6. Case Study: Enspiral


Enspiral is a network of professionals and companies that are “working on stuff that matters”, i.e. socially oriented projects. It encompasses a broad community of diverse professionals (productive community), including developers, legal and financial experts. They pool their skills and creative energy to create a commons of knowledge and software. Around these commons a web of business ventures (entrepreneurial coalition) offers open source tools and services that enable creative communities like their own to address certain challenges related to democratic governance and the digital age. For example, Loomio is an open source platform for participatory decision making, while Rabid is a company offering expert services on web development.

The picture is completed with the Enspiral Foundation (for-benefit association), a cooperatively governed nonprofit that facilitates collaboration and supports the network as a whole. The Foundation is the entity with which all professionals and companies have a formal relationship. It maintains the network’s infrastructure, holds the collective property and guarantees its culture and mission.

At the time of this writing, there are about 300 people contributing to one or several of over 15 business ventures linked to the Enspiral Foundation. The ventures generate revenue by offering their software solutions and services to clients. In turn, they distribute this revenue back to the contributors and a part of it (usually 20 per cent) is contributed to the Foundation. Almost half of these funds cover the operational costs of the Foundation, while the rest is invested through collaborative funding in projects proposed by the community.

The Enspiral culture is dedicated to the creation of value for the society rather than for shareholders. It is statutorily oriented towards the common good and is pro-actively developing the conditions to serve this purpose. One of its core elements that illustrate this approach on value is “capped returns”. The general idea is to introduce an upper limit (a “cap”) on the total returns which investors may receive on the equity of a business. For this, the shares issued by a company are coupled by a matching call option which would require the repurchase of the shares at an agreed upon price. Once all shares have been redeemed by the company, it is then free to re-invest all future profits to its social mission. Through this mechanism, external and potentially extractive capital is “subsumed” and disciplined to become “cooperative capital”.