The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the significance of the digitalization and platformization of companies and organizations in the economy as a whole and in the social economy in particular. Although the transition to a platform economy is not a new development in itself, the pandemic crisis has accelerated it.
Research has shown that the platform economy can have different manifestations ranging from truly collaborative models associated with platform cooperativism and the commons to new extractive methods linked to platform capitalism: from Wikipedia and Som Mobilitat to Uber and Airbnb. We must therefore approach the platform economy as a whole in order to understand its various models, taking account of matters such as governance, the economic model, data and technology policies and the impacts and external consequences of platform activity.
Research also tells us that the platform economy is leading to gender-based violence and inequality. This ranges from harassment on online service platforms to harassment of women hired through digital platforms to make food deliveries, drive taxis or work in someone else’s home. Even cooperative platforms linked to the social economy that want to take the feminist perspective into account generally fail to integrate it throughout the platform. In other words, the gender-based violence and inequalities that affect every area of society find their counterparts in the platform versions of business models.
Although there are many programmes for the digital acceleration of projects, only a few are dedicated to social entrepreneurship, and there are none that foster training, have transformative and feminist values and provide networking tools and funding (Table 1).
In this context, the aim of the MatchImpulsa action research programme is to fill this gap by including the gender perspective in a cross-cutting manner across the entire social economy business platformization programme ranging from design to development and impact assessment.
In terms of design, MatchImpulsa includes gender mainstreaming in the three sub-programmes that affect project platformization at various levels: MatchImpulsa +100 (training), MatchImpulsa 20 (acceleration) and MatchImpulsa 10 (prototyping). The use of strategic partnerships reinforces the connection with technology partners (MatchTech), partnerships with organizations that focus on gender equality (MatchIgualtat), and access to resources provided by universities (MatchUniversitat). At the same time, three strategic ecosystems in the city of Barcelona are also being strengthened: the feminist economy (Digista), the sharing economy (BarCola) and the agroecology and sustainable food ecosystem (Digital Agroecology).
Over one hundred experts in fields including networking, economic acceleration, the inclusion of the feminist perspective, technological sovereignty training and the incorporation of interpersonal skills, among others, are involved in the development of MatchImpulsa. Most of these training courses are provided by women: 68.32% for MatchImpulsa +100; 78.5% for MatchImpulsa 20; and 84.3% in the case of MatchImpulsa 10. In terms of attendees, 66% of the 153 people enrolled in MatchImpulsa +100 are women, and 3.9% are non-binary. In the case of MatchImpulsa 20 and MatchImpulsa 10, 66.6% of the people representing organizations are women. In other words, the programme takes a feminist perspective and has a high percentage of female involvement.
When it comes to looking at its impacts, as an action research programme, MatchImpulsa uses quantitative and qualitative methodologies. Data are collected using a questionnaire as well as web observation and a semi-structured interview. Everyone who enrols in the MatchImpulsa programme must fill in a form providing general information about them, such as gender, location and the strategic sector of the social and solidarity economy to which they belong. Web observation provides information about internet use (website, social media, etc.). A network analysis with Gephi software has also been carried out to show the structure of the relationships between participants and the networks to which they belong.
In addition, semi-structured interviews have been carried out for the 27 projects included in the MatchImpulsa 20 programme to gather information about governance, business model, the inclusion of equality and the gender perspective, intercooperation with other players, the digitalization strategy, knowledge and technology policies, and external factors and impacts, with particular reference to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
An initial assessment of the impact of the programme suggests that the participating social economy organizations are very diverse in nature, ranging from leading feminist organizations, such as Ca la Dona, or social and solidarity economy organizations, such as Suara, to others that act as a counterpoint in places particularly affected by platform capitalism, such as Les Mercedes or Mensakas in the field of courier services.
An initial analysis of the results confirms the programme’s main hypothesis: although social economy organizations do have some measures in place to foster gender equality in their platformization processes, these are very limited in scope. For example, only 13.85% of organizations included in MatchImpulsa 20 allow flexible working beyond what is required by law; only 13.08% have mechanisms to ensure neutral and non-sexist communication (13.08%); and just 13.08% use the tools available to facilitate equal access to the same jobs (13.08%).
The results also reveal inconsistencies between partnerships with companies that work on gender equality (MatchIgualtat) and providers of technology services (MatchTech). Whereas the MatchIgualtat programme includes 17 organizations in which women account for 82.4% and non-binary people for 5.9% of participants, MatchTech is composed of 24 organizations in which men account for 66.7% of their people. In other words, this further confirms the hypothesis of gender inequality based on economic sector: gender equality is still promoted by women and non-binary people, and the technology sector is still male-dominated, in spite of the programme’s efforts to find equality service providers that are male and technology service providers that are female.
In summary, the results of the action research carried out under the digital acceleration programme MatchImpulsa must help include the feminist perspective in a cross-cutting manner in the platformization of social economy companies’ and organizations’ business models. Furthermore, the MatchImpulsa impact analysis must also be used to inform public policies relating to the platform economy in order to ensure they take the gender perspective into account.
Mayo Fuster Morell and Ricard Espelt, are researchers at the IN3’s Digital Commons (Dimmons) group. The central research line of Dimmons is linked to the commons and the collaborative economy, from a perspective of policy co-creation and methodological innovation.
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