January 18 2024 GM

From TCU Wiki
Glitter Meetups

Platform Cooperativism In India

Sapni will share the history behind cooperative movements in India, her mixed research method in borrowing from such history and culture to assess and use policy to build a feminist future of work.

Featured guest bio: Sapni GK is a lawyer and policy researcher based in India. She studies the effects of technology on society, and works on understanding how to use policy and regulation to improve the outcomes. She has worked on a spectrum of technology policy related issues, ranging from tech geopolitics, data governance, regulation of algorithms, surveillance and effects of technology on labour in India and the larger world, often employing a feminist lens for her analyses. She is a 2022-’23 Open Internet for Democracy Leader and works as the Policy Programs Manager at Youth Ki Awaaz.

What is Glitter Meetup?

Glitter Meetup is the weekly town hall of the Internet Freedom community at the IF Square on the TCU Mattermost, at 9am EST / 2pm UTC. It is a text-based chat where digital rights defenders can share regional and projects updates, expertise, ask questions, and connect with others from all over the world! Do you need an invite? Learn how to get one here.


Can you give us a little background on the research on platform Coorperatism in India? And maybe how you found yourself researching this as well.

Sure. Mid-2021 I was working as a tech policy researcher, looking at the impact and policy and regulation in various social settings and I came across a white paper released by the Government of Kerala, the state in India that I was brought up in. It was building up a new economic model for knowledge workers in the state, and while critically analyzing this policy proposition I came across the concept. Platform cooperativism was a relatively new model of organisation building in Kerala (still is, across the globe!). Not only is it worker-owned, but also worker-designed and worker-shaped. It is in stark contrast to the corporate model of platforms that we are all used to and breaths fresh life into worker-owned cooperatives, which are increasingly shrinking in numbers. There aren't a lot of platform cooperatives in India, but the idea is transformative in the sense that a governmental of a state wants to support and encourage a novel alternative to in an otherwise exploitative economic model.

From your research, how is platform coorperatism understood by say people you engaged with? Can you also share examples of some initiatives that are trying to use this model if there are any?

The idea of cooperativism is quite well-understood in India. Beneficiary-owned cooperatives are very prevalent in the credit sector in India. People are not as aware that they can flip the platform narrative to their benefit through cooperative ownership. In my paper you had shared earlier, I have profiled one of these initiatives, called Kerala Taxi. There are some other initiative that were piloted in the beauty services sector in Gujarat, India. Some people use Whatsapp to cooperatively run farmers markets in certain rural and tribal communities of Western India. MycoolClass, an Indonesian virtual academy operates on the principles of platform cooperativism. I've also heard of a Pakistani Interactive Voice Response based platform (essentially a telephonic platform) that attempted to utlise cooperative principles in the domestic work sector. You can find more projects here where the Platform Cooperative Consortium has documented various global cooperative initiatives that try to work towards platform cooperativism.

You mentioned legal frameworks are needed to supports coorperativism, what are some of the legal frameworks that have to exist or exist for the platform economy to support and amplify cooperatives in India? I.e create a stronger community owned economy and space. And what are the challenges that exist that we need to navigate to build such robust community owned businesses?

The current legal frameworks around cooperatives is very compliance-heavy and still reeks of colonial attitudes towards cooperatives. It fails to adequately consider the rapid growth in migration to urban locations for employments and the rise of the services sector as against traditional dependence on the agrarian economy. The legal framework has to be amended to update these social realities. The social and legal protections for platform workers is inadequate in India, which makes things easier for new businesses that come under the umbrella of "startups" but harder for cooperatives. The incentive structures should be levelled for cooperatives to compete fairly in these markets. Finally, I would argue that platform coops be given a separate corporate legal status (like one-person companies and producer companies which are distinct kinds of corporate bodies under Indian laws) to encourage them with specific positive policymaking so that the larger market can be made more competitive and more workers are empowered to be more entrepreneurial while maintaining their egalitarian values. The challenges of policy support, financial support and talent are huge hindrances, but my belief is that there are alternatives and communities always rise up to the occasion when a suitable ecosystem is nurtured for them.

Have you encountered cooperatives working on internet infrastructure?

While I have not researched it and I might be wrong due to poor memory, I have heard of them being considered as an alternative to connect certain rural communities in the African region and in Central America.

Are there pathways that you have seen where others in digital rights and technology can adopt some of these methods in other parts of the world??

The software development community has been increasingly using cooperativism for developing alternative corporate structures. There are some waves in the design communities as well. It would do very well for people in the digital rights space to adopt these technologies and work together with these smaller players. They also tend to contribute heavily to the general development of networked technologies, since a lot of these are open-sourced. A good way to think about it would be "to organize, uutilize and grow together".