The answers to our problems are local, and it is all about your reputation on bHive.
It took me a little while to understand Ian McBurney’s vision to connect the people of Bendigo (a regional town in Australia of 120,000 people) to one another, and to services and products they need using an online platform cooperative.
My trademark blunt, black-and-white response to Ian was, “Why don’t you just use Facebook? I mean EVERYONE is on Facebook and let’s face it—there is no escape from Facebook.”
Patiently, Ian explained to me that yes—there are models of “stuff sharing” on Facebook—but eventually it falls over—people begin to squabble over who gets what… “It’s because on Facebook,” Ian explains, “No one has a ‘reputation’ and there is no way to foster trust and belonging. And Facebook owns and sells your data.”
BHive is the online platform cooperative for Bendigo’s own sharing economy, pitched to the community of Bendigo last September by Ian and the bHive team. It’s a collective of innovative micro-businesses who are offering their expertise to create the online platform cooperative.
“When you sign up for bHive, it locates you at the centre of a neighborhood—about a 200-300m radius around your home,” Ian goes on to say. “It’s a village of people and this is where your reputation grows, as a part of a village. Using bHive Bendigo could build, operate and own our own sharing services in transport, money, skills, food, stuff, time, housing, logistics and more. We could remake our local economy and this time we benefit and for the long term.”
On Facebook, your profile is manicured and preened; it is for a fake life that doesn’t exist. “When you are a member of bHive, you won’t be putting up a post about a pretend life. It will be an online social network that is practical; sharing, organising and connecting people,” Ian smiles. “Your reputation on the platform will be about how well you share, organise and connect.”
Members of the bHive villages will be able to share things like babysitting and areas of common interest and have access to a sharing register of garden tools and, appliances. Then there will be services that have a cost set up at the Bendigo scale, like car sharing, skill sharing, stuff sharing and more as the platform develops.
Ian describes himself as a little bit crazy on the entrepreneurial journey to creating a new platform that has never existed before.
“At first, people refuse to believe that a strange new thing can be done, then they begin to hope it can be done, then they see it can be done—then it is done and all the world wonders why it was not done centuries ago.” –Frances Hodgson Burnett.
Ian is the father of three young children, and owner of a successful consultancy; working around Australia with business, government, in the health sector, communities and not-for-profits. “Live Ecological is about empowering people and organisations to operate with environmentally sustainable practices.”
“All OECD research proves that when businesses invest into sustainable practices, they will save money and they will make money. All available science says that ecological sustainability is our only available path anyway.”
“But even when saving money, only very special businesses will prioritise ecological sustainability because, in the end, they exist only to make money. So I’m working on the bHive because what we need is economic transformation. The problem is our economic system- which believes that money and profit are the ultimate and only outcome. People and place and the planet will always be sacrificed to money in the current system. The weird thing is that we continue to worship extractive growth even when most of the money is leaving the country anyway and feeding the billionaires. The answer is localism. It’s BHive. Local trade to benefit people and place.”
Does what Ian observe resonate with you? “Everyone is busy, time-poor and stressed and everyone’s budget has been cut.”
Courageously, this year Ian has placed his business on the backburner and stepped into a world of uncertainty, well out of his comfort zone, to get bHive platform off the ground. Ian is bravely offering his community a platform to re-think the economy, to re-think our use of time, resources and skills.
“The new economy is localism; local renewable energy, local food systems and local currencies. This concept gets me so excited and I don’t want to travel around anymore working in other organisations and communities—I want us to make this happen in my own life, for our own lives, in our own community.”
$80million is spent on power each year in Bendigo. “Our spending is leaving town. What would happen if our spending stayed here? We can create so much work here!” Ian proposes that thousands ?” Ian proposes that thousands of people would have opportunities for work in Bendigo if we generated our own renewable energy and exported this energy.
However, he is careful to back this vision up. “We don’t want to be a business brought out by a global business—for our community to thrive we need to be local for the long term. Local needs matched with local skills. This is in stark contrast to companies such as Uber and Airbnb, who identify themselves within the sharing economy—sharing labour and spaces. Ian says, “Those platforms are not sharing—they are using people and their stuff for rentals without employment benefits or paying tax.” He calls them value-extracting beasts.
“The bulk of the value they generate goes to investors and management who live far away from the worldwide communities in which they operate.”
“The platform cooperative, like Bhive, overcomes the problems of these well-known enterprises, because the people who use the platform, own it too. Imagine that Uber was owned and run by its’ drivers, or that Airbnb was owned and run by its’ hosts. Platform cooperatives allow local owner-operators to protect their local economy, community and their environment.”