How a private initiative in the Limassol District of Cyprus envisions a sustainable future through more collaboration and less competition
Have we stopped troubling ourselves? Have we accepted our weakness as a society? Have we accepted our smallness? There’s no other explanation! We seem to have lost ourselves in a daily life that commands us to be all alone, behind screens, caring only for our own self-interest. We are drugged. Everyone is concerned but few seem to be troubled. And those who are, are discouraged from taking action in the face of the first dead ends and the realization of how small they are. Because it’s true. We are all small. Especially in the last decades where we have to deal with continuously increasing sizes: huge, multinational companies and decision centres far away from us. Really, where do you start when your input into decisions that directly affect your life seem like a drop in the ocean? You vote every few years the same recycled people and ideas in a system that promotes dependency and transaction, waiting for something to change, to see some light, placing your hopes in others. At the same time, the vast majority of citizens own nothing but debt. The more I think about it, the more I get angry and frustrated, but mostly I feel frightened when I realize that we have stopped troubling ourselves and ceased visioning. To vision of a more humane, happier, and more collective society.
The course of history and evolution has brought us somewhat naturally to where we stand today. The need to feed, clothe, house and provide amenities to as many people as possible has led the economic model, which knows how to produce goods like no other, to an uncontrollable course that has raised the living standards of millions of people. The free markets mechanism of capitalism had and still has a basic theory: while the butcher, brewer and baker are looking to maximize their profits, the whole of society will be able to benefit from this process through reduced prices and better-quality products produced by competition. And while free markets really helped societies to elevate the quality of life, the economic model of uncontrolled profit-seeking, unnecessary production and wasteful consumption, started to look like a wagon that while arriving at its destination, was allowed to cross the finish line and continue its course uncontrollably without anyone knowing where it is heading and why it continues at this pace, destroying during its journey whole societies and ecosystems. Somewhere in the 1970s, it evolved into neoliberalism, expediting the accumulation of wealth making the rich richer and the poor poorer, and making the capital so strong that is in a position not only to set the rules of the game in international markets and trade, but even to affect the election or non-election of governments. Worst of all, however, is that it created the model of the current acceptable citizen, the one who is considered rational when s/he thinks only of her/ his own self-interest and always prefers more over less, and the one who is successful only on the basis of the value of her/ his material possessions. The famous homo-economicus was born from economics books that sought to transform the social science of economics into a valid science, such as physics and chemistry, turning economic science into mathematics and models, resulting to the not-so-flattering model of the average person today whose main identity is that of a consumer.
It is now internationally accepted that reckless globalization with the sole aim of maximizing profits, is responsible for the huge income inequalities that are growing worldwide, the continuing isolation of humans and the disintegration of social fabric, as well as the deterioration of the environment, the destruction of ecosystems and the continuing extinction of thousands of species, to the point where in many cases scientists say that the conditions are irreversible. And of course, all these ultimately endanger humankind itself and undoubtedly our survival on earth.
Economists now understand and accept that there is an insurmountable need to move on to the next day; and in fact, this must be done urgently since the margins, both socially and environmentally, have narrowed dangerously. The fastest and most effective solution proposed, either directly or indirectly, is to strengthen local economies and refocus our attention to people. Strong local economies enable citizens to actively participate in the production process, by utilizing their creativity and motivating them to work with other productive actors, both local and non-local. Strong local economies mean cooperation and mutual support, it means strengthening interpersonal relationships and the social fabric. It means enabling citizens to look at all members of their society and strive for more collective prosperity. Local production means a smaller supply chain and therefore less impact on the environment. It means avoiding mass production, enabling the producer to create better and higher quality products and services, with less impact on both human health and the environment. It means an opportunity to restructure the production process and create incentives for the adoption of practical business activities around the concept of circular economy. A strong local economy means a strong society and an effort to coexist with our natural environment without destroying it.
It is true that in recent decades we have learned but also accepted that only competition can bring growth and progress. And while healthy and fair competition can certainly help people and organizations develop, the scientific community recognizes that in nature there are far more examples of success and survival of species through collaboration than through competition. It is time to abandon the myth of competitiveness as the sole development tool and finally get people to embrace and accept cooperation again as a means of growth and prosperity. The international community now realizes that only by activating our collective action will humanity be able to cope with the enormous challenges and deadlocks we face today – this collective action that was self-evident for our grandparents as a means of survival, the one we lost along the way while each one of us was chasing this material, individual dream commanded by our times. Only with collective action will we be able to stand tall again in front of what makes us feel smaller and smaller. Only when the “I” becomes “we” will we be able to feel again the power we have as social groups, able to decide for our future. It is time to rebuild the model of the human being, the one we would like our children and future generations to want to look alike, that of the homo-cooperatus, the person who values the collective interest beyond her/ his personal one, who is satisfied with the enough, and who finds happiness primarily through her/ his relationships with people and nature.
In the District of Limassol, we have started an ambitious project which aims to transform our vision into a reality and give a practical tool for action to anyone who wants to see something changing. There are and have been thousands of efforts and initiatives internationally that aimed to strengthen their local economy. Many times, however, these efforts require large collective mobilizations, raise of large amounts of capital, amendment of legislations and non-stop efforts. Our own initiative, our own model, aims to be able to start without burdens and dependencies and to be activated in a simple way and through private initiative. We have established “COCO Collective Ownership Company Limassol Limited”, a collective ownership company, which, through its simple design, wants to become a catalyst in the effort of moving towards local economies and all their positive consequences. COCO Limassol’s model wants to bring into the equation the main protagonist of an economy who is none other than the society itself and its people. It wants to give them the greatest incentive that can be given to any change effort: that of ownership! It aims to make people owners of the change by giving them the opportunity to be co-owners of the value that can be created by their local economy and their local production. Without removing the incentive for private initiative and creativity, COCO Limassol envisions local communities that are motivated and empowered to prosper both personally and collectively; societies that are based on the pillars of sustainability for the long-term well-being of their current but also future members, cultivating a culture of “all for one and one for all”.
Because at the end of the day, in this life, we are all partners.