Democratising economic power

20th January 2020

As the world’s economic elites gather in Davos, I am reflecting on a blog I wrote last year in reaction to the 2019 World Economic Forum focus on “Globalisation 4.0”. Entitled ‘Putting the spotlight on “participation” in economic alternatives’, the blog questioned the Davos model of closed door decision-making and cult of leadership, which marginalise the views of ‘ordinary’ people and fail to adequately reflect either their values or the value that they create.

The blog was inspired by research we were immersed in at the time, supported by the Open Society Foundations. Building on years of work by IDS and others on how to increase the voice of disenfranchised groups in political and social processes, this research sought to understand how the concepts and practices of participation could apply in economic matters.

Reflecting on 40+ examples of participation in economic decision-making we had been collecting for the project, the blog called for greater participation as part of the future economy that Davos was invoking.

What constitutes meaningful participation in economic governance?

The blog ended with some open questions. What exactly constitutes meaningful participation in economic governance, and what are the key conditions which enable or inhibit it?

Over the course of this past year, we have been working with organisations that can help answer these questions, and this blog represents the first in a series where we reveal our findings. As a starting point, I want to highlight these examples.

These organisations do not fit the mould of ‘Davos Man’, but they are nevertheless leaders, and alternative models worth due consideration. These groups and movements are demonstrating how people formerly excluded from economic decision-making can gain greater control over resources and a greater voice in economic governance.

Through experimentation, failures, successes and continued efforts, they are creating structures of economic exchange and ownership rooted in collective autonomy and mutual benefit.

Groups and movements demonstrating new models of economic governance

As this year’s World Economic Forum moves on from Globalisation 4.0, it is good to see the event focusing on ‘Fairer Economies’ as one of its 7 themes. This year’s Forum even goes so far as to flag the need ‘to transform industries to achieve more sustainable and inclusive business models’ as one of four urgent global issues it hopes to address, which is a welcome statement.

However, to achieve economic justice, we need to go beyond paying lip service to the idea of economic inclusion, and tap into the transformative potential of alternative business models. We will never achieve economic justice unless we achieve meaningful participation in economic governance and decision-making.

Photo: PEKKA members selling sarungs at the Lagaloe Market in Sakutokan village on Adonara. Credit: © Evert-jan Quak, all rights reserved


Jodie Thorpe

Jodie Thorpe is a Research Fellow in the Business and Development Centre, with over 15 years' experience in research and advisory work. With a background in political science, her interests and current projects include public-private partnerships in agriculture, inclusive business, making markets work for the poor approaches and systemic change in business and development initiatives.