Rebuilding Ecuador's economy with open source principles

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Here’s a development that could have enormous global implications for the search for a new commons-based economic paradigm. Working with an academic partner, the Government of Ecuador has launched a major strategic research project to "fundamentally re-imagine Ecuador" based on the principles of open networks, peer production, and commoning.

I am thrilled to learn that my dear friend Michel Bauwens, founder of the P2P Foundation and my colleague in the Commons Strategies Group, will be leading the research team for the next ten months. The project seeks to "remake the roots of Ecuador’s economy, setting off a transition into a society of free and open knowledge."

The announcement of the project and Bauwens’ appointment was made on Wednesday by the Free/Libre Open Knowledge Society, or FLOK Society, a project at the IAEN national university that has the support of the Ministry of Human Resource and Knowledge in Ecuador. The FLOK Society bills its mission as "designing a world for the commons."

The research project will focus on many interrelated themes, including open education; open innovation and science; 'arts and meaning-making activities'; open design commons; distributed manufacturing; and sustainable agriculture; and open machining. The research will also explore enabling legal and institutional frameworks to support open productive capacities; new sorts of open technical infrastructures and systems for privacy, security, data ownership, and digital rights; and ways to mutualize the physical infrastructures of collective life and promote collaborative consumption.

The FLOK Society project builds on a larger, preexisting national development vision that Ecuador has been pursuing. You should check out the impressive government report, National Plan for Good Living, 2009-2013. (A new plan for 2014 and beyond has recently been released, but only in Spanish.) If you browse through this amazing document you will find a penetrating critique of the neoliberal trade vision and its skewed ideas about development—a refreshing alternative to the usual prescriptions peddled by the World Bank.

The Ecuador development report does not focus on juicing up economic growth, exploiting nature, and privatizing public resources, but on the idea of bien vivir, or "good living." The nation is self-consciously seeking to develop a paradigm change that focuses on a different "cosmovision" for "living life to the fullest." It’s worth quoting a few paragraphs from the report to get a sense of how far advanced and innovative this small country really is. Below is a passage from the chapter, "Change of Paradigm: From Development to Good Living":

The prevalent concept of ‘development’ is undergoing a profound crisis. In part this is only due to the colonial perspective from which the concept is derived. But it is also a result of its failure throughout the world. The present global crisis has demonstrated that it is impossible to maintain the current patterns of accumulation. For the south, it has meant an extractivist and devastating path to development, with unequal relations of power and trade with the north. Moreover the unlimited consumption patterns derived from this model are leading the entire plant to collapse, given that the biosphere is unable to ensure its capacity for regeneration. It is essential, therefore, to promote new modes of production, consumption and organization of life and coexistence.

The report goes on to explain the concept of "good living" and how it differs from the worldview implicit in the standard development vision:

The Andean indigenous peoples have contributed to this debate [about development] by applying other epistemologies and cosmovisions. One of their greatest contributions is the notion of sumac kawsay, 'life to the fullest.' The notion of development is inexistent in these people’s cosmovision since the future is behind us because the concept implies something we do not look at or know. In the Andean vosmovision, the past is in front of us; we see it, we know it, it is ours and we walk with it...

The concept of "good living" necessarily resorts to the idea of 'us'. The community shelters, protects, demands; it is the basis for the reproduction of that collective subject that each and every one of us is. That is why humans are conceived as one part of a whole that cannot be understood only as a sum of its parts. The whole is present in each being and each being in the whole. 'The universe is permanent; it has always existed and will always be here; it is born and dies in itself and only time can change it' (Kichwa saying). This is why harm to nature is to harm ourselves. Sumak kawsay, or life to the fullest, transmits this cosmosvision...

This is taking "development" back to basics. It does not simply assume—as the "developed world" does—that more iPhones and microwave ovens will bring about prosperity, modernity and happiness. The report goes on to critique the philosophical errors of neoliberal political philosophy and to set forth specific objects for fostering "social and territorial equality, cohesion, and integration with diversity."

I mention all this as a context to Michel Bauwens’ research project. Here is the official announcement released by the FLOK Society earlier this week:

In the first semester of 2014, Bauwens will assist in setting up a global network of transition researchers. The P2P Foundation is a global network of researchers that is documenting the shift towards open, participatory and commons-oriented practices in every domain of human activity, but especially also the shift from collaboration on open knowledge and code, towards cooperation in open design, open hardware, open science, open government, and the shift towards open agricultural and open machining practices that have great potential for increasing the productivity and sustainability of farming and industrial processes.

Ecuador is the first country in the world which is committing itself to the creation of a open commons knowledge based society. In order to achieve the transition to a buen saber, or 'good knowledge' society, which is an extension of the official strategy towards a buen vivir-based society, the Advanced Studies Institute (IAEN by its Spanish initials) in Quito, Ecuador, led by the rector Carlos Prieto, has initiated a strategic process, called the FLOK Society Project, which aims to organize a major international conference in March 2013, and will produce ten strategic documents proposing transition policies towards the good knowledge society, which will be presented to the Ecuadorian citizens through intensive participatory processes, similar to those that took place for the establishment of the new Constitution and the ambitious National Plans, which set the guidelines for government policy.

While Buen Vivir aims to replace mindless accumulative economic growth to a form of growth that directly benefits the well-being of the Ecuadorian people, Buen Saber aims to create the open knowledge commons which will facilitate such a transition. FLOK stands for 'Free Libre and Open Knowledge'. In order to establish these transition policies and documents, IAEN has connected itself with the global hacker and free software movement, but also with its extension in the many peer to peer initiatives that directly aim to create a body of knowledge for physical production in agriculture and industry.

The P2P Foundation knowledge base has also focused on documenting new policy and legal frameworks being set up by sharing cities such as Seoul, San Francisco, and Naples; and regions such as Bordeaux, Open Commons Region Linz in Austria, South Sudan, the Cabineto Digital of Rio del Sur, and more. Its database of 22,000 global commons initiatives has been viewed nearly 25 million times and attracts 25,000 researchers, activists, users, and readers on a daily basis.

In March, the P2P Foundation organized a ‘global hispanic wikisprint,’ with the help of Spanish-Brazilian activist Bernardo Gutierrez, in which more than registered 500 individuals and collectives, in more than 60 cities and 23 countries, mapped the open, p2p, sharing and commons initiatives in their region and areas of activities, resulting in a Latin American network of connected activists and scholars.

IAEN believes that the connection between the hacktivism communities, the FLOK Society, and the global and Hispanic networks active in constructing open commons will be vital to create a synergy with the local actors of Ecuadorian society, and will help us accomplish the mayor goal we have set for ourselves as a country.

Update: Here is the blog post by Bethany Horne about joining the FLOK Society effort to provide communications support in Spanish and English.

Originally posted on David Bollier's blog. Reposted under Creative Commons.

6 Comments

Adamskiec's picture

I'm looking forward to seeing how they make use of this project.
Just a small example of what confuses me..... it's almost impossible to get a decent job here without a degree, and once you have that degree your pretty much limited to working in the same subject as the degree you were trained in. It stops people from being able to make career changes, makes adult education difficult and it's going to be hard for Ecuadorians to see any benefit to 'open knowledge' if they can't use it.
It's hard to be honest without seeming offensive but Ecuadorians appear to suffer from extreme competitiveness. Maybe it' just in the IT industry, I don't know, but open knowledge and open development is not going to travel far unless the concept of sharing both knowledge and responsibility becomes more prominent. Like I say, not meaning to be offensive but the ideals of 'open' living are great... if they can be accepted.

markus petz's picture

Does that comment apply to people with degrees in Sustainability science, natural resource management or ethnography? Does it apply at the post grad level? I can see this can be a problem in some countries.
But that you can get a job is quite good, in many parts of the world that is not so - check out Waithood for the Arab world and in Spain, Greece and many other European countries there are large swathes of the populations who despair of any kind of full time job.

Adamskiec's picture

I never mentioned I can get a job here in Ecuador; this has been the exact problem. I have 18 years experience in IT and consider myself one of the 80's "bedroom" programmers but don't have a degree. I'm only finding work here through other expats who have had bad experiences trying to get reliable work done by Ecuadorian companies.

I have a regular contact that provides me with maybe one or two project parts every three months. Each time I visit their office the two post-graduate developers working there end up picking my brains for solutions to problems they've had sat on their desks for two weeks, sometimes longer. Being the kind of person I am and to maintain the odd bits of work they pass me I'm happy to help out but neither of these developers would ever pass me on to further contacts and are even reluctant to share knowledge between the two of them. I would love to say it is just the way this company is, but the last six medium sized companies I have done work for have all been the same. It does start to come across that many Ecuadorians would rather spend their time trying to put down the skills and work of others than actually developing together and improving things between themselves. They just don't see the benefits of working together.

I'm a British expat trying to keep a family going in Ecuador and struggling to say the least. My wife of 9 years is Ecuadorian and I have two Ecuadorian daughters. Unlike many other expats I didn't come here with swathes of money intending to live the high life because everything was cheaper. I have to work very hard for a basic standard of living and so far most Ecuadorians have been happy to try and keep my involvement out until it's needed. Again, no offense intended but it's an obstacle to be overcome if 'openness' and true results in development are to be achieved.

markus petz's picture

A familiar story for many expats in many countries around the world. Skills are not recognized and the foreignness is made a barrier when it need not be. Maybe you can be involved with Michel and what he is doing - are you in contact with him - say tru facebook?

MISTYxavier's picture
Newbie

"... economic growth to a form of growth that directly benefits the well-being of the people"

Exactly the economy is the focal point of every nation. Every individual will benefit a lot when ones' economy is progressive. Latin America so is South America is in great grief over economic downturn for the past years. One indication that the economy is growing is through Consumer Price Index report. CPI is an economic indicator.This is widely use to measure inflation. Business executives, labor leaders, and other private citizens also use the CPI as a guide in making economic decisions.

Marcus Petz's picture

CPI DOES NOT mean the economy is growing as it can mean inflation is growing. An example of this is the value of shares - a higher share index may mean large devaluation in real terms.
What do you mean by a progressive economy? This? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_progressivism