INTRODUCING COMMUNITY BUSINESS
Building an ethical world through a fusion of community and business
No matter their values, all human societies must be productive enough to give themselves what they need to survive and thrive – food, water, shelter, clothing, equipment, administration and recreation. These central activities are all to some degree economic in nature. Our society and culture is powerfully shaped by the method and structures we select to achieve these tasks – as is our ability to act ethically.
In most modern countries, businesses function to provide the framework for this. In principle, businesses are organisations focused on production. Without them we would not be efficient enough to enjoy the benefits of education and health that the modern world provides. Many of us spending the greater part of our waking hours immersed in a business environment, and so in this sense they have replaced communities in being the primary social environment that we are exposed to daily.
Yet as a social structure businesses have failed utterly at providing what communities ought to provide. They lack a conscience. They facilitate greed. They do little to prevent the abuse of power. At the same time, they are completely neccessary, because without the production and prosperity they provide, the world would be thrown into chaos.
So, we must find a way to bring good community and productive business together. The heart of human ethics and the machinery of human productivity must be woven together, creating a social structure that is both prosperous and ethical. This is the central idea behind ‘community business’.
What is a community business?
A community business is the logical consequences of the life-ethic. It is an organisational structure with three central goals – economic prosperity, a healthy social environment and the propogation of good ethics. It is a framework to produce and trade goods, but it also organises social events, provides food, clothing, shelter any other goods for a modest ethical lifestyle. It serves as a place to share knowledge and skills with one-another, and to discuss both ethics and the challenges facing humanity.
A community business is structured so that it is owned by its members. It does not aim to pursue profit. However, to achieve good ethics and healthy community it strives to be highly economically productive – without economic success there is no independence, and without independence ethical integrity is in constant danger. At the heart of the business is a community culture – a culture that values good ethics, scientific knowledge, competence, and that promotes a balance between egalatarian cooperation and the freedom and autonomy of individuals.
The business is not an exercise in sentiment. It is run as seriously as traditional businesses. The participants careful plan the business. Strcit procedures are in place, and they are rational and place great emphasis on productivity. The market and community needs are assessed thoroughly. There are rules designed to account for human nature’s flaws, but also to bring out people’s best. Simply, it is a systematic effort to rationally pursue a noble and ethical life.
Wealth is generated, but strictly as a means of living out the life-ethic – respect for people; preservation of humanity and life. Profits always go back into the business to help it grow or improve. Serious time is spent not only in production, but in socialising, learning, and creating a community ‘feel’ and culture. Social status and respect are awarded not on the basis of wealth, but on innovation, knowledge, and achievement. The conversion of wealth into power is prevented. Concern with wealth for its own sake is eliminated.
Having a Shared Vision to prevent failure
A happy, prosperous and ethical life is a noble goal, but nobility does not ensure reality. Around the world, both businesses and organisations falter or fail at a phenomenal rate. Thousands of hours of work are wasted. It is vital to avoid this.
In the case of businesses, failure is due to two main causes:
1 – Poor planning resulting from lack of research or mental laziness.
2 – Personal ambition, leading to dishonest advancement, destroying meritocracy, and causing influential yet incompetent people to control the decision making process
Membership organisation and cooperative enterprises often have a community element, but they have even higher chances of failure, because of several additional problems:
3 – Without a hierachy or clear procedures, differences in motives, visions and opinions lead to endless talk-fests, debates, and discussions that achieve no solid action, or lead to incoherent action or conflict, wasting time and leading to frustration.
4 – People’s motivation is heavily invested in their particular role, from which they derive status and validation. Resultingly it becomes difficult to create, assign, improve, alter and eliminate roles in a rational manner, because of a minefield of personal feelings.
The majority of research into cooperative enterprises points to the fact that having a pre-defined shared vision is absolutely vital to success. When cooperative enterprises, particularly ones forged by sentiment, try to ‘work it out as they go along’, they almost always fail.
Because of this, community business has a predefined vision and strict rules that enact the vision. Everyone must learn the principles of community business and must explicitly consent before joining. Meetings and decision-making follow a rational procedure. Roles are always created for a specific period of time. People occupying roles are assessed for competence before and after their work, and are rotated in roles frequently – so people don’t get to attached. Conflict of interest is aggressively avoided.
However, while unbending, the rules are designed to provide a higher level of individual freedom than for most roles in a normal business. Rules are scalable, dynamic, and easily adapted to many situations. Compared with most cooperative enterprises, community business places much more emphasis on price signals and operating within the free market. Mechanisms often function by creating incentive rather than decree, extending the efficiency of the market into the community.
Because everyone joining a community business must agree to the principles and procedures of community business, everyone knows what they are getting into and everyone is safe knowing they don’t have to waste their time fighting for basic procedures in a failing organisation.
Community business culture
The first step in being a participant in community business is to learn community business culture. Everyone must consent to support this culture whenever they are acting within or on behalf of the community business.
Though the principles of this culture are for most people inoffensive, sometimes we may have personal preferences or beliefs (eg. moderate religion) that differs in emphasis. This is fine – agreeing to principles is not the same as changing your own personal beliefs.
However, everyone joining a community business must agree to support the principles without reservation while they are part of a community business. If they feel they cannot, they should not join a community business. If they have a personal belief that clashes strongly with the principles (eg. extreme politics or extreme religion), or if their life is greatly at odds with the principles (eg. hunter of endangered species) they should not join a community business. They must find a place elsewhere.
The principles that define the culture are:
-The primacy of preserving humans, humanity, our fellow species, and genetic life on Earth above all other duties.
-Healthy community is a prerequisite of all worthwhile economic activity.
-Balancing duty to the community with individual freedom. Participation with the group, but ensuring autonomy to innovate and resist the malcious control of others.
-A culture of high ethical standards
-Intelligence, competence and knowledge are highly valued and, along with morality, are the central basis for social status. After all – good morals are based on accurate knowledge of the world!
-Investigation of evidence comes before opinions and claims. Evidence is not a selective justification that follows an opinion. Knowing the truth is more important than being right!
-Balancing giving everyone a say, with the prioritisation of listening to those with intelligence or expertise.
-The right to express an opinion comes with the responsiblity to do some research and/or thought to make sure it is worth listening to.
-Positions are based on merit – objective assessments of having the skill and motivation to do the job and do it well.
-Conflict of interest is aggressively avoided.
-Rewards are systematically based merit – achievement, ability, performance, competence, innovation, morality and risk-taking are the focus of rewards, not status and position. Rewards rates are not flat because this encourages free-riding, but they are not unfairly disproportionate because this encourages resentment and harmful stratification.
-There is a great effort to eliminate of non-meritous ways of “getting-ahead” through aggression, dishonesty, charisma or superficial appearance. Because profits are re-invested in the business, individuals do not achieve power through wealth, but constantly win power anew through merit and competency.
–Productivity and efficiency
-The belief that economic choices are also ethical decisions that shape the world.
-An understanding of the urgency of the world’s problems and the need to be productive in order to resolve them.
-A disdain for waste, extravagence and superficiality and the harm they do economically and environmentally. Innefficiency is unethical.
-An appreciation of setting goals and taking a critical path to success.
-The belief that independence and the capacity to live a ethical life comes from economic success
–Frugality and modesty
-Lifestyle is frugal, modest and without extravagence.
-The environment is protected by not living wastefully. Basic comfort is allowed, hedonistic fragility is not.
-The community is not distorted by people attempting to use possessions as a shortcut to social status.
-Wealth is creating because the community uses resources carefully.
-Power is treated as a dangerous commodity
-Authority is limited in scope, temporarily assigned, and awarded on merit.
-Procedures are carefuly structured to balance a relatively flat power structure with the need for decisiveness and coherent group action.
-Opportunities to abuse power are carefully minimised through well thought-out procedures that are known by everyone.
-There is an appreciation that high standards requires the exclusion of those unwilling or unable to meet them.
-If a member cannot explicitly accept the life-ethic and community business principles, they must leave the business. This principle must never be compromised. This does not imply intolerance of other beliefs, only the rejection of the ‘watering-down’ of the principles of communty business and the life ethic to accomodate conflicting beliefs.
-Serious effort is made to find the niche abililties of every potential member. For example physical disability might be no major barrier for brilliant research. Economics and morality must be balanced in membership.
-Exclusivity is used to encourage the effort of personal change – people rise to the challenge in order to be part of a caring and productive team
-Though rejecting others feels bad for those with a kind heart, exclusivity is understood to help others in the long-term.
An Example as a starting point for understanding community business
One way to begin understanding community business is through a fairly basic comparison with a normal business.
Imagine your local supermarket. You get much of your food and other supplies from there. By coincidence, you also happen to work there. The supermarket is quite innovative – it also processes food in-house to both sell on its shelves and to sell to other businesses.
Now, instead of the profits and control of the shop being in someone else’s hands, imagine you and the other customers and workers, through a community process, start this supermarket up yourself. Members have different personal beliefs, but everyone involved supports good morality and the life-ethic. Everyone puts in hard work and a little cash to get it going.
Now when you work there, you part of your pay in free food and supplies. Of course, your work is worth more than that, so the business (yourself and the other members) use the proceeds of all that work you put in to provide other things – at your suggestion it rents some flats next door for members to live in. It starts providing educational classes in both supermarket management and philosophy. It starts to run social events – dances, movie nights, gaming parties, social sports. You’re basically a volunteer in a non-profit organisation, except that because you all work hard, efficiently, and beholden to no-one, you receive the kind of economic benefits you would normally get in a regular job.
This is no socialist or hippie commune, however. The hours people work are recorded, as is their effectiveness. The community doesn’t reward loafers. Neither does it give handouts – the payment is proportional to work done, just as in a traditional business. The difference is that now the benefits of the business go to people in direct proportion to how much they contribute to it (through hard work or innovation), not their role or their status as an owner. The individual remains equally important as the business.
The community also takes social and environmental factors seriously. When the business make a purchase, or when it provides goods to members, or when it sells its goods, it takes reasonable steps to estimate, as a quantity, the harm and benefit of that good, and adjusts pricing accordingly. Products that cause pollution have a penalty added to them. The price difference goes into a fund for community use. People are expected to maintain the high social and environmental standards in the business or find somewhere else to work work and live.
The community business links up with other community businesses. Efficiency increases, because they specialise and share knowledge. Externality funds are pooled to achieve greater things. Businesses research new ideas and as they become successful, they provide moral inspiration for new people in places around the globe.
Rather than relying on others to solve the world’s problems, people in community business take action themselves to demonstrate human potential. They are happier, they have healthier relationships, they contribute to their nation, they preserve the environment, and they contribute to humanity as a whole. Why? Because their business and their community explicitly exists to achieve these goals, and steps are taken that don’t leave these goals to chance. Members of community business have their eyes are on the things that matter in life.
The basic internal structure of a community business
A community business is at its heart comprised of a number of activities. There are some basic ‘automatic activities’. These are core activities that must occur for the community business to operate. They are:
-Economics and productivity (including a core business plan)
-Member wellbeing (physical and social)
-Education and learning
-Social impact assessment
-Environmental impact assessment
-Recruitment and expulsion
-Member skill & knowledge assessment
-Member/activity performance assessment
The details of each activity are described in the reference section. The automatic activities are essentially meetings where essential business is discussed and decisions made. They are also where other activties are proposed and organised – with production being the prime example.
Activities are proposed and members can choose to attend them or not. If an activity produces something that the community can trade, or the community decides is internally useful, participants contributions are noted as ‘community hours’. If the activity costs the community resources, community hours are subtracted from participants. Social and environmental harm is researched and taken into account in the calculation, as is individual contribution (as assessed by others in the community).
Individuals may propose non-mandatory activities without need for approval, and they are free to conduct their own affairs so long as they are able to account for any cost to the business, society and the environment.
The business can also aquire goods and services (such as food or clothing) that are of use by the members. They can be sold or auctioned to members in an internal marketplace. Again, community hours are subtracted proportionally to the cost to the business, and to the social and environmental impacts that may not be already taken into account as part of the market (including all those that occur outside the community business). There is appropriate formulas, known by everyone, to ensure alterations of community hours reflect the proportional costs of the business. In normal circumstances, each member must achieve a positive balance of community hours at the end of each designated time period or be expelled. Community hours do not carry on to the next time period.
Over time, the community business may link up with other community businesses for trade and cooperation. There are specific rules for this that allow efficiency while keeping power from becoming too centralised.
In regards to the basic operation, that’s it. The business is a participant in the regular free market economy. It is sensitive to price signals, even internally (Adam Smith would approve), while also maintaining a structural integrity in which good ethics and good community can survive a morally-challenging business environment.
The details of community business procedures, including the vital details of the automatic activities, are part of the Community Business Reference (WIP).