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Social Finance and the Commons

Camille Meyer ()

ULB Institutional Repository from ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles

Abstract: The commons is a concept increasingly used by practitioners and social activists with the promise of creating new collective wealth (Bollier & Helfrich, 2014; De Angelis, 2003; Hardt & Negri, 2009; Klein, 2001). In recent years, a variety of scholarly research explained the different ways of organizing commons (Van Laerhoven & Ostrom, 2007). To that end, many streams of inquiry have emerged in various areas: organization theory (Ansari et al. 2013; Fournier, 2013; Tedmanson et al. 2015), institutional economics (Hess, C. & Ostrom, 2011; Ostrom, 1990, 2005, 2010), political philosophy and legal studies (Dardot & Laval, 2014; Holder and Flessas, 2008; Hardt & Negri, 2009), nonprofit studies (Aligica, 2016; Bushouse et al. 2016; Lohmann, 2014, 2016) and business ethics (Argandoña, 1998; Melé, 2009, 2012; O’Brien, 2009; Sison & Fontrodona, 2012; Solomon, 2004). However, these different theories are usually conceived and used separately. Empirical research on commons has mainly focused on natural resources at local and global levels (Ansari et al. 2013; Cody et al. 2015; Cox & Ross, 2011; Galaz et al. 2012; Ostrom, 1990, 2010; Poteete et al. 2010), and also on digital and scientific resources (Benkler, 2006; Boyle, 2008; Cook‐Deegan & Dedeurwaerdere, 2006; Coriat, 2015; Hess & Ostrom, 2011). Despite a long research tradition in local community organizations, there is little empirical scientific knowledge that uses the lens of the commons to study shared resources that are neither natural nor informational in nature. This dissertation aims to fill these gaps by analyzing social finance services and organizations from an interdisciplinary perspective. The aim is to understand whether communities can create financial commons. By analyzing the processes involved, the dissertation sheds light on the social and institutional components enabling the creation of human-made commons. We focus on community organizations linked to the solidarity economy movement in Brazil. Such movement aims to promote socio-economic alternative organizations, especially for poverty alleviation and inequality reduction.More specifically, the dissertation identifies the nature of two kinds of shared financial resources––microcredit services and complementary currencies––and looks at the functioning of community arrangements that provide them, the community components mobilized for creating commons organizations, and the institutional work strategies developed by intermediary organizations to adjust the scale of these social finance services.The dissertation is structured in four chapters, each of which addresses different research questions and uses different methods and units of analysis. The first chapter is conceptual and based on a literature review on complementary currencies in order to identify the commons dimensions of seven complementary currency systems. The second chapter is an in-depth single case study of Banco Palmas, a Brazilian community bank. This chapter analyzes the transformative power of governance on private goods when managed by self-governed grassroots organizations. Chapter three is a comparative case study of five community banks that focuses on the community components involved in creating commons as a grassroots response to contested market and state institutions. The final chapter focuses on the diffusion and institutionalization of social finance in Brazil and the role played by five intermediary organizations in this process.Starting from the observation that there is no definition of financial commons, Chapter 1 – Money and the Commons: Lessons from Complementary Currencies – proposes to assess the commons dimensions of monetary systems created and managed by local organizations. Specifically, we investigate the organizational features of seven complementary currency systems by making use of two main theoretical frameworks that are usually separate: the new commons in organization studies and the common good in business ethics. The findings show that these alternative monetary systems and organizations promote the common interest through the creation of new communities and can therefore be considered as commons according to the common good framework. Nevertheless, only systems relying on collective action and self-management fulfill the new commons framework. This allows us to suggest two new categories of commons: “social commons”, which fulfills both the new commons and the common good frameworks, and the “commercial commons”, which that fulfill the common good but not the new commons framework. Building on this, we define an ethos of the commons as a principle that consists in organizing commons practices through both collective organization and ethical concern for human flourishing.Chapter 2 - A Case Study of Microfinance and Community Development Banks (CDBs) in Brazil: Private or Common Goods? - looks at how governance mechanisms of self-managed community organizations affect the characteristics of microcredit services. Based on field research in Brazil, this chapter uses Elinor Ostrom’s design principles of successful self-governing common-pool resource organizations to analyze community banks’ microcredit systems. Our results suggest that private goods could be altered when governed by community self-managed enterprises. They become hybrid goods because they mix the characteristics of private and common goods. This change is facilitated by specific organizational arrangements, such as self-governance, that emerge from grassroots dynamics and the creation of collective-choice arenas. These arrangements help strengthen the inclusion properties of nonprofit microcredit services.In order to identify what components enable commons creation, we conduct a comparative case study of five Brazilian community banks in Chapter 3 – Building Commons in Community Enterprise: The Case of Self-Managed Microfinance Organizations. We analyze how community enterprises create commons whereas market and state institutions reproduce exclusion and inequalities. Our results suggest that four components are required to establish a new organization of commons: collective decision-making, community social control, servant leadership, and desire for social change. Building on this, we develop a model of commons organization and explain why these organizations are substitutes for existing marginalizing institutions. This study contributes to the literature by examining new elements for commons creation and shedding light on the emergence of new institutional arrangements for social change. Finally, after looking at commons institutional arrangements at local level in communities, we examine how commons organizations diffuse, institutionalize and organize in networks for consolidating their activities. Chapter 4 - Institutional Change and Diffusion in Institutional Plurality: The Case of Brazil’s Solidarity Finance Sector – explains how intermediary organizations help in this process. More precisely, we analyze the institutional work strategies deployed by five intermediary organizations in the Brazilian plural institutional context, where autonomous local state agencies and banks influence community banks' activities. We show how intermediary organizations support the institutionalization of community development banks (CDBs) through diffusing these organizations in different communities, performing external institutional work with governments and public banks at national and local levels, and accomplishing internal institutional work through structuring CDBs and CDB networks.

Keywords: Social finance; Commons; Common good; Community enterprise; Organization theory; Institutional theory; Business ethics; Qualitative methods (search for similar items in EconPapers)
New Economics Papers: this item is included in nep-hme, nep-mfd and nep-pay
Date: 2017-04-21
Note: Degree: Doctorat en Sciences économiques et de gestion
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Handle: RePEc:ulb:ulbeco:2013/249622