The Commons

The perspective of the commons is being rediscovered as a versatile new narrative of economy, self-governance and resource management as a third sector complement to private and public sector models of ownership and distribution.

Currently, there is no automatic mechanism within the market to protect and build the commons, nor is there any institution within the State that exists to do so. However, a new kind of institution ‘A Commons Equity Society’, a mutual ownership and financing structure, offers an architecture that can use the energy of enterprise to develop shared value and community wellbeing by extending the commons. By mutually owning surplus-producing companies through a Commons Equity Society communities can invest in the things that matter by using the system to create a new system.

The Commons Equity Society

The Commons Equity Society is a means by which people can simultaneously provide for their own security whilst serving that which they have in common with others.

It works by simply redirecting corporate surplus back to the community – either because a corporation has been given into the Commons, bought into the Commons or grew in the Commons.

The mechanism for distributing the surplus flows 3 ways: to those that made it, to a core economic development fund (to purchase more companies into the network) and out into the community.

The distribution of cash into the community is not ad-hoc, it is knitted into the structure of the Commons Equity Society, such that, the cultural and social benefit of the surplus develops the capacity of the whole.

Three cycles driving three motivations: self-interest, common-interest and care for the other.

It couldn’t be simpler, we need it now.

The Commons Society Foundation is a not for profit organisation committed to developing new forms of ownership and distribution for the common good.

Our aim is to offer a different legacy choice to retiring entrepreneurs, by giving management of companies back to the employees already running them through a mutual ownership structure such as a Commons Equity Society.

Every day, business owners who have successfully built a living for themselves and their employees, decide it is time to retire or simply do something else. At that point, for the most part, they have only one option – to exit the business that they have diligently spent many years creating and to abandon their staff, who they have painstakingly trained, and to sell the business, risking it will be run in a completely different way or asset-stripped, or broken up or even shut down. Often this is not in the interests of employees or communities, but entrepreneurs, in the logic of the market, have little option other than to sell their creation as a commodity in order to be fully rewarded for their efforts. Our purpose is to offer new options that benefit owners, employees and communities.

We research, promote and support the development of models of mutual ownership, financing and governance to benefit employees and communities. A Commons Equity Society is one way of developing and resourcing socially impactful and generative mutual aid networks.

We are piloting a series of commons economy programmes of social learning and capacity building in order to establish multi-organisational mutual aid networks.

By acting as a facilitating conduit for the collaboration of different parties, the Foundation links together different types of organisations in order to significantly impact quality of life not only for employees but for a wide range of people whose needs are not at present addressed in the current system thus ensuring a more effective legacy for former owners.

The Commons Equity Society’s ownership design limits the degree to which capital can accumulate and concentrate in one single place. This is firstly because wealth, as it is created, is distributed in ways that create virtuous circles of transformation. It is also because the organisational units (eg companies) held within the Commons Equity Society cannot be traded and thereby be de-purposed. So the biggest and richest cannot simply buy smaller competitors. Instead of corporations enclosing land, capital and nature and renting them back to society for their shareholders profit, we propose to “re-enclose” them – through commons-owned networks – that will divert and direct surplus to where it is needed

Surplus wealth created by corporations is traditionally distributed to share holders. In a Commons Equity Society the dividends are paid to the mutual network which then distributes them according to the rules of its governance. 10% is retained for administration then 30% is paid back to the co-workers that made the surplus, 30% is re-invested in the economy of the Commons Wealth Society, and finally 30% is spent on the civil aspects of the Commons Equity Society, eg health, education, conservation and the arts.
In this way the Commons Capital is used to drive three virtuous circles of positive social transformation.

Because the surplus from the corporations is being shared into the Commons Equity Society for the benefit of all, the consequence of every co-worker’s activity is positive for everyone. This means that whatever the task being done, each person’s success is not just good for them, but it is good for all. The Commons Equity Society is a community of endeavour, where all work is meaningful and there is shared purpose.

A Commons Equity Society is a new mutual model of finance, ownership and distribution for a regenerative economy.

The Commons Society Foundation is being established as an incorporated charitable organisation to bring the first Commons Equity Societies into being.

In the 19th century social innovators established Provident or Building Societies so that ordinary people could buy and own their own homes. In the 21st century, Commons Equity Societies will enable communities to own companies and create a more sustainable, fairer economic system by investing in the human and natural Commons.

‘A Commons Equity Society’ is a prototype design for a community wealth-building network that uses the surplus of for-profit companies to develop community owned income and assets, thereby transforming companies into engines of social change. A Commons Equity Society achieves 3 things within the market and without government intervention:

  • Separates surplus from ownership

  • De-commodifies equity, and

  • Provides mechanisms to fairly and intelligently distribute surplus for community benefit

It is an architecture that offers an innovative design for a new institution to protect and develop shared wealth and wellbeing by extending the commons.

A Commons Equity Society is a new form of meta-organization that in a single step delivers a whole new system – of finance, ownership and distribution – by opening up and funding a new space for civil society between the state and the market to build common’s wealth.

We just need to re-configure what already exists

A Commons Equity Society takes for-profit companies out of the short-term shareholder-value ecosystem into one that delivers fairness and community wealth as a matter of course.

Today, when an economic enterprise is successful, the fruits of that success flow disproportionately to those with capital. This is the core reason why we have ended up concentrating wealth amongst the very few at the expense of the many.

Stock markets were conceived to fund enterprise and they still can do that. But mostly they are a betting casino of secondary share trading and have very little to do with the real needs of the companies who are listed on them.

Imagine if for example the entrepreneur could be rewarded as they exit their ownership and thereafter the corporation’s success continues in perpetuity to benefit the community through the products and services it provides but also by sharing its profit.

A Commons Equity Society ( like a building society) provides the framework to achieve this, at scale, and with a legal structure that uses well-known legal instruments in a new arrangement.

  • Profit shared with community
  • Power vested in management
  • Transparency throughout system
  • Mature democratic governance
  • All co-workers members

Join the Commons Society Foundation

What is exciting about the Commons Equity Society model is that it requires only one of two things to make it happen.

  1. Willing company owner/owners to bring their company into the commons by way of gift or through payment from future income flows from the business itself
  2. A fund to buy the first companies from willing sellers irrespective of their interest in the commons.

The legal structures are available, no permission is required from government and we would be using the existing system’s own mechanisms to build a new system from within. Because everything in our present capitalist system is for sale, for once that’s a good thing!

The Commons Society Foundation carries the impulse of the Commons Equity Society, it is the home of the idea. If you would like to support then please join us.

The Commons Equity Society

  • Opens up a new space between public and private ownership – which is regenerative of human and natural capital
  • Builds a community wealth management system that invests in people and nature
  • Introduces a new systemic logic into the market that is not solely dependent on the goodwill of individuals

Our vision is to create at least one Commons Society in every region of the UK and beyond! We recently applied for the Buckminster Fuller Prize 2016 for a whole systems solution that can help “make the world work for 100% of humanity..without ecological offense or disadvantage to anyone”.
Projections show that a network of commons societies of this kind can develop a parallel new economy of significant size within the existing system creating a mutualized zone within the ‘free’ market that shares wealth in a completely different way. Hence our focus is not only the mutualization of individual enterprises but building towards the systemic mutualization of a zone within the market, independent of banks, shareholders and government.
Please explore our website to find out about this new model of regenerative ownership , how it works and how you could get involved. Or download a copy of our flier – here. Our long term aspiration is to see Commons Societies in every region of the UK, Europe and beyond.

An  Example Of Community Ownership: Stockwood Community Benefit Society

This film is about one of the founding projects of the Commons Equity Society that demonstrates our values and capabilities. It was made by the Community Shares Unit and explains about how the Stockwood Community Benefit Society that put a rural business park and 150 acre organic farm into trust in a £2.6 million deal (www.stockwoodcbs.org).

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