Un travail de « Montréalistes »

Par Jean-Benoît Nadeau (B.A. 1992)

Ils travaillent à la fois sur, pour et avec Montréal. C’est l’idée à la base du Centre de recherches interdiscipli-naires en études montréalaises (CRIEM), qui regroupe une cinquantaine de chercheurs de huit établissements québécois, dont le tiers provient de l’Université McGill. « Ensemble, nous essayons de comprendre ce qui fait Montréal », dit Pascal Brissette, qui dirige le CRIEM et le Département de langue et littérature françaises.

Le CRIEM s’inscrit dans une tendance très forte au sein des universités nord-américaines, désireuses de se rapprocher de leur communauté : qu’il suffise de penser au Ryerson City Building Institute de l’Université Ryerson, au CityStudio Vancouver de l’Université Simon Fraser ou à Civic Innovation YYC de l’Université de Cal-gary. « C’est une belle occasion pour McGill de s’affirmer tant comme une université au Québec et comme une université québécoise », affirme Stéphan Gervais, coordonnateur scientifique du CRIEM et coordonnateur du Programme d’études sur le Québec.

Autre particularité du CRIEM : son financement, de source privée. En 2015, la Fondation McConnell y a engagé un million de dollars sur dix ans, et en novembre 2017, la Banque de Montréal annonçait un financement de 2,25 millions de dollars sur dix ans pour l’octroi de bourses et le versement de certains salaires. « Ça n’a pas été facile à obtenir, mais c’était nécessaire », explique Annick Germain, professeure titulaire à l’Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS) et membre du comité de direction du CRIEM. « En raison des normes du Fonds de recherche du Québec (FRQ), les chercheurs ne peuvent appartenir qu’à un seul centre de re-cherche, ce qui est évidemment un problème lorsque le centre est interdisciplinaire. » Le soutien de bailleurs de fonds du secteur privé facilite le financement multisource pour les membres.

« MONTRÉALISTE » DANS L’ÂME

Annick Germain, qui a prononcé la conférence inaugurale du CRIEM en 2013, se décrit comme une « montréaliste » convaincue. L’expression résume parfaitement l’objet du CRIEM, où Montréal est à la fois un sujet d’étude et une cause.

C’est ainsi que le CRIEM est devenu un partenaire stratégique de Je fais Mtl, un mouvement citoyen à l’origine de 181 projets conçus pour redonner de l’élan à Montréal. À la demande du Service de la diversité sociale de la Ville de Montréal, le CRIEM a également constitué une équipe de chercheurs pour veiller à la mise en place et au développement de la politique de l’enfance de la Ville.

Cette volonté de s’allier à des partenaires externes est très présente au CRIEM. Elle est au cœur même de Vivre ensemble à Montréal : entre conflits et convivialités, ouvrage collectif publié chez Atelier 10. « Nous tenions à ce qu’un certain nombre d’articles soient signés par des gens de la communauté, comme la Maison d’Haïti et les cégépiens du Collège de Maisonneuve », précise Annick Germain, qui a codirigé la publication avec Valérie Amiraux (Université de Montréal) et Julie-Anne Boudreau (INRS).

« On doit veiller à élargir les voix de la recherche et ne pas inclure seulement celles provenant du milieu universitaire », lance Stéphan Gervais (B. Ed. 1994, M. Ed. 1997). Pour être membre du CRIEM, les chercheurs doivent obligatoirement adhérer au principe du partage des expertises et de la co-construction du savoir avec le milieu.

Dans cet esprit de maillage université-communauté, une partie du don de la Banque de Montréal servira à l’embauche d’un « conseiller en transfert de connaissances ». Sa mission : mettre en réseau les chercheurs, les associations et la ville. « Il faut être à l’affût des initiatives », déclare Stéphan Gervais, évoquant une belle occasion ratée avec Lande, association consacrée à la réappropriation des terrains vacants. « À un moment donné, ils avaient besoin d’étudiants et de chercheurs pour faire la recension des terrains. Mais nous l’avons su trop tard. Quelqu’un doit se consacrer au travail de veille à temps plein. »

À L’IMAGE DE MONTRÉAL

Le modus operandi du CRIEM découle de sa genèse. « On se demandait comment contribuer au développe-ment de la société québécoise », se rappelle Pascal Brissette. « En étudiant ce qui se faisait ailleurs, on a trouvé pas mal de chercheurs qui s’intéressaient au Québec par le truchement de Montréal, mais on a aussi constaté l’absence de centre de recherche multidisciplinaire consacré à Montréal. »

Pascal Brissette et Stéphan Gervais ont donc entrepris de rassembler ces chercheurs. Habituellement, les centres d’études sur la ville réunissent surtout des architectes, des urbanistes, des géographes, des sociologues et des politologues. Le tandem a ajouté à cette brigade des juristes, des littéraires, des philosophes, des historiens, des économistes et même des professeurs de médecine. « C’est ce qui nous distingue des autres centres de recherche sur des villes comme ceux de Boston, de Londres ou de Washington. »

Comme ses fondateurs n’ont pas suivi de recette empruntée, le CRIEM ressemble à Montréal. « C’est une chose dont on s’est aperçu après l’avoir créé. En fait, tous les grands centres d’études sur la ville ressemblent à leur ville. »

Il cite le cas de LSE Cities, créé par la London School of Economics et résolument axé sur l’économie. Quant à la BARI (Boston Area Research Initiative), consortium formé du MIT, de l’Université Harvard et de la ville de Boston, elle travaille dans les données quantifiables. À Washington, le Centre Wilson, sous l’autorité du Congrès de par sa charte, est foncièrement politique. « Le CRIEM relève de la Faculté des arts, et ça tombe bien : quand on pense à Montréal, on pense culture, langue, diversité. »

SI MONTRÉAL M’ÉTAIT CONTÉE…

Un thème important des travaux du CRIEM, c’est la recherche du « récit collectif » montréalais. « Il y a les récits individuels, les récits collectifs et les récits transformationnels, ceux qui produisent de l’action et du changement », explique Gorka Espiau, professeur praticien de la Fondation de la famille J.W. McConnell, qui travaille au CRIEM depuis septembre 2016 pour un mandat de deux ans. Basque d’origine, cet ancien directeur des rela-tions internationales et du programme Places de la Fondation Young (à Londres) est un spécialiste des innovations sociales et de la transformation urbaine.

« Quand un mauvais quartier devient cool, c’est parce que le récit a changé. La volonté et la perception ne sont plus les mêmes, tant chez les nouveaux que chez les anciens résidents. C’est pareil au sein d’une ville », dit Gorka Espiau, pour qui le récit n’est pas une conséquence du changement, mais bien sa cause profonde.

« Autrement dit, la transformation est possible quand elle est autorisée socialement. Qu’est-ce qui crée le dé-clic? Comment le renforcer? C’est ça qu’on cherche », explique Pascal Brissette, dont la thèse portait sur les mythes littéraires et les récits collectifs. Pascal Brissette a beaucoup travaillé avec Marc Angenot, professeur émérite titulaire de la Chaire James McGill sur le discours social et père de la théorie du discours social.

« Un récit collectif se nourrit de faits, mais ça ne suffit pas. La preuve, c’est Donald Trump. Ce qui importe, c’est ce que l’on dit des faits », affirme Pascal Brissette, constatant que Montréal et le Québec divergent sur le plan du récit. « En dehors de Montréal, la société tient un discours de perte d’acquis, alors que Montréal, elle, est en reconstruction. Montréal s’est classée première ville étudiante du monde. Sur le continent, c’est la deu-xième ville universitaire après Boston, mais Montréal ne le sait pas encore elle-même. »

Le CRIEM est actuellement le maître d’œuvre d’un ambitieux projet de recherche du récit sur le terrain. « Le but est d’en arriver à un Observatoire des récits de Montréal », dit Gorka Espiau, qui y consacre tout son temps. Une première expérience, appelée Amplifier Gamelin, visait à comprendre le récit collectif entourant le parc Émilie-Gamelin. La deuxième, Amplifier Côte-des-Neiges, vise le même objectif, mais à l’échelle d’un quartier.

La mairesse de Montréal, Valérie Plante (à gauche), participe à une conférence de presse
convoquée en vue de l’annonce de l’octroi de 3,25 millions de dollars au CRIEM.
Étaient également présents à l’événement (de gauche à droite) L. Jacques Ménard,
président de BMO Groupe financier, Québec, Suzanne Fortier, principale de l’Université McGill, et Stephen Huddart, président-directeur général de la Fondation McConnell. (Photo : Paul Fortier)

Ce projet requiert la contribution de l’Université Concordia, de la Fondation McConnell et de Centraide, entre autres partenaires. Le travail, qui occupe neuf employés, dont une demi-douzaine d’ethnographes, consiste en une collecte qualitative de témoignages, d’une part, et en une analyse de mégadonnées puisées dans les ré-seaux sociaux, d’autre part. « Quand on étudie le récit, ce qu’on étudie en réalité, c’est le processus culturel de la transformation », indique Gorka Espiau, qui veut que ce modèle fournisse des informations réelles aux décideurs. « Notre plateforme d’écoute ne servira pas seulement à comprendre, mais à diriger l’action. »

TRANSFORMER MONTRÉAL

Car le véritable objectif du CRIEM, c’est de participer à la transformation de Montréal. Ce qui est en soi un exercice périlleux sur le plan épistémologique. Après tout, pour des chercheurs montréalais et « montréalistes », si convaincus soient-ils, les arbres peuvent cacher la forêt. « D’où l’intérêt d’avoir un Gorka Espiau parmi nous, qui apporte un regard extérieur sur les transformations sociales en cours ici », dit Pascal Brissette.

« Un processus de transformation, ça résulte de mécanismes normatifs, qui découlent de décisions. Habituellement, les études s’arrêtent là. Tout le monde convient que la dimension culturelle de la décision est cruciale, mais personne ne l’étudie », déplore Gorka Espiau. « Parce que les décisions, elles, découlent de l’attitude et du comportement, lequel découle des croyances, qui se fondent sur un système de valeurs. C’est là qu’agit le récit collectif. »

Gorka Espiau dit faire des pas de géant depuis son arrivée au CRIEM, en septembre 2016. « À la Fondation Young, ils sont dans l’économie et le changement social. Ils savent que le récit est important, mais ils saisissent mal son importance. Au CRIEM, ils ont compris ça dès le premier jour. »

Selon Pascal Brissette, une étude en profondeur du récit montréalais est nécessaire pour favoriser la transfor-mation de Montréal. Le récit, c’est ce qui, par-delà les différences, lie les hommes et les femmes qui habitent le territoire ; il recèle aussi bien les conditions du vivre ensemble que de la transformation urbaine. »

Depuis qu’Amazon a annoncé son intention d’ouvrir un second siège social dans une ville du continent, Gorka Espiau observe le brouhaha avec intérêt, alors qu’on ignore si Montréal sera dans la course. « Si Montréal cherche à concurrencer sur la base du prix, ça n’ira nulle part, dit-il. Ça demande plutôt une discussion de haut niveau sur les qualités de l’écosystème montréalais et la place qu’Amazon pourra y occuper. Ça suppose une compréhension fondamentale de ce qu’est Montréal. »

Mais qu’est-ce qui fait Montréal? Sans hésiter, les chercheurs évoquent le secteur culturel, le mouvement coopératif, l’économie sociale et la langue, mais personne ne comprend nettement comment tout cela s’articule avec la mentalité, dont l’un des traits caractéristiques est la diversité. « Les Torontois se sont monté un récit et des slogans sur la diversité, mais pas les Montréalais, même si Montréal est beaucoup plus plurielle dans les faits, avance Annick Germain. Montréal, c’est une diversité assumée, mais peu revendiquée ou affirmée. »

Gorka Espiau en convient : « Les Montréalais imaginent que leur manière de vivre avec la diversité est une chose normale, alors que ça ne l’est pas du tout. C’est tout à fait exceptionnel. C’est un puissant outil de transformation. »

 

Montreal under the microscope


The 50 researchers affiliated with the McGill-led Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Montreal (CIRM) have a single goal in common. They want to know what makes their city tick. “Together, we are trying to understand what makes Montreal,” says Pascal Brissette, a professor of French language and literature at McGill and the director of CIRM.

The CIRM team is busy exploring the things that make Montreal unique. Other cities might have had successes in certain areas that we’re interested in duplicating, but it isn’t a simple or straightforward process, says Bris-sette. “Borrowed formulas only work if we adapt them to who we are. In order to do that, we need to first understand who we are.”

CIRM is part of a growing trend among North American universities to use their research expertise to foster stronger links with their host cities. Other examples include Simon Fraser University’s CityStudio Vancouver and Ryerson University’s City Building Institute.

“It’s a nice occasion for McGill to fully express its identity not just as a university in Quebec, but as one that’s a part of Quebec,” says CIRM’s scientific coordinator Stéphan Gervais, BEd’94, MEd’97.

CIRM’s efforts recently received a substantial boost. At a November event attended by new Montreal mayor Valérie Plante, CIRM announced it had received $3.25 million in funding support — $2.25 million from the BMO Financial Group and $1 million from the McConnell Foundation.

One of CIRM’s chief aims is to strike up partnerships outside university walls. CIRM members are working with the City of Montreal, for instance, to develop a child policy for the city. Part of the money that CIRM received from BMO will go towards hiring a knowledge transfer and partnership advisor who will help to build links be-tween CIRM and other organizations in the city with an eye towards using CIRM expertise to bolster Montreal’s social, cultural and economic development.

Thanks to support from the McConnell Foundation, Gorka Espiau is CIRM’s J.W. McConnell Foundation Visiting Professor of Practice. The former director of international affairs for the Young Foundation in Britain, Espiau is an expert on social innovation and urban transformation. “He brings an outsider’s perspective to the social transformations going on here,” says Brissette.

Espiau is leading an effort at CIRM that looks at “collective narratives.” “When a bad neighbourhood becomes a cool one, it’s because the narrative has changed. The will and percep-tion of the residents have changed. The same is true of cities,” says Espiau. “So what’s the spark that gets [that] process going?” adds Brissette. “And how do you reinforce it once it’s started? That’s what we are look-ing for.”

An ongoing project, one that has attracted support from Concordia University, the McConnell Foundation and Centraide, is examining the collective narrative for the Côte-des-Neiges neighbourhood. Personal testimonies collected from residents are being combined with an analysis of mega data gleaned from social media.

According to CIRM members, Montrealers don’t always fully appreciate their own narrative or the things that make their city special. “Montreal [was named] the best city in the world for students and is the sec-ond-biggest university city in North America after Boston, but Montrealers don’t know it yet!” says Brissette.

“Toronto has put together a narrative and slogans about diversity. Not Montreal — even if Montreal is actually more diverse,” says Annick Germain, a member of CIRM’s executive committee and a professor at the Montreal-based Institut national de la recherche scientifique. She believes Montrealers largely take this characteris-tic of their city for granted. Espiau agrees. “Montrealers imagine their diversity is normal when it’s not. It’s really exceptional. And it’s a powerful tool for transformation.”

by Jean-Benoît Nadeau, BA’92 (translated by Julie Barlow, BA’91)

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A glimpse of the good future

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. These famous words, uttered on an icy January afternoon in 1933 during Franklin Roosevelt’s inaugural address, continue to resonate 85 years later. In Europe’s cities today, they carry particular weight, as the pessimism barometer seems to rise inexorably.

Roosevelt issued his rallying call at a time when the US – and indeed the global economy – seemed on the brink of collapse. The incoming President assumed office at an inauspicious time, with one in four Americans out of work. Today, in footballing terms, we might call it a ‘hospital pass’ – a very unwelcome gift. Of course, FDR, advised by the best brains in the country, had ambitious plans to put America back to work – what he would refer to as the New Deal. But he knew that while those plans took shape, he would have to address the psychological damage inflicted by the Great Depression. Overcoming the fear that gripped the country was the first step to stabilization – and to staving off the extremists.

Today in Europe, fear is all around us. People are afraid that their jobs will disappear – taken over by robots, undercut by migrants or outsourced to parts of the world where labour is cheaper. They worry that the welfare state will have disappeared by the time they retire and that they will no longer be able to live in their neighbourhoods as property prices rise and our great cities become the preserve of the rich. Worst of all, they fear that their children’s lives will be worse than theirs, corroding the most valuable commodity – hope.

Fear and uncertainty are happy hunting grounds for scaremongers. We have already experienced this with BREXIT and the rise of Trump. Within mainland Europe we also see it in those Member States building walls and rewriting history. Facts are not allowed to get in the way of these new populist narratives.

Our cities ignore these developments at their peril. Although fear can be irrational, the root causes – concerns about life’s fundamentals; home; food; work – require us all to sit up and take note. In the face of this challenge, how can our cities respond?

The Future is already here

It’s too early to state with any certainty the patterns that will define the 21st Century; however some early distinctions seem evident. One is the decline of ‘systemic’ solutions – the so-called ‘isms’ of the 20th Century (Socialism, Fascism, Communism etc) – for more pragmatic alternatives. Another is the rebalancing of power between nation states and cities. Mayors may not rule the world just yet, but the trend of devolution towards regional and metropolitan solutions continues. As Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution noted in a recent interview:

I would say that there has been a de facto memo sent out by the national government and most states to city-regions and counties: you are in charge of the future. You, literally, are going to need to figure out how to fund those things, those activities — whether it’s innovation, whether it’s infrastructure, whether it’s inclusion — that really set the platform for growth, prosperity, and equity. That the nation-state really had become sclerotic and non-entrepreneurial. It lacks the discretion and the agility to adapt to what is fast-changing societal challenges and fast-changing technological disruption.”

Although this process of renegotiation will not happen overnight, in some places it’s well under way. As William Gibson once noted: “The future is already here – it’s just not very evenly distributed.” Where it is here, cities are looking to address the existential issues we face. As well as climate change, this means ensuring that all citizens have enough to address their basic human needs. In line with the New Urban Agenda, this means tackling poverty, UN Habitat’s first Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). Shameful but true, that in 21st Century Europe we still face such basic challenges.

Within URBACT, cities are bringing fresh thinking and innovative policies to these age-old challenges. Amongst these is the rethinking of welfare, driven by a combination of conclusions. One is in anticipation of a future where there may be fewer or different type of jobs as a result of automation. Another is the recognition that despite millions of euros invested in improving the infrastructure of our most deprived neighbourhoods, the most vulnerable in society often remain unaffected. Too often, displacement and gentrification have been the result.

The wave of activity around the Universal basic Income (UBI) reflects this need for new thinking. It acknowledges the need for a safety net when levels of precariousness are rising. In it’s purest form, UBI provides a flat payment to every citizen. It places recipients under no obligation to undertake tasks in exchange for payment and so is what economists’ term, unconditional.

UBI is radical and divisive. It is loved and hated by sections of the old ‘Left’ and “Right’ in equal measure. Currently, variations of the model are being piloted globally, most notably in Finland, the Netherlands and, later in 2018, Scotland. As part of the URBACT Urbinclusion network– as well as through Urban Innovative Actions , Barcelona is developing its own approach to this challenge. Targeting two of the city’s poorest barrios, the Catalan capital is testing a Minimum Income model, providing citizens with a guaranteed minimum level of income, to ensure they are above the poverty line. In this case however, receipt of support is conditional upon beneficiaries agreeing to give back to the community, for example in the form of volunteering.

Lifting the lid on the new world of work

Looking ahead, to what a meaningful life will be in 21st century urban Europe, many see civic participation as part of the story. In a digital world of different jobs and rising social isolation compassionate action may, in the words of George Monbiot, give people “what work once promised: meaning, purpose, place, community.”

Certainly, mobilizing active citizenship is a common factor to those cities looking to promote more cohesive communities, which we can see through URBACT networks like CHANGE! Again, this policy discussion touches upon the Future of Work debate, whilst connecting to other fundamental issues, most notably the need to reinvigorate democracy and to address the growing epidemic of urban loneliness and isolation.

But although paid work may play a less important role in future, it remains a pressing and immediate policy priority right now. This is where we desperately need innovative solutions.

Today, many Europeans remain unemployed, particularly young people in the South. Ten years on from the Global Financial Crisis, the most recent EU data indicates that in Greece the 2017 youth unemployment rate was 41%, in Spain 37% and in Italy 32%.

However, it is not just the unemployed who are poor. In work poverty affects 8% of the working age population in OECD countries. The scale of the informal economy, the rise of the Gig Economy and the seasonal nature of sectors like tourism, mean that increasing numbers in work lead precarious lives. There is extensive evidence that in many parts of Europe wage rates have not recovered from the 2008 crash. OECD analysis showed that in the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia and the United Kingdom in 2015, hourly wages were 25% below what they should have been if normal wage growth had continued. For Hungary, Greece and Ireland the gap was over 20%. Only Germany bucked this depressing trend.

Meanwhile, the growing disparity between those at the top and those at the bottom of the employment chain fuels the sense amongst ordinary workers that no one is fighting their corner and that inequality is inevitable. On average, the 10% wealthiest households hold half of total wealth in the OECD countries; the next richest 50% hold almost the entire other half, while the 40 % least wealthy own little over 3%.

In the UK, calculations by the GMB Trade Union to mark the twentieth anniversary of the introduction of the Minimum Wage showed that the salary of top executives had increased by 354% to an average of UK£4.35 million per annum. In this same period the minimum wage had risen by £7.50 per hour. And of course there is a gender dimension to this unequal state of affairs, with women in the EU earning on average 16% less per hour than their male counterparts.

These structural inequalities undermine citizens’ trust in our institutions. They exacerbate the sense of frustration with policy makers and, ultimately, create a climate that can be manipulated by those wishing to destroy the cohesive urban model which, for many, represents the best of Europe.

A mix of old and new

Again, the question comes: what can cities do? Part of the solution is adopting agile responses to the new challenges created by the digital economy. For example, municipalities can regulate to mitigate the potential damage caused by the extractive platform business models. Many cities have already taken steps to limit the damage caused by the major players such as Uber and Airbnb. They are also exploring how these new technologies can be harnessed for good.

But as well as developing new responses, sometimes we need to pay attention to familiar concepts that might have a new found relevance. Like those who champion UBI as an old idea whose time has come, growing numbers of cities are turning to another long-standing model as an effective tool to tackle growing inequalities in the workplace – the Co operative business.

The concept of the co-operative business, as we recognize it, dates back to the north of England in the mid 19th century. Behind it, is the basic idea that workers own the business in which they work. More recently, another version has emerged where the cooperative business is owned by its customers – as is the case with many food coops. Emerging during the early industrial revolution, cooperatives evolved alongside the growing organisation of the industrial working class. Forged by tight-knot mutually supporting communities, the model spread around the globe.

Fast forward to 2018 and cooperatives remain alive and well in Europe. We find them throughout the EU, with deep roots in particular regions. One of the best known of these is in the Mondragon Valley in the Basque Country. From humble beginnings in 1956, the Mondragon Corporation has expanded into a business comprising 261 companies employing almost 75,000 worldwide. Operating an annual turnover of €12 billion per year, much of Mondragon’s production revolves around high quality manufactured goods. Despite its growth, the group remains wedded to an established code of cooperative principles which include:

  • Open admission
  • Democratic organisation
  • Participatory management
  • 1 to 7 payment ratio, and
  • Inter-solidarity mechanisms

The Mondragon Valley, comprising a cluster of small municipal authorities, provides an example of how an innovative ecosystem can cover a territory comprising sub-urban and rural communities. On every level, cooperation is at its heart: cooperation between public and private sector, between businesses, voluntary sector, academia and between communities. This valley presents extraordinary indicators in relation with GDP per capita, but also secondary and university education, life expectancy, poverty and equality.

Mondragon is a structure which is constantly evolving and reinventing itself. As it does so, it generates a need for new products and services that are met by the start up of new cooperative businesses. So, as well as servicing external customers, within the group there is a strong internal market where cooperatives buy and sell from one another. They collaborate and compete with each other at the same time and there is no central command. This continuous and distributed innovation system generates resilience. It is one of the distinctive features driving the business that should be better understood for other social business to operate at scale. For many, Mondragon needs to be interpreted as a social innovation ecosystem that is reinventing the rationale and methods of social transformation movements in the context of Industry 4.0 competitiveness strategies.

Another is the quality of life offered by working for the Mondragon Group. In many other businesses of this scale, the CEO will earn many multiples of the salary of their regular employees. In a Mondragon Cooperative, typically the CEO will earn no more than seven times the salary of a shop floor employee. Perhaps even more importantly, all employees will take lunch in the same staff canteen, reinforcing the sense of solidarity and social connection. Equality makes Mondragon more competitive.

The value of cooperatives in such communities although distinctive in the Basque country is not unique. Parts of Italy – in particular Emilia Romagna – have long been established as centres of cooperative business activity, particularly in sectors including furniture and food production. A recent investigation into Finnish cooperatives reported that this small country has more cooperative members (5.4 million) than its entire population. The article quotes Finnish Nobel Prize winner A. I. Vertanen noting that:

We have no Rockefellers or Carnegies, but we do have co-operatives.”

At a time when an interest in workplace democracy and tackling economic inequality is rising, there is a renewed interest in cooperatives as being part of the solution. As businesses they generate jobs. As principled businesses they seek to create meaningful employment, giving workers a say in the running of the operation. As equitable organisations they strive to tackle the gap between the highest and lowest paid, offering employees a genuine stake in their own destiny and the organization’s future. What we see in places like the Mondragon Valley is a large-scale manifestation of the European Commission´s commitment towards inclusive growth, a principled business model firmly rooted within the local community. One of the 97 URBACT Good Practices reflects this growing interest amongst cities in supporting cooperative businesses. Cooperative City, Glasgow, is an example of a municipality reinventing how it engages with citizens to design and redevelop services. The principle of co-design is at the heart of this transformation. The model includes the establishment of new platforms to collaborate with citizens and local organisations. It also includes a financial package to support the development of cooperatives.

The aim of the Cooperative Business Development Fund is to provide financial and structural support for the establishment of cooperatives, mutual and social enterprises. The support package is cross-sectoral and to date it has invested over €7,700,000 in new enterprises, through 56 awards. This has created or safeguarded over 325 jobs and volunteer positions.

A glimpse of the good future?

What can cities take from this? For sure, a greater sense of responsibility and a green light to find their own solutions. Alongside that, a clear message that they are not alone. Across Europe, sister cities are keen to share and explore together, through URBACT and other channels. Finally, in the confusing rush of the New, lets not overlook potential solutions that may already be familiar – like Cooperatives. As Victor Hugo, who also visited the Basque Country pointed out: “There is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come.”

Gorka Espiau & Eddy Adams

Putting Innovation in a Box

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The Centre for Intellectual Property Policy (CIPP) is organizing, with multiple partners, a week of conferences, workshops and roundtables focused on public policy supporting innovation and intellectual property in Montreal.

Innovation week schedule > Programme de la semaine

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RSVP/information (les places sont limitées):  cipp1.law@mcgill.ca.

Mon > Lun 19 The End of Innovation as We Know It with Richard Gold (CIPP/CPPI, McGill)

12h-13h30, McGill Law (3644 Peel, room 316), $20 for lawyers seeking CLE credit

Tue > Mar 20 From Big Data and Open Data to Community Actions and Impacts with Gorka Espiau (CIRM/CRIEM, McGill), Stéphane Guidoin, Charles-Antoine Julien, Jean-Noé Landry, Pierre Luc Bacon, Geneviève Boisjoly

13h30-15h30, CEIM (20 Queen Street)

Wed > Mer 21 Law and the Blockchain: A Crash Course with Allison Christians (McGill), Max Jarvie, Kendra Rossi, Marc Richardson Arnoud

12h-14hMcGill Law (3644 Peel, room 316), $30 for lawyers seeking CLE credit

Thu > Jeu 22 Putting Innovation in a Box: Tax and IP Policy, Society, and the State with Allison Christians and Pierre-Emmanuel Moyse (McGill), Nicolas Binctin, Alessandra Flamini, Irma Mosquera, Lyne Latulippe, Alain Strowel, Edoardo Traversa, Jean-Pierre Vidal, Laurens van Apeldoorn

13h30-17h30, CEIM (20 Queen Street),  $50 for lawyers seeking CLE credit

Fri > Ven 23 Innovating at the International Level – CETA, BREXIT, NAFTA with Armand de Mestral (McGill), Marc Bungenberg, Charles-Emmanuel Côté, Henri Culot, Graeme Dinwoodie, Alain Strowel, Edoardo Traversa, Lukas Vanhonnaeker

9h00-15h00, Faculty Club (3450 McTavish), $50 for lawyers seeking CLE credit

For more details about the events, click here.

 

Forging empowering civic narratives

At the beginning of 2017, the McConnell Foundation embarked on a project to share learning about how social change happens. Rather than share the perspectives of their own team, they went outside McConnell, wanting to amplify the incredible efforts of individuals working on transforming systems in diverse fields. That project became “Countless Rebellions,” an interview series dedicated to exploring social innovation and systems change. This is a summary of the interview I have recorded for this series:

 

“When you think back to when you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I studied journalism so I guess that was what I wanted to be.  I’m from Bilbao and there was at the time a lot of violence and a deep social and economic crisis. It was a perfect storm at the end of the Spanish dictatorship. That has conditioned the way I see things and why I’m doing what I’m trying to do.

What did you end up becoming?

I don’t know. I have three kids. They keep asking me what I do and it’s really difficult to explain. Sometimes I respond that I am a journalist, just to avoid the complexity of explaining. But if we look at it from the social innovation perspective, I think I’ve become a movement builder around social innovation initiatives, connecting grassroots initiatives with public and private institutions in order to make them scale … But, it’s a very difficult definition.

Can you describe the scale of the problem(s) that you work on?

It depends on the place. For example, in Montreal, we are working on how to generate a movement of transformation in the city. We are talking about a very large scale. How do we connect the key institutions of the city — public and private — with ordinary citizens, in order to create a movement of transformation? These are very big worlds and it’s a very ambitious vision. But, at the same time, this has implications for how you tackle, for example, security or transportation in a particular street in Montreal. We are operating at the macro and the micro level all the time.

We’ve been asking all of the key protagonists. They never say “We made this decision, or we made the right investment.” They always refer to the values.

I’m trying to bring new actors into the discussion that have the capacity to operate on a larger scale. For example, I’m working very closely with the Mondragon corporative. It’s the largest industrial corporative in the world. They created their own social innovation ecosystem out of nothing. They created their own schools, their own companies, their own banks, their own universities — everything — out of nothing, during really difficult times.

What are you learning about right now?

We are finalizing this work with Mondragon cooperative, so I’m learning about the logic of the private sector, but also about the connection between the private sector and social transformations. I’m also learning a lot about the cultural dimension of innovation and of transformation processes.

What does the cultural dimension of social innovation look like?

I’ve been involved in analyzing the transformation of the Basque area. It was a really difficult situation only a few years ago. Now we have a social-economic model that incorporates equality at the heart of the system.  We’ve been asking the key people that were involved in the transformation about why did they made certain decisions. For example, the decision of building the Guggenheim Museum by Frank Gehry in Bilbao. That idea is celebrated internationally. At the time it was a mad idea. To think, at the time, that the Guggenheim would come to Bilbao was totally irrational because there were no conditions for such a thing to happen.

Positive transformation is generated when everybody feels they are allowed to generate innovation.

We’ve been asking all of the key protagonists. They never say “We made this decision, or we made the right investment.” They always refer to the values. They always say, “we did this because we were serving a set of values about how to transform this society, and those values helped us to create a history of ourselves that was aspirational, connected with reality, and then the decisions were made based on those narratives and values.”

This is what we have documented, and this is consistent with a lot of research about long-term aesthetic decisions that are normally made based on values. There is evidence about how we make decisions. It is always a combination of rational, and value-based thinking. But we haven’t really explored what the soft cultural space is. Through an ethnographic process, we have identified in the case of Mondragon five core values that that are still present in that company today. If we can demonstrate that successful projects were actually implemented on a common value system, then we can understand a lot about how successful transformations in the social sphere — territorial but also thematic — incorporate this cultural dimension. By culture, we mean the set of values, the narratives, the beliefs and the aesthetic decisions that are made by a group, by a city, by a particular society in a particular period of time.

Is there anything you’ve noticed that people get wrong about social innovation?

For me, the most important thing is how innovation takes place at the community level. I think we have it totally wrong, applying the myth of the solo entrepreneur, the myth of Silicon Valley, which is all about the individual. This is false, it doesn’t exist, and when it happens, it has a negative social impact.

Positive transformation is generated when everybody feels they are allowed to generate innovation. We have seen this in the Mondragon experience, but we have also seen that in our work in Leeds, in the UK, and this is what we are documenting in Montreal at the moment.”