We should not become an NGO

I’ve been wanting to post this but struggling to know where everyone might read it and understand, especially the people who need to read it most. I will try to send a link to people for attention.

I can’t glean anything much about this plan to start a PAYF cafe at the Warehouse on Mondays. What I have gathered is there is an idea to create a CIC (community interest company) and apply for grants in order to run it on a voluntary basis.

I have thought about this and I am opposed to it’s existence and think it’s absolutely the opposite of what we ought to be doing. I completely understand WHY people may think it’s a logical progression to our project but it takes on the worst aspects of it in the sense that we are being co-opted into the NGO model and become a kind of charity that aids the state rather than attempts to highlight it’s failures.

To me a mutual aid project must not simply fill the gaps for the state but be in opposition to it. The reason we don’t ask for information or referrals or have any criteria for our receiving food, for example, is to highlight the fact that many food banks and similar DO have to do this because of the way their funding works. To make sure they are helping the ‘right’ people. We could easily fall into this by applying for grants.

Applying for grants leaves you beholden to whomever grants you that money. There’s always a catch. Perhaps there are greater and lesser evils on this but it is a slippery slope in my view. This is why we previously discussed a membership model which would express a more mutual and accountable way of financing our ventures. Grants do not empower us.

To make ourselves an official organisation leaves us open to intervention by the state. A CIC may have it’s board recalled entirely by the government if they see fit. Even if this does not happen often to me it is an example of vulnerablity, a muzzle we fix onto ourselves. Charities/NGOs are inherently non-political. We should be political, we are doing this for political reasons.

We explicitly did not collaborate with BCC in any formal way because we wanted to show them up. In many ways we did - our operations were signficiantly more successful despite our lesser capacity.

To continue - I don’t necessarily oppose a PAYF cafe in and of itself but I am against formalising the organisation, applying for grants without full scrutiny of where the money is coming from and democratic process and if this is going to go ahead I would like to distance it from Cooperation Birmingham and Solidarity Kitchen.

I’m aware organisational capacity and meeting attendance have been low. However, we should seek to operate democratically. If people want to argue for this to go ahead as part of the project then they should be given opportunity to do that. As it is, there’s no democratic mandate for it so it can’t be a part of our project in my view.

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I think you raise very important points and I agree with most of what you write. I already raised my concerns a few weeks ago that all this process of incorporation of Cooperation Birmingham had not been transparent enough. However, the last meetings have been very poorly attended and the people who were apparently going on with the PAYF cafe plan haven’t been responsive even after I wrote this on the signal group more than two weeks ago:

“I am personally in favour of having our own bank account and being legally constituted (what is a CIC though?). I know it was discussed in some meetings, but it feels like a big step with some important decisions to be made. I think the process be a bit more transparent. I can’t find any post in the forum explaining the process… Could you post the details in the forum so people can give feedback and decide if they want to join the working group?”

I think we need to improve our internal communication, but it seems obvious to me that something so important as becoming a CIC shouldn’t be done without a major consultation and a consensus-based decision which effectively involves all members who wish to keep being active.

To clarify my position at the moment, I believe incorporating and having our own bank account would be a positive step as it would provide some legal infrastructure and bring extra transparency (the fundraiser for example is linked to Ben’s personal bank account I think. And he’s done an amazing job, I fully trust him, but it’s not a desirable situation…). However, after learning what is a CIC and reading Dylan’s points, I totally oppose that Cooperation Birmingham becomes one. I am not an expert, but I would favour the incorporation as some type of non-for-profit coop, which would be much more aligned with our political values and goals.

Regarding grants, I am not opposed to them in theory, as long as they are unconditional. In other words, I am practically opposed to all grants, but if we find some specific opportunity that will not affect our ethos and practices I don’t see why we can’t apply for that.

Hey all,

I just wanted to write a response in terms of how companies work and function and what the goals of our organisation is. In terms of co-operation birmigham earlier in the year we had some diagrams explaining how co-operation birmingham could fit into a wider schema of co-operative organisations in the city and how it could relat to other co-operation birmingham activies Organisational structure: open discussion

I think we should be clear in our assessments of where our activities fell as a group and although we have met as a co-op brum group over the course of the year our practical activities were centred around the solidarity kitchen they were largely shaped by the tasks and logistical activities which occurred day to day. We had some activities around mask making but coordination between coop brum and mask making was held together by only two people – me and stef, likewise coop cycle quickly became peripheral and the newsletter wasn’t able to take on it’s own life. I think there is an extent to which we should review these activities and see what we think a co-operative mutual aid organisation should focus on and where it should go.

We have a difficult task to balance when it comes to balancing being a mutual aid organisation with longer term existinance. Disaster mutual aid such as the first weeks of the pandemic is often made possible by widespread generosity from lots of people in terms of no strings donations however for long term existance we need to think about income and funding to pay for our activities, that is unless we think about things like squatting or growing our own products to offset those costs. But without any real scale those strategies will run into their own problems.

I mention all these problems to point out that my feeling is that the issue isn’t the legal or corporate for that some/ all of our activities take, but rather what we focus on and how we effectively link them together. I am wary of our activities and participants becoming too siloed from each other and think we could focus on socials like we did in the summer to bring people together and to allow for broader conversations. I do think though that if we get too bogged down in how any individual part of the organisation is functioning even if it was incorporated as a co-operative we could see it performing a charitable or ngo style role – the focus should be on a interconnected series of processes which mutually support each other. I think the first step for that is to map what we’ve done so far, what worked what didn’t and then go from there.

I am in agreement that we shouldn’t become an NGO, but I also don’t see ‘we’ as just the solidarity kitchen, and I don’t see the legal form as the same as ‘we’ either. We should be prepared to use the states legal forms in ways that are useful to us but intead of reducing ourselves to that build our own governance system here on the forum and in meetings.

Sorry amelia if that ended up being more philsophical than what I talked about in the meeting but my intention is to show that all though there might be some issues in the disjointed way the CIC was started I don’t think it’s the worst thing and as paul and cecile expliained in the meeting it was under £30 so not a problem if we don’t proceed in using it but likewise I don’t think that form should be our centre. People can look to corporations which use shell companies with great abandon to fulfill their core goals – quite often the problem with these things is that people see a lot more in the legal form when what has been the driving force for us has been our meetings and social ties and our daily practical activities.

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This has really been on my mind a lot recently!

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Two very interesting articles people will find relevant to the conversation :

https://blackflagsydney.com/article/21 ’ why we are against mutual aid’ black flag sydney

and a repsonse:

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