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Exploring sociocracy and mutual aid with HUMANs

Updated: Mar 15

In our last blog post, we gave a brief overview of the concept of TimeBanking and introduced our friend Stephanie Rearick, one of the founders of Humans United in Mutual Aid Networks, or HUMANs. This week, we’ll be looking at HUMANs in more detail and introducing the organisation’s Solidarity Summit, which is due to take place this weekend. 

A global umbrella cooperative, HUMANs exists to provide tools and support to organisations around the world engaged in providing mutual aid. But what exactly is mutual aid? In its simplest form, it’s a system that enables people to come together and offer mutual support. So the organisations which sprung up during COVID delivering food and supplies to their communities were a form of mutual aid, as are the hundreds of groups across the country that provide resources and support to those in need without money changing hands. The Russian anarchist Peter Kropotkin even believed that voluntary institutions such as the RNLI also fall under this banner. And, of course, TimeBanking is another form of mutual aid. 

The idea of HUMANs, in essence, is to facilitate a “solidarity economy” - a new way of organising where social and environmental objectives take precedence over profit. And to achieve this goal, the networked cooperative connects sister sites and members all working with the same ethos in mind, ranging from workers’ cooperatives and local mutual aid networks to TimeBanks such as ours.

Drawing by Anneleise Hall documenting the 2019 Solidarity Sprint, connecting mutual aid networks around the world.

Every quarter, HUMANs hosts the Solidarity Summit - an online gathering dedicated to exploring the concept of mutual aid. The upcoming summit, which will take place on Saturday 16th and Sunday 17th March, is split into four sessions, each designed to help groups and individuals find out more about the idea of the solidarity economy and the different ways in which it can be put into practice.

The introductory part of the summit, held on Saturday at 3pm GMT, will be a “Getting to Know You” session, during which different groups and individuals can introduce themselves and their work - and learn more about what else is happening in the mutual aid community. After that, at 5pm GMT, John Buck and Kathy Sipple will be hosting an Introduction to Sociocracy.

One of the biggest challenges faced by mutual aid networks is how to avoid the pitfalls typically associated with charities and organisations that follow a traditional, hierarchical model of organisation - systems in which a few people control services and resources on behalf of many.  And that’s where sociocracy comes in. Simply put, sociocracy is a method of governance that puts emphasis on consent and collective decision-making, handing control of an organisation over to its members instead of an elite few. 

Amazingly, the word has been around since the 1850s - and the concept much longer than that. But there is still a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding surrounding the implementation of sociocracy in real life. During the Solidarity Summit, Kathy and John will talk through the ins and outs of the process, giving a living demonstration of its benefits.

One of the key figures responsible for bringing sociocracy to the English-speaking world, John Buck has written several books on alternative forms of governance, including the hugely popular We The People: Consenting to a Deeper Democracy (2017). He will be joined by Kathy Sipple, a certified sociocracy facilitator, author, and innovator currently working on climate issues and building regional resilience in Northwest Indiana.

After that, at 8pm GMT, the focus will shift to study what is unfolding in Aotearoa New Zealand, where activists such as Anneleise Hall are engaged in collective resilience and mutual aid discussions. In this session, Hall will lead an interactive conversation, during which attendees can learn, offer support, and hopefully get inspiration for their own projects.

Finally, on Sunday at 7pm GMT the event will round off with “Onward and Upward: Seeing Our Mutual Aid Efforts Bear Fruit.” This session will explore some of HUMANs’ successes so far, such as the development of the HOME software and peer support network. Conceived as an alternative to current collaborative tools owned by tech giants such as Google and Microsoft, the open source HOME ecosystem is designed with mutual aid networks in mind, providing vital services such as networking, team spaces, coordination tools, and file sharing. 

At the end of this session, there will be a chance for attendees to brainstorm plans for the future and make connections with other organisations and individuals around the world. If you’re interested in being a part of this incredible event, please click here to register. 

In the depths of the pandemic, mutual aid networks provided a much needed spark of hope and light to countless households across the globe. And as we move towards a future that seems more uncertain than ever before, it’s clear that the solidarity economy will continue to play a very important role. Exactly how that will look is something that is still being shaped by the people at HUMANs - and their solidarity summit is an incredible opportunity to be a part of that conversation. 

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