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Cooperative offers a local solution to global problems


16 November 2020 at 5:25 pm
Luke Michael
Advocates believe a new community-owned platform will create a local economy that looks after people and the environment   


Luke Michael | 16 November 2020 at 5:25 pm


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Cooperative offers a local solution to global problems
16 November 2020 at 5:25 pm

Advocates believe a new community-owned platform will create a local economy that looks after people and the environment   

A regional Victorian city is trialling a new online sharing platform that aims to build a sense of belonging and generate community connections. 

Bendigo residents are the first in the world to use the Villages platforms, which has been launched by local cooperative bHive.

Users set up and add people to their own personal online Village, where they can share things such as tools, furniture, skills, vegetables and meals. People can also message other users privately, make public posts, and set up events.

Ian McBurney, the executive director of bHive, said the platform was about creating “an epidemic of belonging”.

“Pre-COVID there was a large number of people for whom loneliness and social isolation was a big problem [and] I think we’ve all had a taste of this over the past six months. Villages is an online tool that brings us together,” McBurney said.

“Early 2000s research by the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies shows that having strong connections in our local community is better for our health than giving up smoking, alcohol and fat and adds 10 years to lifespan.”

McBurney told Pro Bono News that while society faced many challenges around environmental, social and economic issues, the solutions to these global problems should be local.

“The issues we face are huge and only going to get bigger, but the answer to all of them is local economic development,” he said.

“With bHive, we want to create meaningful local work, we want localised spending, we want to fix economic inequality by localising ownership and we want to create a local economy that looks after people and place.”    

McBurney added that they would use the Villages platform to spread the idea of people setting up their own local cooperatives.

He said the cooperative sector should see this as a chance to build their audience.

“We’re hoping there’ll be a whole lot of other places that’ll say ‘hey, let’s set up Villages’ and then ‘let’s set up our own bHive co-operative’ so they can localise the ownership, governance and income from the Villages,” he said. 

“If you’ve got a successful cooperative in your town, whether it’s in supermarkets or or taxis or whatever, you can put Villages underneath that and you can use it to grow the local co-op business.” 

Villages is understood to be the world’s first community-owned place-based online platform.

The platform has a strong focus on privacy, with no advertising, selling of data or bots (fake profiles).

“There are community platforms out there that are owned by global venture capital backed businesses. But they will sell people’s data and try and monetise the platform,” McBurney said.

“We’re a not-for-profit cooperative, so we won’t be doing anything like that.”

While Villages was only launched this month, there are already plans for it to be rolled out nationally in 2021 if successful.

McBurney said if it can work in Bendigo it can work anywhere in the world.

“We’ve already got a list of 30 local places that do want to set up a [Village]. But we’ve just said we need to hold off [for now] because we need to trial this first in a local area,” he said. 

“After that, anything’s possible.”    


Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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