Like a lot of recent graduates, in my early 20s I lived briefly in a co-op house. It was a shaky experiment. The big social and political issues of the day were submerged in the daily grind. Dirty dishes were our downfall.
Since then I’ve passed a major chunk of my life here at New Internationalist, a much more successful co-operative with a long track record. We’ve had our ups and downs but we’ve survived as a ‘worker co-op’ for almost three decades now.
We’re not alone. Globally, co-operatives are thriving, a fact celebrated by this year’s ‘International Year of the Co-operative’. In this time of economic chaos co-operatives may be the only game in town, a human (and humane) alternative to business-as-usual.
Here at New Internationalist being a ‘worker co-op’ means we run the show ourselves. Simple? No, it’s tricky being your own boss – satisfying, yes, but also frustrating. Hard to put the blame on someone else when you’re in charge.
No doubt we come across as a group of earnest do-gooders ceaselessly thrashing out the best ways to save the world. But you’d be surprised at how little time we actually spend talking about the ‘big issues’.
These days a lot of our time (meetings, meetings, meetings) is spent managing the business, figuring out how to survive in tough economic times. But we’re also not above having long, intense discussions about life-altering decisions – like what colour to paint the doors.
This issue also looks at another kind of work fraught with contradictions: voluntourism. When our kids take off to spend a gap year in Malawi or Mongolia, are they just paying patrons like any other tourist?
In addition, Tam Hussein, a writer with deep roots in the Middle East, looks beyond the daily bloodshed in Syria to probe the long-simmering tensions between contending ethnic factions in that country.
Wayne Ellwood for the New Internationalist co-operative.
Co-ops offer an alternative way of doing business where profits are enjoyed collectively, not just by a small group of shareholders. They can be small, local businesses or huge global companies.
Surveillance expert Robin Tudge and Professor of Conflict Beatrice de Graaf go head-to-head - read their arguments and join the debate.