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The New Economy Summit at UBC takes on solutions for more just society

Photo Courtesy of Justin Ritchie of extraenvironmentalist.com

We walked into the Building for Sustainability at the University of British Columbia to join a group of passionate students, academics, and social activists who are at the forefront of making the world a greener and more livable place to share ideas, and exchange dialogue with the general public in order to find solutions at the New Economic Summit.

It became clear that as climate change accelerates, inequality increases, and the imperatives of global finance drive speculative bubbles, the organizers want to formulate a new approach to economic thinking. The main question asked at this conference was: Due to the fact that our political system hasn’t addressed an economic structural change, can Canada’s universities jump start transition to a new economy?

This is a gathering of people who understand that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the current economic system and the pioneers who are already building a new economy. The students and community organizations hosting this summit have invited students from universities across the region, citizens and organizations who are interested in building momentum for this movement.

The vibe at the summit was high energy, and intellectually stimulating, as the audience was constantly throwing penetrating questions at the speakers, and many also contributed very valuable content adding value to the discussion. My friend and I participated in a session on Saturday called "Strategies for Economic Democracy" lead by Donnie McLurcan, Mike Lewis, and John Restakis

The three talked extensively on case studies on Co-ops. In particular, a food co-op in Japan started in the 1970s that employs 1,600 staff called "Teikei" which delivers fresh organic produce and stables to its members' home directly, now has $1.1 billion dollars in sales annually.

This was achieved by collecting the equivalent of an $11 monthly membership. This shining example was followed by other illustrious examples of thriving co-op such as Sweden's JAK Bank, which doesn't utilize usury as a part of their banking practice of profiteering; and the caretaking system of mentally handicapped children called “Copaps” in Northern Italy.

When asked why the co-op has not taken over the market share of their perspective industry, the speaker noted that the Japanese food co-op only provides 600 basic and staple items, but a typically store has between 900-300,000 items, and most of them are cheaper to purchase. The speaker also said that these institutions aren’t for everyone. We spoke to the speaker regarding the rise of social enterprise in North America after his session, and he was excited to share that the "Mondragon" in Northern Spain, with 83,859 workers and consisting of 270 enterprises including big manufacturing plants, is the largest co-op in the world. They're healthy, thriving and making good wages, and contributing greatly to the stability of that region.

One of the most exciting panels we heard from was on Building a new economy by defining values. The line up was rather amazing: Elizabeth U, Found and Executive Director for Finance For Food, Vanessa Timmer, Co-Founder and Director for One Earth Initiative, and Dr. John Helliwell. We were most impressed with the speaker Dr. John Helliwell, the expert on happiness. He said that those who cooperate with others have a higher chance of survival, and it's those social connections that make us happy. Research has shown that there are 6 defining factors to reach happiness:

1) Income

2) Healthy Life Expectancy

3) Someone to count on in times of trouble

4) Lack of corruption

5) Generosity

6) Freedom

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