French economist Jacques Attali recently released a document to president François Hollande called “100 Concrete Proposals For A Positive Economy”. I downloaded the report to discover what visions and solutions were contained in it.
The report covers various topics and without going into details, I’ll say that I had mixed feelings about the content; I half agreed and half disagreed. The vision on education, agriculture and finance regulation was close to mine but I also saw limits in ideas like plugging our current economic model to clean energies so we can continue with the myth of unlimited growth. However, my point throughout this article is mostly to show how the kind of thinking presented in Attali’s proposals can offer a different view on how to bring about real change within society.
Several activists knowledgeable in the area of economics would have probably dismissed the paper halfway, thinking that the ideas in it aren’t relevant enough, that they wouldn’t be sufficient to create the change we need. They may qualify these proposals as too traditional, and I can understand why they’d think so. Nevertheless, if you look at the proposal from a more positive angle, you may come to a different conclusion: although only half of the proposals may be seen as “real” solutions, people who are at power today — like the president — would be more willing to accept and study them because they are not too far from the mainstream reality. So I believe these proposals play a much more powerful role than we realize: they are an initial strategic bridge to connect the mindset where the majority of people are today to the one that is actually needed to solve our crises.
Unfortunately, at the moment, we have — voluntarily or not — created a major gap between the “new” society and the “old” one. Because of a lack of understanding, trust and consideration, both groups don’t communicate much with one another which represents a major challenge to transition from where we are to where we actually want to go. It is very likely that if activists continue the work in the same way, they will not create the expected change but instead an alternative society separated from the old system, an isolated society that would paradoxically strengthen the very story of separation which we are trying to overcome.
If we want to convince those in the mainstream mindset to change their habits and beliefs so they can jump on board of our wagon, we need to improve our strategy, go beyond our current thinking and adopt a more inclusive approach. This means infiltrating mindfully within the mainstream to understand their reality better so we can improve our message and find the right hook to engage them. We should especially learn to collaborate with groups like Attalli’s, find our common goals and see more value more in the ideas that we’d normally consider as too traditional. That is why among all the proposals shared in the report, one solution that goes on that direction caught my attention: the example of a startup called The Food Assembly.
This startup has created a network of communities that buy fresh food directly from local producers and farmers, and calls itself a social and collaborative enterprise. This organization seems perfect on paper, but some activists who are close to the farming community have criticized it. It is true that in a way the startup in question still operates in a traditional way: it works under a private licence and the possibilities of customization it offers to the final users are limited. The founders — who come from a business school and have never farmed — raised money from investment funds that many alternative economy enthusiasts would not consider as models to follow. The startup also takes a small percentage (8.5%) for each transaction made on the platform, a business model that again some activists don’t agree with. Other solutions, like the AMAP network or the Open Food Network, work with what we could call a purer model: they have usually been built by people who directly come from the farming sector, the governance is shared and no middle man grabs any commission out of the activities.
So we could say that The Food Assembly is a dual organization; it can be considered as part of the new economy or still rooted in the old one according to what aspect of the organization we are talking about. But contrary to what some activists may believe, what makes me consider The Food Assembly as a valuable asset for the transition is that it helps many people from the “mainstream” to move toward the “new economy”, which is typically where we struggle today. Once you start using The Food Assembly and as your awareness on these kinds of alternatives grows, you may naturally and eventually levitate towards more less-mainstream areas such as decentralized energy production, open democracy or universal basic income. I believe organizations like The Food Assembly are in fact strategic gateways between traditional thinking and pioneering ideas, a position that benefits the whole transition movement.
The Food Assembly’s founders are now quite well known within the startup world, they have built connections with a part of the elite that runs the country, and they are often invited to top universities to share their ideas on the future of the world. The change they advocate may not be disruptive enough according to some activists, but we should understand that they in a way may help prepare those who may not be ready yet to accept some breakthrough ideas. So along the transition, offering the right message to the right audience is decisive and we need to acknowledge that some actors we discredit at first glance also play a strategic role in the process. In my opinion, people who are now rooted in the transition movement could — without diluting their values or convictions — give more credit to such solutions, adopt a more inclusive approach to activism and take part in creating services that are more adapted to the mainstream population. That’s how we can create the necessary bridges to make the whole society evolve toward a more ecological and humane system.
Do you also believe that these dual solutions like The Food Assembly are key in our transition? Or do you think that we shouldn’t invest much energy in supporting them, as they are not ambitious enough? Please drop me a line to share your opinion.