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Under the Hood: OpenMedia has a Social Enterprise?

We can’t do it all so we’re supporting the start of a new social enterprise to reimagine democracy writ large.

OpenMedia has a social enterprise? Yes, well sort of.

No, we haven’t started a meme generator for Party Parrot. Although someone really should.

OpenMedia has always seen the threats to the open Internet as the result of a democratic deficit that is all too easily exploited by powerful hierarchies -- be that in the form of legacy industry lobbyists or unhinged government spies.

As noted in our crowdsourcing principles“The open Internet and its values of open collaboration and sharing can only be maintained if we reimagine our democracy and our economy.”

So, in addition to our focus on the core issues of affordable access, free expression, and privacy -- we also try to reform governing institutions so they embrace widespread participation in decision-making. It shouldn’t be easier to order hard drugs online than it is to contribute to government decisions that impact our daily lives.

For our part, we’ve taken on regulators (see here, here), parliaments (see here, here), closed trade deal negotiations, and global institutions. Yet while we’ve had some success, there is still a growing need to create a broad new mode of operation for our society.

OpenMedia has always seen itself as playing a small role in this larger holistic change we hope to see, but other civic engagement organizations have been increasingly reaching out to OpenMedia for advice on crowdsourced campaigns and for access to the custom online engagement tools we’ve built over the years.

We of course want to help others working to democratize our society but if you’ve ever met a tireless ‘OpenMedian’ you’ll know the last thing we need is more work to do or a broader mandate. Standing up for free expression online around the world is already a ridiculously sprawling objective on its own.  

We try to share our learnings broadly and our online tools are built on open source code, but many organizations do not have the technical capacity to work with raw code.

So what did we do? In true OpenMedia fashion we put our brains together, engaged in some first principles thinking and found a creative solution that actually has less and less to do with OpenMedia as an organization.

We partnered with Vancity Credit Union and a growing network of organizations and impact investors to support a new social enterprise called New/Mode. The enterprise operates specifically to help individuals and organizations share access to civic engagement tools.  To see it in action check out how SumOfUs used a shared online Letter-to-The-Editor tool to empower people to speak out against the TPP during the Australian election.

In short, OpenMedia is a platform for mass civic engagement regarding issues impacting the open Internet. New/Mode will be a platform for mass civic engagement to better society in general. No big deal right?

This solution is particularly attractive because we can both share our engagement tools with others, and OpenMedia no longer has to shoulder the burden of maintaining our software on our own.  

We’re proud to support this new initiative and as it’s starting to get some serious momentum I want to share this project (and a little under-the-hood look at our technology ecology) with you.

OpenMedia’s Emerging Tech Ecology of Awesome:

(*Here's a little drawing to show the relationships between three core entities in the ecology)

NM:OM:AB ecology.jpg

A core node in this tech ecology is New/Mode: a social enterprise that empowers organizations and individuals to effectively use civic engagement tools to make change.

The New/Mode enterprise is operated and governed independently from OpenMedia. As seen in the image above, the enterprise has been structured to benefit OpenMedia, the general public, and to work in collaboration with our friends at open source development shop AffinityBridge.

Here are some key attributes of New/Mode’s collaborative structure:

  • Purpose-first: NewMode is legally bound to do its work based on the following values:

    • Empowerment: We empower people to speak in their own voice and take action.

    • Collaboration: The collaborative ethos inspires everything we do. We aim to help build a society that embraces new tools and processes for sharing and cooperation.  

    • Participation: We believe that decision-making should be open, transparent, collaborative, and focused on those who will be most affected in their daily lives. Every voice matters.

    • Sustainability: We want to help create more sustainable, vibrant, and resilient communities.

  • Open Source Software: Other engagement platforms are for the most part run by extractive corporations using closed proprietary software. New/Mode exclusively builds tools using open source software.

  • Public Benefit Focus: In addition to its values and its dedication to building civic tech, New/Mode is also legally bound to work for “nonprofit, cooperative, or charitable organizations that create benefits for the communities that they serve”.

  • Collaborative Ownership Structure: New/Mode is partially owned by the non-profit organization OpenMedia in addition to other impact investors. All full-time staff members are provided with an ownership stake in the enterprise. New/Mode is also committed to provide all staff a living wage.

  • Participatory Operations: New/Mode has adopted OpenMedia’s operating principles and principles for crowdsourced engagement. Non-executive staff will have representation on the board of directors and are invited to participate in shareholders meetings by virtue of their ownership stake.

  • Network-based: Rather than looking at the world as a series of isolated enterprises and individuals, New/Mode sees its varied collaborators -- from advisers, to contractors, to non-profit customers of tools, to service providers -- as part of a shared cooperative network that is building value and a better future together. New/Mode tools are also designed to fuel empowered civic engagement and networked coalitions.

  • Contributing to the decentralized Open Web: New/Mode is building out and encouraging use of the open web amidst the growing dominance of closed platforms like Facebook. Beyond embracing open web standards/protocols and utilizing open source software, New/Mode is also committed to embracing Creative Commons licenses for all content it produces.

  • A Data Commons: New/Mode hopes to provide government/anonymized data as a shared public resource (rather than strictly a commodity) to help researchers and individuals better society.  (If you’re interested in this subject check out OpenMedia’s support for the Interplanetary Database.)

Good for the world, good for OpenMedia

New/Mode’s contribution to the public good should be clear from the above, but what does OpenMedia get for contributing expertise and software to this endeavor?

1. Free access to tools and code: NewMode is legally bound through a benefits agreement to provide source code to OpenMedia for us to use in anyway OpenMedia would like. OpenMedia has already put some of this code to use for recent and upcoming online tools. If you’ve taken action on one of our recent campaigns you’ve probably benefited from this code.

2.Donations: If New/Mode ever makes a surplus above operations it is bound to consider contributing dividends and up to 10% each year to OpenMedia’s charitable entity.

3. Equity: Thanks to our partners at Vancity Credit Union, OpenMedia has been granted a significant ownership stake in NewMode. The value in equity will (hopefully) increase over time.  

4. Technology resilience: OpenMedia now has a resilient technology and financial ecology. OpenMedia now has backup engagement tools and new CRM integrations at our disposal.

5.Strategic Insights: Since these tools are being used by other organizations there are increasingly useful campaign insights available to both OpenMedia and our broader network of collaborators.

The biggest challenge to making a better world is our inability to imagine how we might do things differently. If we can’t imagine a new mode of operation, a more fair and collaborative society, then we can’t build it either. At OpenMedia we’ve beat the odds in part because we didn’t give in to the naysayers who told us politics as usual could not be changed.

We allowed ourselves to imagine we could develop a collaborative tech ecosystem to empower people to reimagine democracy around the word. If you share that vision, you’re welcome to reach out to the project lead and one of the hardest working humans I’ve met, Shamus Reid ([email protected]).


Check out our other posts in this Under The Hood blog series:

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