By Karl Widerquist, co-chair BIEN, and Louise Haagh, co-chair BIEN
BIEN has made great strides in the last few years. Two years ago, our main goals were to charter BIEN as a legally recognized non-profit organization, to organize the 2016 Congress in Seoul Korea, and to expand Basic Income News. We succeeded in all three. The Seoul Congress will be our first in Asia, and it will bring together hundreds of Basic Income supporters from around the world. Official non-profit status will be completed if and when it is ratified at the 2016 Congress. This status will allow us to raise and spend money more easily in the coming term.
Our biggest success of the last two years has been Basic Income News (along with its accompanying email NewsFlash). Basic Income News has grown both in how much news it reports and how many people it reaches. Before the creation of Basic Income News, BIEN produced one NewsFlash (with perhaps twenty news stories) every two or three months, most of them excerpted from elsewhere. Today BIEN’s all-volunteer news team produces an average of two or three news stories every day, most of them original. Thanks mostly to Basic Income News, BIEN’s website has grown from 60 unique visits per day in June of 2013 to 1,365 unique visits per day in May of 2016. Some articles have reached more than 45,000 people. NewsFlash subscriptions have more than doubled in the last ten months, from 2,100 subscribers in August 2015 to 4,300 subscribers by June 2015.
BIEN’s growth has coincided with an enormous growth in the Basic Income movement around the world. New groups are forming. People are taking action. And people in power are taking notice. Government-funded pilot projects are going to take place in at least two countries and possibly several more over the next few years.
Major international institutions such as the Council of Europe and the Economic Commission for Latin America of the UN, have funded research, conferences and reports that endorse basic income and seek to connect it with other contemporary progressive movements and ideas. BIEN representatives have been instrumental in these developments, which is evidence of the influence BIEN is having in official organizations. An important objective for the coming term is to continue and extend these efforts to engage with these organizations, and we currently have activities and plans in the works to do so.
With BIEN’s Congress and General Assembly approaching, now is a good time for BIEN to set some goals for what it can do to strengthen the movement in the following year. This article proposes some priorities for the coming year—our “vision” for BIEN if you will. We speak for ourselves, but we hope others will agree.
We begin with one thing that BIEN should not do. It mustnot to dictate a grand strategy to the worldwide movement for Basic Income. The movement has gotten as far as it has by different people in different places attempting very different strategies. Some have worked better than others, but they have all made their contribution, and the combined result has been enormous growth in the political prominence of Basic Income. Any effort to force that diverse movement to follow one central script would be arrogant and divisive.
BIEN’s charter calls on us to serve that movement, “as a link between individuals and groups committed to, or interested in, basic income … to stimulate and disseminate research and to foster informed public discussion.” BIEN. How can BIEN serve that movement better?
We suggest two board objectives: our news service (Basic Income News) and our efforts to improve our outreach and networking with Basic Income groups and sympathetic individuals. In pursuit of these two broad objectives, we suggest the following priorities:
- Expand Basic Income News.
- Start holding yearly congresses.
- Improve BIEN’s outreach to affiliates and nonaffiliated organizations.
- Set up the website to take online donations and determine a crowdfunding strategy.
- Improve BIEN’s website including an effort to create a depository of research and expertise
- Increase BIEN’s presence on social media.
- Attempt to obtain representation on international bodies
- Create better democratic institutions within BIEN
This is an ambitious agenda for next year (and the coming years). This op-ed is the third in serious arguing for this vision. Louise Haagh and I argued in two previous op-eds for yearly Congresses, and for the importance of these taskforces (and others our supports might create) in improving our outreach and networking.
With those goals of BIEN already discussed, this article makes a special case for expanding Basic Income News—the only website in the world specializing solely in news about Basic Income. This service provides a badly needed source of just-the-facts reporting on Basic Income by well-informed writers. This kind of news reporting is something that we do well. It is something that no one else is doing. It is something that few other groups could do or are likely to do. Basic Income News provides an important way for BIEN to inform and to the influence debate over Basic Income. Basic Income News provides a mouthpiece for BIEN’s members and affiliates by reporting and publicizing their activities. Basic Income News provides information that our affiliates and other groups need to work together to build the movement.
In this way, Basic Income News supports BIEN’s other certain objective: outreach and networking with other groups and individuals interested in Basic Income. BIEN is able to do the other things it does because it reaches out to people daily on the web and monthly by email.
Basic Income News is BIEN’s principle strength. We need to build on this strength.
Basic Income News has done all this on a budget of less than $100 a month for webhosting and emails services. It has no paid labor. Everything Basic Income News does, it does with an all-volunteer workforce, and is unlikely to move to a paid labor force anytime soon. We have too many other things that we need to do with the money we raise before we can start paying our volunteers.
So, what do we do to expand? We suggest, four things.
First, BIEN’s Executive Committee (EC) has agreed to dedicate four of its members to Basic Income News as their specified task for the coming term. (Every EC member commits to work several hours per month on a specified task.) Dedicating four EC members to the news reflects its high priority, but it is not out of line with BIEN’s other priorities. The list of EC functions for next year provides for two Co-Chairs, two Co-Secretaries, and four people working together on outreach and communication.
The four news editors share the joint responsibility of keeping Basic Income News up-to-date, ensuring that it has regular features, trains volunteers, and so on. With oversight from the whole EC, they divide those functions among themselves as they think best. Typically one member acts as lead editor, taking overall responsibility for the news service. One takes on the role of “features editor,” recruiting guests to write reviews, Op-Ed, interviews, and so on. One or more trains new volunteers. We need several EC members to take charge of these very different roles.
Second, Basic Income News needs to recruit more volunteers. Although we publish a lot of stories, many more stories go unreported because we don’t have enough writers to cover them. Very often we are asked, “why didn’t Basic Income News cover this…” and the answer is almost always the same: “We wanted to, but we didn’t have enough volunteers.” This is our principle limitation. We need to have one scheduled reporter online every day of the week, every week of the year, so that we can cover news stories as they come in. We also need reporters to clear out our backlog of story ideas on our website. We also need to find reporters who are fluent in German, French, Spanish, and other languages to improve our reporting from non-English sources and perhaps to translate some of our content into other languages. We need copyeditors to review the work of our reporters. Maintaining and improving quality is a constant struggle in any all-volunteer organization. All of these things require us to recruit a lot more volunteers.
Third, Karl Widerquist has made the following motion to the General Assembly: “BIEN encourages all affiliates to provide at least one person to work with Basic Income News to report on their news and the news from their region.” We make this request to improve our reporting of each affiliate’s activities, to improve our reporting of local events around the world—especially those in non-English-speaking countries. The relationship between Basic Income News and its affiliates should be a two-way street. We should not only gather news from our affiliates, but we should also provide a platform for them to publicize their activities and to discuss their concerns with a worldwide audience. If at least one person from each network learns to use Basic Income News’s system, they can directly use it to broadcast their events and concerns. We can also offer to our affiliates using our news stories in their newsletters and on their websites, if that is a help to them.
Fourth, Basic Income News has to increase—not only its hard news reporting—but also its opinions, reviews, analysis, interviews, audio, video, and so on. One strength of Basic Income News is a clear separation between just-the-facts news reporting and opinions. With this separation, people in and out of the movement can learn how the movement for Basic Income is progressing without being distracted by propaganda or by uninformed reporting. The “Features” side of Basic Income News has been minimal, publishing perhaps one feature per week. Yet, there is no limit to how many features we can publish. In this effort, Basic Income News has appointed a features editor who is in charge of contacting our affiliates, other organizations, and individuals to contribute occasional features.
None of this means that BIEN should promote Basic Income News to the exclusion of everything else we do, but we have to have priorities, and Basic Income News should be our top priority or very close to it. We have done a lot, but we can do a lot more, and we can do it better.
In sum, over the coming years, we see BIEN improving its efforts to serve as a link between individuals and groups that support Basic Income by having yearly congresses, raising funds, creating a web depository of research, increasing our social media presence, working more closely with our affiliates and other Basic Income groups, creating ties with appropriate institutions, and by creating a larger and more professional news service that will provide news about Basic Income and a mouthpiece for Basic Income supporters around the world.