sense that the spirit of what we’re doing blends over into our relationship with the human and natural world. The co-op I live in is sort of an eco-co-op. It tries – to various degrees, depending on who moves in and who moves out, whatever – to garden, to buy organic food, to try to have low energy use in our house, etc.

So the co-op movement tends to be more ecologically and socially responsible than most other forms of ownership and business. So I’m trying to implant both of those principles in here as companions – not only ownership but the idea of stewardship – stewardship for whatever our enterprise is, stewardship of each other, stewardship of the larger world we’re in… We’re trying to use the fact that our society requires ownership to steward, relate to, further the health and well-being of each other, our enterprise, our community, our world… That’s the spirit of this.

And when you have extractive absentee ownership – somebody who owns a business in order to control it, to take value out of it, rather than let the value remain in it, that’s a totally different form of ownership. And the more financially focused it is, the more that tends to be true – you’re drawing value out of the enterprise for your personal or institutional use rather than feeding the value and letting the value circulate within the enterprise, within the community, within the ecosystem, whatever. And you don’t have a relationship so much except what you can take out – and this is closer to a slavery kind of ownership relationship.

So I don’t know what words might better describe that, but that’s what I’m trying to support and say with this pattern. And if we’re going for evoking the wisdom and resourcefulness of the whole on behalf of the whole – like the prime directive tells us to do – this is a fundamental basic principle that supports that