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Friday, April 12, 2024


The Social Commons: Our Five Pillars

Where We Started From

Our journey began with the planning of a fall 2019 symposium exploring the relevance of the Social Commons as a framework for transformative change in social, economic and environmental justice. As members of the Marvyn Novick Legacy Group, we were drawn to this idea by the life-long commitment of Marvyn to many of the founding principles of the social commons. The symposium was successful in seeding further thought and discussions as we tried to forge a path forward.  Then in the wake of COVID-19, we began a journey to re-imagine what we wanted to accomplish and how a more interactive and collaborative website could help us to get there.  Our current website offers a good starting point in framing who we are, and what are our core values. It also contains a research monograph presenting our initial framing of the issues. 

Our Vision and Core Values

By December 2020, we had completed our vision of the Social Commons, and began work in mapping out a set of core pillars that would frame and guide the work.  Drawing on the monograph, augmented by a series of conversations, we confirmed a number of core ideas that would help us in shaping the pillars:

  • Governance more focused on community needs and local aspirations
  • A shift from a consumer/growth economy to a solidarity/caring economy
  • Strengthened international governance and human rights to tackle global problems
  • Strong social rights and protections delivered through an emancipatory state consistent with UN declarations and cultural, social and economic rights
  • A more democratized economy where the private market is embedded within a community building goods creation, resource sharing and distribution system, and
  • Social and economic institutions designed to work within the carrying capacity of the ecological systems of regions, nations and the bio-sphere

By March 2021, we had reached agreement on framing statements for a set of Pillars, and began work on developing Pillar posts that would be used to organize content and shape conversations on the new website. 

These Pillars include:      

  • Inclusive, Equitable Communities: Safeguarding Human Rights and Ensuring Equitable Access
  • Social Rights and Protections: Decent Work, Income, Housing and Health for All
  • A Human Needs Economy: Local Economies Organized Around People and Communities
  • Deepening Democracy: Strengthening Democracy and Civil Society, and
  • Sustainable Eco-Systems: Regional Economies Living In Harmony With Nature

Taken together, these changes would dramatically reshape society in ways that build solidarity, trust, community and a deeper democracy that improves both well-being and prosperity.  Based on this work, we see our journey as rooted in:

  • Community building, broadening human rights, growing the capacity of civil society and strengthening the social programs on which we all depend
  • Democratizing the economy in ways that grow shared community assets that revitalize the commons
  • Critically important, it re-imagines very different legal and institutional foundations that would re-focus obligations and expectations of both governments and the private market to enable and sustain community life

Creating and Enlarging Our Online Presence We have completed an initial set of Pillar posts that will guide and shape the structure and organization of the entire website.  We are adopting a broad thematic approach that relies on a journey of discovery metaphor.  The World We Seek (Our Vision and Pillars) –> The Failures of Current Systems (At The Crossroads) –>The Drivers of Transformation (Making the Shift) –> Building A Future That Works for Everyone (Creating Our Future).

The website is being designed intentionally so that it can adapt and evolve in response to the ideas and insights generated by an engaged community of contributors.  We see our role as nurturing and sustaining fruitful conversations and helping readers to connect the dots in seeing how the pieces fit together to create a larger story.  We also see our role as amplifying the voices that offer possibilities for transformative change.  These voices, often part of grassroots movements, are generating the seeds of change that inspire hope.  If replicated and improved upon, they offer the possibilities of truly transformative change. 

Helping to Build Conversations

Our goal over the next two or three years, is to create the next iteration of the website to make it a more interactive, immersive experience. This is essential if we are help catalyze an emerging collaboration with allies, partners and circles of support and engage in fruitful conversations around areas of common cause. By organizing content into thematic clusters around broad topics of concern, we hope to help a broader range of actors to connect the dots across the five pillars.

Generating the pathways and promoting public understanding of how to get there is a daunting task. But we think the over-arching concept of the social commons as we have elaborated it here offers an integrating framework that draws on the insights and strengths of of both leading thinkers and grassroots activists around the world. 

Finally, we hope that you find the curated content and policy ideas presented on this socialcommons.ca website to be a credible and helpful source of knowledge and insights on topics that matter to both our contributors and to our readers.

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