In an era of grave threats to the world’s collective goods—most importantly, peace, health, and the natural environment—international cooperation is more important than ever. Nation-states and multilateral institutions have failed to catalyze meaningful action against climate change, political violence, epidemic diseases, and a host of other pressing issues. We propose a new governance framework: a Global Cooperative (henceforth “the Cooperative”) that pools the ideas and resources of individuals across the world in a digital network, and directs these resources towards sustainable governance of the world’s collective goods. Members of the Cooperative are best described as citizen-trustees: citizens of a new global community, and trustees of the human and natural capital that will support future generations.

All people in the world are eligible to be citizen-trustees of the Cooperative. At the core of the Cooperative is the idea that global grassroots partnerships can make changes that more centralized institutions cannot, linking political constituencies, pooling resources, and coordinating action.

The Cooperative has the following design elements:

  • a social network of ideas in which citizen-trustees work together in creating policies, programs, and projects (3Ps) to safeguard collective goods;
  • a “liquid democracy” in which citizen-trustees vote—either directly or by delegating their vote to proxies—for the most promising 3Ps; and
  • a collaborative economy in which the Cooperative funds the implementation of 3Ps across the world, with the benefits of 3Ps shared among citizen-trustees.

We outline the processes of the Cooperative in this abstract, and discuss the organization in more detail in the following sections.

Any woman or man in the world above the age of 18, upon identity verification, can become a citizen-trustee of the Cooperative. After joining, each individual is granted a voting share, representing her/his right to equal political voice within the organization.

The Cooperative’s citizen-trustees are linked in an online social network that serves as an infrastructure for the co-creation of policies, programs, and projects to manage the collective goods of peace, health, and the natural environment. These 3Ps may focus on peacebuilding or conflict resolution programs (peace); strategies to provide health insurance or prevent antibiotic resistance (health); and biodiversity conservation or carbon trading schemes (nature). The design of 3Ps is informed by the local and technical expertise of citizen-trustees, and improved by the process of community feedback. A reputation scoring system rewards originators and contributors of high-quality 3Ps. Policies, programs, and projects funded by the Cooperative can also interact with states and markets—for example, by catalyzing reforms in the health care system or incubating clean energy technologies.

The Cooperative runs on a digital platform. Digital technologies, especially smartphones and computers, are rapidly expanding worldwide, and thus facilitate participation in the Cooperative, even for rural and isolated populations.

The citizen-trustees of the Cooperative exercise their voting rights in several ways, as shown here:

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First, voters elect three Councils—one each for the management of peace, health, and nature—who make final decisions on the coordination and financing of 3Ps, as described below. A delegative “liquid democratic” process is used to elect the seven members of each council: all citizen-trustees may vote directly, or may choose to delegate their vote—i.e., transfer voting power—for any particular issue to a trusted proxy. Delegations can also be withdrawn at any time. In order to prevent vote-buying or other forms of manipulation, only citizen-trustees with high reputation—gained through contributions to 3P creation—may serve as delegates.

3Ps are selected in a two-stage voting process. First, all citizen-trustees (or their delegates) can vote on whether 3Ps should be considered by the Councils for final approval. As proposals are refined in response to community feedback, these votes can be revised. If 3P proposals cross a vote support threshold, they enter the relevant Council (peace, health, or nature) for second-stage voting. The Councils are responsible for choosing a coordinated set of 3Ps that restore, safeguard, and enhance the long-term value of collective goods, while providing a reasonable short-term dividend return to Cooperative shareholders. A majority vote in the relevant seven-delegate council results in financing for the 3P in question. A High Council comprised of five high-reputation Cooperative members and four individuals external to the Cooperative adjudicates any disputes that arise.

In addition to the first, free voting share, any citizen-trustee can buy investment shares in the Cooperative. There is no limit to the amount of these non-voting shares that may be purchased. The pool of capital created from the sale of shares is used to finance the operations of the cooperative, including implementation of 3Ps.

3P implementation is carried out by Cooperative members, often working in close partnership with state, market, and civil society actors. Some 3Ps—conflict prevention programs, for example—may not generate a market return for the Cooperative, but will produce social benefits for the global community. Other 3Ps—for example, carbon trading schemes or tourism proceeds from biodiversity protection—may produce a market return. Revenue generated from these 3Ps is returned to the Cooperative’s investment shareholders in the form of dividends.

To ensure security, the operations of the Cooperative, from 3P creation to voting results to financial transactions, are recorded in a blockchain—an unalterable, distributed database. In addition, the Cooperative’s activities are transacted in a new secure digital currency created for the organization.

The Global Cooperative thus has features of an online developer network, a democratic state, a savings cooperative, and a social investment fund. These parts sum to something larger, however. They are the constituent elements of a flexible, decentralized global governance structure, complete with a budget, democratic structure, and a guiding political purpose: the mobilization of ideas and resources to manage the world’s collective goods.