top of page
  • Writer's pictureThink Upstream

A green and inclusive recovery for Canada

Our path forward: Many people, cities and countries are realizing that going back to “business as usual” is not desirable.

Staff of the London, Ontario Poverty Center pose together in front of a sign that says, "Help make poverty #unignorable."

London Poverty Research Centre

People are showing how they want to shape the world: from the Great Realization video that went viral worldwide to the Canada-wide networks of caremongering groups and neighbourhood pods, to residents and cities that are displaying great creativity and ingenuity4.

London, Ontario, has several examples of initiatives—including our local version of the caremongering group and neighbourhood pods.

Plus some originals, including the RBC Place and Community Food Box food programs and free bikes for essential workers.

As we transition from emergency response to recovery, hundreds of groups are coming together to work towards an inclusive economic recovery that would lead us all to a better normal. It is encouraging to see such a strong willingness to use this moment as an opportunity to implement a coordinated policy response, that includes policy changes that will bring our institutions, our economy and relationships closer to the values that we hold dear. 

The future we want

In the webinar We Can Build Back Better with Andy Fillmore and Brent Toderian recorded on May 21, 2020, Mary Rowe alluded to the "desire paths", the route chosen by people that weren’t part of the “official plan.”

Right now, millions of Canadians are navigating uncharted territory and we are promoting our desire path to a world that is just and more resilient in the face of a global crisis.

The most recent displays of this collective yearning for social justice are the peaceful anti-black racism demonstrations all across Canada that are attracting thousands of people, including in London, Ontario, in support of the #blacklivesmatter movement.

Another example is the national survey by Abacus Data last month, which shows that 3 in 4 Canadians (75%) support implementing a wealth tax of 1% to 2% of the value of assets of Canada’s wealthiest people to help pay for the recovery. The same survey also shows that 8 in 10 Canadians (81%) believe that companies receiving government assistance should be prevented from using foreign tax havens. There are many other examples, but the point is that a transition to a green and just economy represents a different way of doing business and it includes many proposals that may not be familiar to some of us. We will show here that many of these ideas and proposals are not new, scalable, natural and positive. I. Inclusive economy is not a new idea

In 1973, E.F. Schumacher published his book Small Is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered, where he questioned never-ending economic growth and the ownership structure of big corporations. Two decades later, the book was ranked among the 100 most influential books published since World War II by the Times Literary Review.

Glen Pearson, from National Newswatch, uses a reference from an earlier time and certainly way more mainstream than E.F. Schumacher - one of the founders of capitalism from 250 years ago: “[Adam] Smith intensely proclaimed that the effectiveness of the financial market worked when there was a rough equality between sellers and buyers and where neither one became overpowering enough to influence the market price.  More intriguingly for our purposes here, he affirmed that capital was best spent locally, since it permitted owners to see directly what was happening to their investments and the impacts at ground level.” II. Inclusive economy is scalable

John Lewis Partnership (JLP) is a company with gross sales of over £11.7billion and a workforce of over 80,000 partners. If you work there you are a partner, because this is an employee-owned business. And this is much more than just a title. They walk the talk at JLP.

First, the employees (partners) have decision-making power. The company has a bilateral governance structure made up of a traditional board of directors and a partnership council elected by the employees. The council appoints five out of the fourteen board members and there is a team responsible to ensure that the relationship between the two governing bodies is a healthy one.

Second, they are entitled to a fair share of the profits and a host of very attractive benefits. At the end of the year, all partners receive the same percentage of profit share ranging from 8% (worst year) to 24% (best year) of their annual income. Let’s say you make £30k/year and you get a bonus of 16% (average profit share). That means that at the end of the year you will pocket an extra £4,800.

Another benefit is the pension plan that every partner is entitled to after only three years of working at JLP. And the company’s contribution to the pension is not far below the annual pay.

On top of that, there is a special fund dedicated to providing grants and loans for partners who are unable to work.

The ownership structure is the core aspect that allows all of this to happen. The company has a reputation for high-quality products, excellent job retention rates, and the relationship among partners looks more like a tight-knit community than the conventional work colleague. It is normal to find entire families having full careers and being very proud of it. After all, they own the business, in every sense of the word. III. Inclusive economy and cooperation is natural

The French sociologist Marcel Mauss studied archaic societies. After examining the reciprocal gift-giving practices of each, he finds common features in them, despite some variation. He builds a case for a foundation to a human society based on collective (vs. individual) exchange practices.

Harvard Professor Martin Nowak, who studies evolution using mathematical models, goes even further and argues in his book SuperCooperators that cooperation is the third principle of evolution (along with mutation and selection), present since the origin of life itself. According to Nowak, cooperation underpins innovation and humans are the most sophisticated form of cooperators.

“Our breathtaking ability to cooperate is one of the main reasons we have managed to survive in every ecosystem on Earth… By cooperation, I mean more than simply working toward a common aim. I mean … that would-be competitors decide to aid each other instead,” Nowak writes.

Nowak’s mathematical simulations show how cooperation is susceptible to fluctuations. It is undeniable that our history is riven with conflict. This is not about negating competition—what Nowak demonstrates is the significant role that cooperation plays in our world. 

“Many problems that challenge us today can be traced back to a profound tension between what is good for society as a whole and what is good and desirable for an individual.That conflict can be found in global problems such as climate change, resource depletion and poverty … [Those] cannot be solved by technology alone. They require novel ways for us to work in harmony.” - Martin Nowak, SuperCooperators IV. Inclusive Economy is Positive

The Preston Model is a well-known case of a city-wide community wealth building strategy described in the book The Making of a Democratic Economy.

In 2010, Preston, UK, ranked very low in employment and well-being, with one in three children living in poverty and considered the suicide capital of England. Fast forward a few years and in 2018, a study conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers named Preston the most improved city in the UK and a better place to live than London, England.

At the core of its strategy to revitalize the local economy, Preston draws on a generative approach developed by its city council, where the focus has been on locally owned businesses and a social procurement policy that redirected local anchor institution contracts from 5% to 18% (a £75 million increase). The only constant is change

COVID-19 took most of us by surprise and exposed many of the fragilities of our current system. One thing that it showed us is that just because something never happened in the past doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the future. It also showed us that we are capable of making different choices for the greater good.

We have the material resources and the knowledge to create an inclusive economy. The last few months have shown us that we also have the will to put people and the planet first. Charles Eisenstein called this moment “a new coronation for all.” More change is underway and it is our opportunity to build back better. The London Poverty Research Centre is dedicated to investigate and enable the tools for an inclusive economy.


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page