Background & introduction
At a minimum, microsolidarity can be practiced with a small group of 3 or 4 people connecting regularly to get to know each other & support each other in pursuing their developmental goals. At the larger scale, many of these small groups can congregate into a larger body which can coordinate collective impact and manage shared infrastructure, like: amazing gatherings, co-working spaces, or experiments in collaborative finances.
The people who practice microsolidarity are motivated by a range of questions, like:
- How do we create a community that supports our growth?
- How do we cultivate high trust relationships in an organisation that mostly collaborates online?
- How do we activate more mutual aid, creativity & community within a local neighbourhood?
- How do we gradually develop the skills & relationships needed for high-stakes collaboration, e.g. starting a worker cooperative or building a co-housing village?
- How do we deepen intimacy and commitment in a loose network? E.g. developing real friendships and collaborations with people who only know each other through social media or through a conference.
- How do we create the high-trust culture necessary for a self-managing organisation to thrive?
There are many groups around the world practicing microsolidarity to create belonging in different ways. The principles are flexible and adapt to the specific needs of different groups. Some of the communities & networks currently using microsolidarity:
- Enspiral is a network of about 200 freelancers & entrepreneurs supporting each other to do more meaningful work. It’s the original community in which I learned how to do microsolidarity. We noticed that the people who get the most benefit from the Enspiral network have a solid sense of membership in a smaller group (e.g. 4-10 people in a company, project, or peer-support pod). This is why microsolidarity is focused on small groups.
- Cultural Catalyst Network is a community of practice for activists & changemakers exploring personal, interpersonal, and systemic transformation. They’re using microsolidarity in conjunction with therapeutic modalities like Internal Family Systems to do a kind of peer-to-peer counselling.
- Pico Island Congregation is a local land-based community with no digital dimension (in contrast to all the other examples here). They’ve been deepening relationships since 2020 and are now starting to activate practical projects on the island.
- Tangerine is a network of young professionals employed at UNFPA, experimenting with more decentralised, self-managing ways of working within the hierarchy of the United Nations. They use microsolidarity practices to create the foundation of trust required for effective self-management in the network.
Microsolidarity was initiated by me, Richard D. Bartlett, when I published the original proposal in 2018, announcing my intentions to start a small mutual aid community for people to do a kind of personal development, in good company, for social benefit. The plan struck a chord with a surprisingly large audience, so in 2020 I shifted focus, to not just build one community but to support many communities to form.
Over 2020 & 2021 my partner Nati Lombardo and I trained more than 200 people in the fundamentals of microsolidarity. I’ve also been working with about 15 community founders, accompanying them through the struggles and joys of establishing their own communities. The network has been developing mostly underground; I meet with community founders one at a time and occasionally publish interviews on YouTube. My intention for 2022 is to open up this network to be more public, so more people can come in and learn together and support each other directly without me being a bottleneck. To that end, I’ve published this new series of essays.
The baseline that all these microsolidarity communities share is an intention to create relationships of belonging. We do this through mutual support: giving and receiving care in reciprocal peer-to-peer exchange. We're forming groups where people have the sense that "I belong here; people know me & I know them; we have each other’s back; I know how to contribute."
Many of these communities also have an economic dimension. We tend to start with emotional intimacy (relationships of care and authenticity) and then progress to economic intimacy (sharing money, resources or practical support). If you want to do high-stakes economic collaboration, we recommend building up the skills, experience and trust with gradually escalating commitment e.g.
- Low intensity: coaching each other to reflect on your careers and take steps towards doing more meaningful work.
- Medium: freelancers share work opportunities with each other, collaborate on client projects, or share some of their income in a peer-to-peer solidarity fund.
- High: people in a land-based community share housing or other material resources.
As we escalate in commitment, we also escalate in group size. Read on...