Tap the Care Work Market
Yes! Magazine, by John Duda
Many people worry—with good reason—that cooperatives won’t be able to compete with traditional corporations without abandoning their social mission. But focusing on cooperatives as market-driven enterprises might be a mistake. In Italy, social co-ops are on the rise, not as a way to produce goods and services for sale, but as a way to more effectively deliver social services.
Zamagni explains that bureaucratic welfare services were high-cost and low-quality, so citizens started self-organizing to deliver key care-related services themselves, which the government then helped formalize with new laws for multi-stakeholder cooperatives. This allowed caregivers and those receiving care to work together to govern the delivery of services.
The results have been impressive. In Bologna, for instance, as much as 85 percent of the city’s social services are provided through social co-ops. Some of the most interesting segments in the film WEconomics: Italy, which profiles Bologna’s co-op economy, revolve around social co-ops. The filmmakers take us inside a child care cooperative and an equally vibrant elder care cooperative. Both are workplaces built around compassion—not profit—and are designed with the interests of workers and those receiving care in mind. Here, cooperatives are community institutions that humanize social services in a way that neither state nor market mechanisms alone could.
Care work is already a key sector for the much smaller U.S. worker-co-op movement, accounting for somewhere close to a third of the 7,000 or so worker-owners in the United States. But the Italian example shows we can think a lot bigger.