Forward Thinking Fridays: The Partnership Way for Cooperatives with Neil Takemoto from Be The Change Cooperative
Neil Takemoto, founder of Be The Change Cooperative, is passionate about how we can co-create beautiful, walkable, well-serviced, and human-scale communities. Inspired by new urbanism, a contemporary movement in architectural design and city planning, Neil began to realize his motivation for pursuing a degree in architecture went beyond the innovative structure of a building.
He wanted to create environmentally-sustainable spaces designed for human interaction and shared prosperity within a city. Spaces that could provide incredible opportunities for poverty reduction, anti-gentrification, urban farming, rehabilitation, and art and culture. Neil’s vision was of a “cooperative” model for urban development: one that intends to realize a community’s potential for social justice, sustainable and community-oriented enterprises, and democratic, participative self-organization. So, what exactly are cooperatives?
According to the International Cooperative Alliance, cooperatives are “people-centred enterprises owned, controlled and run by and for their members to realise their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations.” Cooperatives, also known as “co-ops” for short, emerged in the 1960s and 1970s as a counterculture movement that rejected the overseas war, hyperconsumerism, and individualistic societal expectations of the time. Sound familiar?
At its core, the co-op model tried to navigate around the shortcomings of mainstream economics. The massive economic crisis of the early 1970s raised the question as to whether the status quo, in which infinite production and consumption reigned for those who could afford it, was sustainable economically or even socially. Eventually (thankfully), we realized it is not sustainable for our planet either.
Simply put, co-ops were developed so that people could be more rooted in their communities than subjected to fluctuations in global supply chains.
“[Cooperatives are] a very new model of organization that’s never been allowed to exist because of overarching Domination-oriented structures. Mutualism, mutualistic aid, compassion, and restorative justice have started to become more normalized in practice and Partnerism is what we’re looking to next.” – Neil Takemoto
Nonetheless, cooperatives often face an organizational dilemma. On the one hand, shared decision-making and agenda-setting among members establishes equal participation and inclusion. However, this framework can lead to lengthy discussions when in a voting stalemate or to cumbersome bureaucratic procedures for members to simply have their voices heard.
Upon discovering Riane Eisler’s work, Neil began to see that underlying Domination-oriented norms within our social conditioning prevented mutual flows of information and participation to take place. For example, the mainstream mantras of success, from “no pain, no gain” to “need to succeed,” revealed that we are taught that our best contribution to the world is an individual one; one that usually involves struggle and sacrifice in order to produce meaningful results. By observing the aversion that people had to joining cooperatives for a lack of guaranteed leadership positions, Neil learned that genuine Partnership and collaboration can feel uncomfortable to people accustomed to a Domination-oriented paradigm. Struggling cooperatives need to develop guiding principles, interpersonal trust, Hierarchies of Actualization in which accountable leadership empowers the group as a whole, and specialized tasks according to members’ skills and interests: the Partnership way.
Furthermore, cooperatives struggle to overcome the stereotype of rural hippie communes. Indeed, cooperative models are incredibly innovative, accessible, and futurist; planning with both the interests and wellbeing of their communities at heart but also working towards a healthier, happier country and planet. Upon discovering Riane Eisler’s work on Partnership and Domination, Neil connected the dots between the mission of Be The Change Cooperative and promoting Partnership in practice.
Be The Change Coop is a network of cooperatives who want to be stronger, together. By connecting and sharing their stories of struggle and success, Be The Change Cooperative hopes to empower other co-ops to exist in a socio-economic framework that has yet to include Partnerism in such tangible ways. Neil focuses on the power of words and rhetoric to create mindful, uplifting dialogue both within and among cooperatives, shifting from “killing two birds with one stone” to “hatching two birds with one egg,” from “fighting injustice” to “healing injustice,” and from “mankind” to “humankind.”
Reimagining the world we want to live in isn’t easy, but it is easier together. Be The Change Cooperative aims to connect people at all levels to be able to “co-create the places and cultures that embody the kind of neighborhood we want to live and have ownership in… so that we manifest a world where each member of our community can be their true selves free of fear, liberated by our full potential to lift each other up and realize our shared vision.”
What is the change you want to see in your neighborhood?
Listen In on the Clubhouse Conversation: Partnership for Co-Ops
With Neil Takemoto from Be The Change Coop & Robyn Baker from the Center for Partnership Systems
August 4, 2021
Robyn: “The moral of the story is this… historically our value system was written by a highly exclusionary approach of establishing in-groups and out-groups, which was based on individual characteristics. The premise of this approach is that resources are scarce, and they’re limited, there’s not enough money, there’s not enough food to go around and therefore in order to maintain order and civilization, there needs to be a hierarchy of who has access to those resources. These hierarchies are contradictory to human nature, which thrives through collaboration, sharing, and innovation. Riane identifies the rise of the Nazi Party into power as one such example of how these hierarchies are justified and maintained. But there are way more examples than just the Nazi Party throughout history. Xenophobia is a prominent case that repeatedly shows up across the world and throughout history, which demonstrates that hierarchies are the norm, regardless of culture, geography or government.”
Neil: “[It’s important to explore the ways education can] help people create the culture that is most supportive of cooperative development. Cooperative Governance [involves] cooperative cultures [through] nonviolent communication. Mutualism, mutualistic aid, compassion, restorative justice have started to become more normalized in practice and Partnerism is what we’re looking to next. Educating people about the underlying framework, that is very dominant, very masculine, very top-down, and the solutions that the Center for Partnership Systems outline, should be incorporated into our own training and education, and can help people develop their own cooperative successfully.”
Robyn: “By checking in with our needs, and learning about how our needs work and how they play out and develop behaviors, actually tells us a lot about how different structures can be maintained.”
Neil: “[Understanding human needs is] essential to self-organizing systems… a lot of them are tied to belonging, self actualization, authenticity and caring… Current system rules don’t really accommodate [this] because when in a Domination-oriented culture, you aren’t really asked what your needs are. Nonetheless, studies [are beginning] to identify authenticity and belonging, as core needs.”
Robyn: “Caring policies, or welfare policies, that provide high levels of education and equal opportunities for all are often dismissed as socialist and even outdated. It’s considered something that’s not possible in a very either/or, Domination-oriented kind of culture and political system when it actually brings so much more economic prosperity to people. Redistribution does not mean loss and collaboration does not mean that we all just settle for a lower level of life.”
Neil: “We’re so indoctrinated in Domination culture that things like cooperativism, cooperatives, cohousing and communal living almost have a hippie, outcast connotation. Some people even think of cooperatives as outdated. Instead, it’s a very new model of organization that’s never been widely accepted because of overarching Domination-oriented structures. How do we communicate the idea of cooperatives in a world that sees it as this hippie thing that’s from decades past versus one that’s futuristic and not yet supported?”
Robyn: “To paint the picture of systems change, we identify the examples of which it worked in the past, such as across different civilizations, to see what if there were different elements that really resonated with Partnership theory. We then ask how those elements helped the community, society, or country grow. And then we apply that understanding to modern day, and we analyze modern problems through the lens of the Partnership and Domination scale. Oftentimes we see that it is not a black and white picture but actually a very diverse range of certain elements of Partnership in which collaboration was necessary.”
Neil: “It is impossible to claim absolute authority in a cooperative. Responsibility and decision-making is shared among all members, and leadership positions are always accountable to being voted out. This mode of self governance is an antithesis to our more competitive mainstream culture that portrays success as an individual winning at the expense of others. Many people don’t want to do cooperatives in the first place because they want certainty that they can control something forever. Once you form a cooperative, then you remove that barrier.”
Robyn: “A really important way that we can put Partnership into practice is to first acknowledge whose voices need to be involved in decision-making, who are actually involved, and to truly listen to how these decisions are put into practice. In trying to develop comprehensive and holistic solutions for systems change, there is such an abundance of opportunity, but also maybe some obstacles, when it comes to reaching certain actors involved. That is, a more Domination-oriented scenario would unfold if, given a certain group of people are involved or affected by a shared problem but were not able to participate in developing a solution, there are often unforeseen consequences that lead to more inequalities or lead to the disadvantaging of one group over another.”
Neil: “The idea of the co-operative model is, by pooling your finances together with partners, you are able to compete with the high net worth individuals who are used to making most, if not all, of the decisions… [and it’s often] the same people who have actually created a culture [of] Domination [in which] winning [means] conquering… Winning [as in] killing two birds with one stone. I always thought that was an innocent phrase until I did some of these Center for Partnership Systems readings and how killing two things at once symbolizes accomplishing something through the use of force, instead of a phrase like ‘Feeding two birds with one scone.”