The Central Cooperativa de Servicios Sociales del Estado Lara -- Cecosesola -- is a social network of about sixty cooperatives and grassroots organizations in the Venezuelan state of Lara. Its cooperatives provide funeral services, healthcare, community-backed loans and many other services to about 20,000 members. Its food production and distribution system extends across five states, and sells US$70 million worth of food a year at prices 30% below the market. One of Cecosesola's proudest achievements is its health network and health center, the Centro Integral Cooperativo de Salud, a self-governed hospital that serves 220,000 patients every year without conventional hierarchical management and at fees 60% cheaper than private alternatives.
As a networked enterprise, Cecosesola is perhaps most notable for its highly participatory, trust-based social processes that are used to coordinate the work of more than 1,300 cooperative associates (2017). Thousands of others who have dealings with the Cecosesola network are also affected by its distinctive culture.
As one Cecosesola member describes its organizational ethic:
"We try to transcend the individualistic and selfish behavior we all tend to have. This facilitates the transcending of the emotions and the logic that rule our society: hierarchical relationships, fragmentation, discrimination, sectarianism, and the accumulation of power, wealth and knowledge. That is why we have no managers, no directors nor any hierarchical structures."
"Our main purpose centers around the development of an educational process based on a permanent analysis and reflection about our daily life experiences."
# Legal Status and Location?
Self-Organized Hospital by S.H. CC BY SA
# When did it start?
Cecosesola was founded in 1967 in Barquisimeto, the capital of Lara, by some people who were concerned that, upon their deaths, their families would not be able to cover their funeral expenses. They came together to form a cooperative-based funeral home -- and its success in that venture led to other cooperative efforts.
# How do they work?
In the 1980s, after its transport cooperative failed due to power struggles and after the head of its funeral service quit, Cecosesola embarked upon radically open and flexible of managing its businesses and "employees." As a 2010 coop report notes, "There are no chains of command; everyone has the opportunity to participate directly, without intermediaries; tasks are rotated among members and decisions are consensual." By its own charter, Cecosesola has no board of directors or hierarchical ranks. Any of its more than 20,000 associates can participate in meetings with the same rights.
What makes this extremely distributed process work is a "profound educational process" that informally engages people's personal attitudes and lives. The organization hosts many meetings that functions as informal get-togethers for which there are no moderators, the agenda is proposed spontaneously, and no final votes or conclusions are necessarily reached.
Instead of the command-and-control hierarchies found in typical organizations, Cecosesola is able to coordinate its work through a process of personal and cultural transformation among its associates, which is reflected in organizational processes. The culture is radically participatory, trust-based, and peer driven. "We are one big conversation," as one member put it. There is an aversion to self-serving, individual concentrations of power, and a great focus on constructive collective energies. The emphasis is on "fishing together," not on "giving fish to the people" or "teaching them how to fish."
An insightful set of interviews with four Cecosesola members describes how the group solidarity works, how trust and respect pervade the organization's culture, and how everyday decisions are made. See the book, Patterns of Commoning html
# Finances and Partnerships
To start its health center in March 2009, for which US$3 million were needed, Cecosesola raised US$1.8 million by selling fruit salads at the markets; by soliciting short-term, fixed interest deposits from cooperatives and individuals; and through consensus-based contributions made by all full-time staff.
Cecosesola is deeply committed to most of the dimensions of commoning, but especially to Cultivating Shared Purpose and Values, Situated knowing, Care-Honoring, and Strengthening the Nested-I. In the course of 3,000 meetings per year, and 250 joint encounters among members, the organizations hosts a kind of "permanent reflection process" to discuss business issues (prices to charge, problems needing attention) as well as personal and social solidarity issues. A paper examining Cecosesola's unusual culture is entitled, "Towards a Collective Mind?" html
Cecosesola's integrated culture of trust and respect does not stem from a formal mission statement or vision, from from ongoing, candid personal conversations among its associates. It is about "the desire to co-exist here and now in respectful and sharing relationships, with ample participation by all," as one organizational document put it.
Gustavo Salas, an associate for more than 40 years, says that the most important thing in the organization is:
"Respect! I don't just mean tolerance, but respect for the other person we are living with. We cannot treat our counterparts like things that we wan to profit from. We must perceive the entire person. In order to do that, we need transparency, honesty and responsibility."
Because there is such deep trust among associates at Cecosesola, decisions can be diffused among everyone and be based on Situated Knowing, which helps the network have more accurate, timely knowledge of what is going on. This work culture also means that Cecosesola can be more Creatively Adaptive in the face of changing circumstances. "We don't have to discuss everything together. We're often confident that other members will represent us well and tell us about decisions," said Lizeth Vargas, who is active at the weekly produce markets and the health center.
# 2. Peer Governance
Cecosesola members have clearly developed shared purpose & values as a large community, as described above. They also have successfully set Semi-Permeable Boundaries that allow them to interact with conventional markets while retaining their social solidarity and values as a commons.
While there is no direct representational system, the open get-togethers and consensus process allows everyone's voice to be heard and to assure inclusiveness and consent in decisionmaking. The point is to nourish a sense of trust among people. The depth of this feeling can be seen by Cecosesola's decision to not use cash registers because people concluded it would be used to monitor cooperativistas at markets, which would be tantamount to withdrawing trust. Associate Gustavo Salas said: "So we continued as before, without cash registers, and using envelopes. We saved the money for the investment. And we gained trust."
Meetings can be very candid in assessing people's mistakes, and yet the process is done with great respect and love. The cooperatives Honor Transparency in a Sphere of Trust and they Share Knowledge Often and Widely. Because of the culture of trust and respect, people take on the responsibility to Self-Monitor, Mediate & Sanction inappropriate behavior.
Provisioning a Cecosesola is about engaging with the market (for food, healthcare, funeral services, etc.) while keeping focused on the shared interests of commoenrs. Thus, Pool & Share occurs all the time. Associates don't pay themselves wages, but rather advances on what Cecosesola expects to earn in the market. Everyone earns the same wage except physicians at the health center. When there is a surplus -- usually a modest one -- it is "spent on things for everyone, for the cooperative," as one associate put it.
Internally, then, Cecosesola is determined to Decouple Giving & Taking, as seen by its radical step of decoupling "the price of vegetables from the time and effort we put into them," as coop member Noel Vale Valera put it. Cecosesola has come to Rely on Distributed Structures in managing nearly all aspects of its work. In provisioning, the network is also determined to Trade with Price Sovereignty. It routinely charges much less money than the prevailing market prices for produce, medical care, and other services.
# Governing External Relations Cecosesola does not accept financing or other support from the Venezuelan government. It wishes to maintain as much of its independence as possible. In 2014, however, the government decided to tax cooperatives at a rate approximately 35% higher than the rate applied to for-profit businesses -- a rate that would put many cooperatives out of business. Cecosesola has resisted, but relations with the state remains a challenge.
# 4. Inner Kernel
The inner culture of commoning and peer governance within Cecosesola is remarkable for addressing people's emotional needs and desires, and for helping to cultivate a culture of respect and participation among 1,300 associates. The network's Ubuntu-Rationality is one of its most conspicuous attributes, and it is vividly reflected in how decisions are made and how people feel about each other.
Video in French and Spanish from 2014 youtube Interview with Members of Cecosesola in 2015; by Silke Helfrich html Report by Cecosesola, "Towards a Collective Mind? Transforming meetings into get-togethers," April 2010. html
YOUTUBE iM0ti-5Rh7E Cecosesola in Spanish with German Subtitles, Film from 2010; uplodaded by Taromisaki666 youtube channel