9. Case Study: Mutual Aid Networks

Mutual Aid Network

Originally established in Madison, Wisconsin and now being federated transnationally, Mutual Aid Networks are location-specific and solidarity based Meta Economic Networks. Coalesced around nested cooperative structures, a Mutual Aid Network (or “MAN”) pools capacity building, stewards community value, and rewards socially and environmentally useful work. Some of the tools used to achieve this include timebanking, b2b mutual credit, cooperative lending, saving and investment models, community spaces and shared manufacturing facilities.

The ultimate goal is to create sustainable infrastructures to empower social value creation while fostering common purpose. Locality-based infrastructures also support wider networks operating under complementary principles.

The procedure for setting up a Mutual Aid Network brings people together to brainstorm around a common goal. Examples can include watershed restoration initiatives, urban gardening, city-wide efficiency and renewables programs, travel and culture exchanges, the creation of a time bank or community kitchen, or setting up a community-oriented co-working space. While each Mutual Aid Network is autonomous in attaining its goal, the underlying principles always rely on commons-oriented governance and cooperative models. This framework can be adapted to any size or group of people coming together under a purpose that fits agreed-upon, streamlined core principles and standards.

The networks connect previously existing solidarity mechanisms into systems that provide support and maximize each other’s strengths. MAN’s overall mission is to “To create means for everyone to discover and succeed in work they want to do, with the support of their community.” These connected networks provide tools for pooling resources to support meaningful work and fill unmet community needs. These tools include:

  • Common-pool resources, which can include libraries, makerspaces, shared laundry facilities, etc.
  • Timebanking, which contributes to community building through mutually beneficial service exchange. Measured by time credits, services can include cooking, transportation, counselling, cleaning, family care, gardening, art and music, etc.
  • Price-based mutual credit, to create liquidity within networks of local businesses. These are tax-compliant and interest-free, and are paid back through the sale of equally-priced amounts of goods and services within the network.
  • Cooperative savings and lending, which pools resources, builds capacity, and extends community wealth through collective agreements. These are allocated to projects or individual members with one-time financial needs.
  • Cooperative ownership, which democratizes access to resources that may difficult to access individually.

Using these tools and strategies, Mutual Aid Networks can identify the necessary social and environmental work which is often marginalised in the mainstream economy. Network members take the lead in facilitating resources and assisting community members in achieving their self-identified needs. Local practices are then crystallized in other areas by open sourcing all tools, documentation and knowledge generated. Each local MAN has access to a much broader resources and expertise than it would have in isolation, allowing the broader network to replicate and scale in accordance to its shared, commons-oriented values, or what MAN calls “indigenous community economic development.”

There are currently eight Mutual Aid Networks being prototyped around the world, including locations like St Louis, Missouri, Lansing, Michigan and Providence, Rhode Island in the US, as well as Hull in the UK and Bergnek in South Africa internationally.

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