Founder, Platform Cooperativism Japan Consortium in Tokyo
Tokyo, May 8th, 2018 (Mathias Sager)
The Platform Cooperativism Japan (PCJ) Consortium
In July 2017, the Platform Cooperativism Japan (PCJ) Consortium was initiated as a sister organization of the Platform Cooperativism Consortium (PCC) in NYC. The PCC’s mission is to:
- Advocate the role of platform cooperativism in a fairer future of work
- Work with partners to develop a local research agenda for the sector
- Share impactful stories of PC’s potential
- Help platform co-ops get started
The PCJ Consortium shares PCC’s mission and is engaged in identifying and connecting key stakeholders of the emerging platform economy ecosystem to create synergies in the pursuit of increased shared value, ownership, and governance. Since its inception, PCJ has gathered a regularly meeting group of self-identified stakeholders comprised of individuals and organizations across the eco-system.
We use an eco-system model based on the definition of the PCC and its global contributors as a framework for situating identified stakeholders. The ecosystem, which is broader than the network of platform cooperatives as such, includes organizations and actors in four main areas:
- Labor (e.g., worker cooperatives, labor unions)
- Finance (e.g., credit unions, social impact investment firms)
- Technology (e.g., software developers, AI, blockchain, designers)
- Community (e.g., community organizations, innovation hubs, media).
Why the time for Platform Cooperativism (in Japan) is now
Socio-economic issues from a global perspective are increasing, mostly due to a lack of cooperation. Be it cooperative learning in education, a cooperative mindset as a way of thinking in psychology, re-thinking of global citizenship as a response to threats to democracies, new forms of participative sharing/business networks, and distributed governance models to meet new ideals, especially of the millennial generation, as well as trending possibilities such as blockchain technology to implement such solutions in the increasingly life-dominant digital world, let me conclude that now is the right time for Platform Cooperativism.
Opportunities from a Platform Perspective
I think the time is right for positive change from a people, process, and technology perspective.
Over the last decades, people have welcomed the spread of democracy and its extension to, for example, women and blacks. Wouldn’t it be just a logical next step to expand democratic rights to workers as the work-life makes, let’s say, half or more of peoples waking hours?! Platform Cooperativism is about implementing democracy in the workplace.
Today, most money is spent to reinforce the capitalist system that sees us, first of all, as consumers. Processes are optimized to sell more at higher profits, leading to addictive designs that negatively impact our health (for example, obesity, substance abuse, mental disorders, etc.). Such social issues become increasingly known. Platform Cooperativism does not put shareholder profit but the people’s well-being at the center, so people can decide on and benefit from more educative, equitable, and human designs of the online platform processes increasingly determining our lives.
Most people are educated to assume centralized models of simple hierarchical cause and effect. However, and maybe even more in collectivist Asia than in Western cultures, there is also awareness about the advantage and possibilities of collective agency and results. For example, blockchain can technically implement solutions that allow for cooperative identity management and processes without the need for central authorities that hinder real sharing and independence of more inclusive and distributed complex social and economic networks. Hexalina.io is an example based on a public blockchain that focuses on reputation management, avoids traditional data concentration, and allows members to control their reputation.
Opportunities from a Cooperativism Perspective
The Japanese government and business sectors have begun to prioritize societal issues, jobs and growth, investments, and industrial innovation. Platform Cooperativism is uniquely suited to respond to these key Japanese priorities. With its rich history, the Japanese cooperative and solidarity economy landscape may offer fertile ground for cultivating this innovative model. However, worker co-operatives need to get a clear and supportive legal basis in Japan and develop strategies to gain influence on the social and Platform Cooperativism agenda.
Innovation related to complex socio-economic issues requires an integrative approach to facilitate products and services that affect people’s quality of life. The PCJ Consortium offers a multi-stakeholder approach rather than a firm-centric model. Such Consortium member cooperation might not be equally natural to all Japanese organizations that often focus on relationships rather than a need-based approach, leaving them facing severe inter-company competition. To facilitate cooperation across the whole ecosystem, the PCJ intends to offer a flexible platform that allows for dynamic relationships. The cooperative business model would be especially suitable for small and medium businesses to partner more effectively for increased innovation and market share.
It is deeply worrying today that youth in Japan are often unable to find regular jobs after graduation. Platform co-ops should be able to help this lost generation and provide the many free part-timers fairer job opportunities. It is not the younger talents who are in decision power; due to seniority-based promotion systems, only 9% of Japanese managers are below 40, compared to 62% in India and 76% in China. Hidden under the low unemployment rates are often precarious labor conditions. The working poor comprise an increasingly larger segment of the working population. For example, it could be a promising way to form freelancer-cooperatives who create or work for platform co-ops. Platform co-ops could also emerge from rural revitalization initiatives.
The private and public sectors are struggling to address the challenges in personal care, especially for the increasing number of elderly. In Japanese culture, women are still widely encouraged to stay at home. Although women are also used to drive corporate profits, they are not sufficiently supported in their burden of child-rearing mothers at the same time though. Japan’s corporations, long heralded for their lifetime employment strategy, demands long office hours, which keeps fathers away from their families. However, Platform Cooperativism can be an answer to these issues by responding to the desire for more work-life harmony for all.
Japan’s unclear development in a global economy might depend on the global mindset present in the country. So far, most Japanese companies favor a domestic monolingual male workforce. English in Japan is still treated as belonging to the US or UK rather than being a global language. This informs higher education in the way that fewer and fewer students in Japan envision studying abroad. The collectivist Japanese culture might emphasize that trend as family unity raises expectations for children not to stay away from their families and take care of their parents. Platform co-ops could be of local scope but are inherently able to function cross-border in the world wide web to build global membership bases. Parallel development and step-by-step convergence of national and international segments may provide a Japan-specific avenue to keep the politics local and open up to international users for global cooperation simultaneously. I had the idea to coin the term “Sato-digital’ as derived from ‘satoyama’ or ‘Satomi.’ Sato (里) means village, and yama (山) means mountain. One definition is “the management of forests through local agricultural communities.” More recently, satoyama has been defined as mixed community forests and as entire landscapes used for agriculture. In that sense, Sato-digital could be translated into, suitable to the PC concept, “the management of a digital business through (respectively “by, of, and for”) the local digital community and the broader PC ecosystem.
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