The first EQUAL DAY on 31 May at Flagey was a real success! About 100 speakers put collaborative business in the spotlight in a series of debates.  - Pierre van den Broeck
Photo: Pierre van den Broeck

- By Equal team

The first EQUAL DAY on 31 May at Flagey was a real success! About 100 speakers put collaborative business in the spotlight in a series of debates.

Sharing, collaboration, ‘uberisation’, common goods, virtual currencies, new governance, collaborative mobility… On Thursday 31 May, Flagey, welcomed a one-day event focusing on collaboration.

The first Equal Day – a day of reflection – was organised by the Equal Partners law firm. The theme of the event, ‘collaborative business’, attracted over 500 participants to a series of enriching and diverse discussions between 100 or so speakers from different sectors, from political representatives to experts, committed citizens to project leaders.

The day started with an attempt to fully grasp the concept of a sharing economy. The general public tends to think of Airbnb, Uber and Deliveroo as perfect examples of this ‘new economic model’. However, aren’t IT giants misappropriating a term that many would prefer to be applied to initiatives focusing more on citizenship, with added value to users, rather than to monopolies and a handful of shareholders? In its quest to boost profits, is the network economy deflecting a development in society where citizens aim to join forces and return to power? That is the opinion of Rob Hopkins, in any case, an Englishman attending Equal Day who is a committed citizen and spearhead of the international movement Transition Network. Sandrino Graceffa, the manager of the cooperative Smart, agrees, as does Bernard Bayot, the president of the new cooperative bank New B. They exchanged views with the representatives of several start-up companies.

In another plenary session, the debates focused on the role of the State: how should the public authorities view the sharing movement that is set to shake up the established codes? From private individuals letting rooms or leasing cars to local trading systems and loans between private individuals, citizens have decided not to simply wait for the authorities to launch new initiatives: instead they are doing it for themselves. Should the State support them, stop them, regulate them or even initiate similar projects of its own? And how should it go about it? It may be possible to encourage positive social initiatives and discourage those that destabilise the labour market and social security by means of targeted fiscal policies, Olivier De Schutter suggests. He is an expert in the field and was present at the event as a representative of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems. The government minister Céline Fremault, on the other hand, believes that the public authorities should consider launching a policy with the potential to nurture such collaborative initiatives or even support them financially. That said, a framework must be established for these practices to prevent abuse by individuals. However, as highlighted by Barbara Trachte (Ecolo MP) and Gaëtan Van Loqueren (guest lecturer at ICHEC), it is far from simple for the public authorities to take measures in this field, because the current framework is not suitable and the different levels of government are organised in a way that hampers public intervention.

Just outside Studio 4, the great hall of the Flagey building, the Equal Day workshops gave participants the opportunity to get a better insight into the ins and outs of the collaborative economy and its current revolution. A key topic that attracted particular attention was urban mobility. Representatives of the entire sector exchanged views on the role of ‘collaborative mobility’ in reducing everyday traffic – from politicians to representatives of car pooling initiatives, car leasing by private individuals, bike sharing and public transport representatives. They all added their voices to the debate on the impact of collaborative measures on our mobility. Other panels focused on participatory democracy, the lawyers of tomorrow, cooperatives or virtual and citizen currencies, and even on new systemic business models, just to name a few.

Finally, the last plenary session of the day focused on the future of work. How is the labour market evolving? Is working a necessity, an obligation or a pleasure? Do we need to re-evaluate the current link between work and revenue? Do we work to live or live to work? Certain observers are extremely worried about the advent of artificial intelligence and more and more people are trying to find meaning in their work. Companies should not impose productivity as their only creed, but they should join their staff in the search for meaning, and encourage it too. An inspiring contribution in this regard was made by Marc Vossen, the director of the Nostalgie Group (which includes the radio stations Nostalgie, NRJ and Cherie FM). In the beautiful Flagey studios, he highlighted the four phrases he swears by in his role as a leader, and which he believes “should drive all decision-makers within a company: hello, thank you, well done and… I love you!”

All in all, Equal Day gave visitors access to an impressive 27.5 hours of reflection, discussion and debate - sometimes spirited, often passionate - between a hundred or so high-level speakers.

You can view the entire programme and the list of speakers on the EQUAL DAY website.

Associated areas of specialisation: Day-to-day life at EQUAL