5 Takeaways from ‘Labs for Social and Economic Empowerment’ Breakout

Left to right: Ibrahim Abdul Matin, Palak Shah, Jess Kutch, and Hannah Calhoon (Lauren Mobertz)

Left to right: Ibrahim Abdul Matin, Palak Shah, Jess Kutch, and Hannah Calhoon (Lauren Mobertz)

With panelists Palak Shah (Fair Care Labs), Jess Kutch (Coworker.org), Hannah Calhoon (Blue Ridge Labs @ Robin Hood), and moderator Ibrahim Abdul Matin (Green Deen: What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet), day one of PDF15 saw an enormous sharing of learnings around using technology and new forms of worker engagement to bring about economic justice. Here are five quick takeaways from Thursday’s breakout session on labs for social and economic empowerment.

1. “Labs” are essential

For civic tech hackers to produce social solutions ready to enter the free market, we’re going to need “labs”—spaces where new ventures aiming for positive social change can not only test new ideas, but pass on the knowledge of their failures.

2. We need a new form of organizing

The decline in collective bargaining has opened space for a new form of worker organizing. This is a space where technology has the potential to create enormous value, as we’ve already seen with tools like Coworker.org, DemocracyOS, and more.

3. Technology is not replacing unions

Rather than replace unions, new technologies can complement existing labor organizations and even ease workers into the idea of organizing. A great example of this is a group of bike share workers that voted to unionize after running a successful campaign for better working conditions on Coworker.org. In other cases, unions have used Coworker.org as a tool for their organizing.

4. Profitability: the biggest hurdle for civic tech?

As all of today’s panelists attested to, preparing civic tech teams to create market-based solutions that can survive without government funding or philanthropy is quite the challenge. The panel left us with an important question to ponder: How will civic tech applications of the future drive enough revenue to sustain their activities?

5. Moderator Ibrahim Abdul-Matin is a “cruel but benevolent dictator”

Our group couldn’t have covered as much ground or had half as many laughs without your guidance and willingness to cut us off. Thanks, Ibrahim!

Lauren Mobertz is a New York-based freelance writer who specializes in digital labor and youth employment and is attending PDF as a Mozilla fellow. When she’s not writing about the career moves of gutsy millennials, Lauren is usually running in strange places or trying to dance Brazilian zouk. She’s also just quit her day job to work on her passion project, which you can follow this summer at generationlimbo.com.