Michel Bauwens: Dear Sybille, tell us something about your general background and what motivated your engagement in the Valeureux and Wezer projects?
Sybille Saint Girons: Why do humans, full of good qualities and wishing for happiness, not manage to live together in harmony? That is the question that triggered me from a very young age. I went to a Freinet School where diversity, creativity and collaboration were normal, and it was a painful shock to discover elsewhere there was competition, censorship and insecurity. As a creator of organisational customised software, I perceived computing as a way to connect people through sharing information and thoughts on their need for action. It was a first step toward cooperation; the challenge was to overcome resistance and awaken new behaviours at the dawn of the information society.
At the same time, I explored different horizons in today’s world to understand how our common problems were solved elsewhere. Some tribal peoples inspired me with their common sense and practical style of cooperation. Sciences such as computing, geometry, physics, and biomimicry combined with ancestral wisdom and the field of Human Potential have expanded my outlook and revealed some useful principles.
Writing my MBA thesis, I validated that neither cooperation nor trust can be imposed; rather, they emerge when the right conditions are present. I realized that corporate and even grassroots contexts were not often conducive conditions. Since then I have focused on creating these favourable conditions, interlacing my various experiences (sailing, filming, home construction, MBA action-research, big European IT projects…), my learning (Neuro-semantic, Sociocracy, Holacracy, energy, shamanic and psychological therapies…) and an open mind to research the fringes of subjects such as governance, currencies, evaluation, education, health.
This thirst also comes from my personal need for well being. A severe health diagnosis at the age of 21 made me focus on the essentials, and the resulting partial blindness in 2008 obliged me to mutate completely. Today I am alive thanks to an inexplicable force which also drives me to attentively explore and joyfully serve individuals and collectives.
I call this ontogogy; from onto- (being) and -gogy (leading), which means guiding through the dynamics of transformation and creating the conditions to synergize our diversity. More concretely, I design and engineer cooperation processes, tools, games for the commons. Wezer is the fruit of my journey.
MB: Can you explain what the Valeureux Association is about? In the online material you mention the work of Jean-Francois Noubel, what is the linkage exactly? Who are you working with, not just in individual terms but as ‘social forces’ that you are aligned with? What is your specific relation to concepts such as the sharing economy, P2P and the commons?
SSG: The Valeureux Association started from a common will to manifest Jean-François Noubel’s propositions in ‘real life’. From an informal collective of 10 utopians, it is now a legal non-profit organisation based in Paris. We now understand that it is a “Factory of common good and wealth actualisation tools”. Its purpose is to “reveal, attune and share all forms of wealth in the service of Life”. Its mission is to ‘actualize’ wealth, making it visible, renewing and deploying its potential. Valeureux develops and shares cooperation processes (governance, currencies, evaluation, collective intelligence, human development) with citizens associations and social organizations in France and Europe through conferences, workshops, games, training, software and consulting. It offers professional quality services to solidarity economy actors. Most of its activities are gift-based, but contracts are used to ensure clarity. Valeureux applies to itself first what it promotes to others.
We are nourished and inspired by various thinkers, doers and edge-riders, not belonging to any one school of thought. We are working with courageous organisations and individuals, legal or otherwise, large or small, with a shared intent to act toward a “fair and joyful society”.
We practice “experience before talk”, “walk your talk and take one step at a time”, “wealth is here, let’s reveal it”, “leadership is required, let’s distribute it”, “include and transcend efficiency & resilience”, “ancient & present & innovation”, “I & we & environment”, “human & techno”.
We are connected with many, many networks in Paris, Europe, and worldwide. It’s a long list, mainly transition oriented projects in various fields. Each of us is a social networking hub in our own right!
Today, Wezer is starting to dynamise our networks by offering a space of discussion, creation, cooperation but in the commons, which means open source, and sovereign and independent from money control. We are gathering providers (Community Forge, Koina, Comeety, Yilnius, Sensorica, Enspiral…), inspiring groups (Fair, Commons, P2P Foundation), geeks (OCA, Simplon, Fing), cooperatives (Mutual Aid Network, FairCoop, P2P Value, Symba, Coop-cité, Copaname…) and communities (Ouishare, Essé 20e, Compagnons de la reinvention, Alternatiba, EGPC, G1000, coworking spaces, ecovillages…).
MB: Can you explain more about the Wezer collaborative platform, which I understand is an open source platform for the solidarity and cooperative economy? How far has this project progressed in practical terms?
SSG: Wezer is an open source cooperation platform to bring together all the functions to cooperate together today. It is based on the open source Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) framework “Odoo” which already does many of the functions that communities and non-profit organisations need. We’ve created a few new modules to include social innovation such as multiple currencies, reputation system and fractal groups. We are not really inventing anything, just modelling and connecting the best processes on one platform. One useful tool is the “participatory project management”: with 1 click, tasks can be posted to the marketplace, where volunteers can see how to help. The systems support negotiation over process and price, without annoying emails, then the task goes through a workflow before assessment and payment. Wezer increases efficiency and clarity and reduces data entry, silo effect, and energy dispersion.
We launched the prototype last May and tested it since. We received financial support from a French partner “Chant des possibles” that has allowed us to pay professionals to dress-up Wezer, as Odoo more recently contains a CMS. We are now implementing version 1.0 in the 4 pilot communities who are attempting the Wezer adventure as partners: FairCoop, a new kind of cooperative in Catalonia; Mutual Aid Network, a new kind of cooperative based in Madison (USA) which reward contributions with economic and social cooperation tools; Coud’à Coude, a social sharing club in Paris; SEL Audonien, the largest LETS in France.
We are also consolidating our two internal platforms, structuring our team and processes to serve the many communities now using Wezer.
Our next steps are to weave “wealth actualizer” partnerships with international actors so we can develop the emergence modules (deliberation, democracy, governance…), create Wezer kits tailored to specific situations (ecovillages, COOP, SCIC, third places, business networks, towns…) and serve more communities. We are also looking for financial support. The needs are so burning, the solutions so close and shared, I am confident we will forget our habits of competition and co-create sovereign tools as a commons for all.
MB: Do you have a broader vision and other projects that are in preparation in addition to Valeureux and Wezer? In other words, what’s next?
SSG: Last year, another wholehearted project started: an intentional community in the south of France. TERIS is an experience and research camp for sustainable innovation. Jules, my 28-years-old son, his edge-rider friends and I are building a place where we can live the dream we yearn for; we’re not waiting for some future paradise. It will be in harmony with the experience I’m promoting, and, of course, a place to host pioneers, trainers, seekers, transitioners, to weave together solutions, to live well in all dimensions.
I have a broader vision for Valeureux: to become an “Open University of Cooperation” where each profession in service of organizations is an opportunity to train, rehabilitate and graduate the activists of tomorrow.
This service will also help us to consolidate our existing model by receiving grants to host trainees / rehabilitants, and prevent Valeureux from becoming a mere software shop.
In partnership with other collectives, including TERIS, I wish to deliver “Citizen Wealth Actualizer” courses. I am already maturing the idea with other utopians. It must include all the necessary topics to create a fair and joyful society for all: agro-ecology, eco-building, governance, economics, computer science, facilitation, foreign languages, business management, design, etc., and personal development.
On a personal level, I will restart hosting womens’ circles and painting. Moreover, now that my fourth collective book is published (“Collective Intelligence, lets co-create consciously the world of tomorrow”, written collectively by 7 collective intelligence experts), I am driven to share my story to inspire people, and to help them find an inner space where they can dare to act without having to wait for the perfect conditions. This new step, initiated last November in Lithuania, frightens me because I don’t want to lapse into boasting of my achievements nor have audiences pitying my ailments; just to speak from the heart with courage. In the same spirit, I may step on public responsibilities, as France is deeply suffering on many levels and lacking in enlightened leaders.
I fear first the prevailing politically-correct-fascism, and second the intensity of involvement without any certitude of outcome. I am these days in Bali having a retreat to understand where life wants me to go, and breathing in courage and faith.
Thanks, Michel, for this opportunity you have given me to express and share!