Florian Jakober heaves a large, brown paper bag onto the table. With his thumb and forefinger, he pulls the red string along the upper edge of the bag. The bag opens. A light scent of oatmeal wafts across the room in Zurich's Brahmsstrasse.
Jakober prepares for a distribution day at his food cooperative in the Heiligfeld district. «We are 40 to 50 households that work together to source sustainably produced food and share it at cost price.» In addition to oatmeal, lentils, chickpeas, pasta, potatoes and nuts are now available – all of them produced by organic farmers in Switzerland.
This is the 15th distribution day that Jakober has organised. «I've always been interested in the idea of living in a city in accordance with the principle of self-sufficiency,» says Jaokber, who is an advocate of a subsistence economy. For this reason, the graphic designer used the time during the first lockdown to start the project with his business partner. The project goes beyond an individual cooperative. Jakober wants to build a platform that helps others to establish their own food cooperatives by providing them with software, contacts and knowledge.
I've always been interested in the idea of living in a city in accordance with the principle of self-sufficiency.
Doing your thing
In order to get his cooperative network off the ground, Jakober, who now lives in Zurich but hails from Central Switzerland, received support from the federal government – and from «Ting». The word originally referred to a gathering of German tribes and sounds like the word «thing» (which is what it means in Danish and Swedish). And that's precisely what it is: the platform helps members «do their thing» by sharing money and knowledge. «We want to help people develop further, create space for new ideas, further training or breaks,» says co-founder Ondine Riesen. Working together is intended to foster social innovation.
Everything is done digitally and cooperatively. Members pay monthly contributions and, depending on their membership, they can subsequently apply for a community basic income. The maximum option is Fr. 2,500 for six months. «This requires a project application that is evaluated by a committee made up of Ting members and external parties,» says Riesen (see box below). The organisation, which now has 198 members, currently distributes Fr. 16,000 monthly and has paid 68 monthly basic incomes since it was founded. They also speak with one another regularly, for example, in group chats or at digital cafe meetings, and they have an opportunity to do further training.
Florian Jakober has been a Ting member since the beginning and has drawn a community income for three months. «This allows me to be less concerned about money for a little while,» says this self-employed father, who works 70%. For him, sharing knowledge is more important than money. «Ting isn't simply a network of small lenders. The motivation to do something and help one another is enormous in the community.»
At Ting I met people who share my values, a community that supports you.
Basel native Rahel Ackermann presented a highly personal project to Ting. A single mother, she has for many years raised her family while working at the university and schools and continuing her German and English studies. «I became a mom at a young age and have always managed things easily,» says the 38-year-old. When she got a job as a secondary school teacher a year and a half ago and therefore had to start further studies at a pedagogical college, she felt her energy waning. There was little way out: teenagers require a lot of attention, and she needed to continue her studies for her new job, which was a major opportunity for her.
She learned about Ting from her partner. «It took courage to turn to an outside source and say, 'I need help.' But at Ting I met people who share my values, a community that supports you.» It's a good feeling to be able to give something back to the Ting community because you put something into it yourself as well. Thanks to the Ting basic income Ackermann was able to reduce her workload. Things are now going better for her again. In part, this is because she started a private crowdfunding effort. «Thanks to Ting I found the courage to do so.»
Crowd intelligence helps
For Zurich native Ramona Schwarz, Ting's collective intelligence was already of help. The fashion designer applied for a community income in order to develop period underwear. «It's time-consuming to research the right materials; and there are a lot of legal questions as well,» she says. She received answers to questions on patenting from the Ting network. «Above all, however, Ting relieved a lot of mental stress caused by how I'd finance myself at the start.» Without the unconditional grant from the community, the mother of two would've had to increase her working hours. «Sure, it took some effort to submit the application. After all, it's money from other people.» So it should be spent conscientiously. While her salary entitlement period has now come to an end, Ramona Schwarz continues to pay her monthly contribution. She hopes to begin online sales of her period underwear and other sustainable care products this year. She compares Ting to an insurance for new financial beginnings or emergencies.«It's nice that a wide variety of projects are supported,» says Schwarz. In addition to developing products, this also includes helping those who want to become self-employed, do further training, and take care of family or themselves.
The network provides kindred spirits
Thanks to Ting, Florian Jakober found kindred spirits who wanted to establish a food cooperative in order to test his platform. He plans to release the platform across Switzerland this year. His goal is to start with ten pilot cooperatives. «The organisers of the pilot cooperatives are now looking for people who want to participate.» The network is once again in demand, he says.
He hopes that the Ting community will continue to grow and that its knowledge-sharing will increase. «Ting is perfect especially for older people, who are financially secure and who want to live a meaningful life after retirement.» He is planning to remain active in the organisation and – if his platform is successful – apply for another community income from Ting for a new project.
Testing out basic income
Unconditional basic income has long been a topic of discussion in Switzerland. The «Verein Grundeinkommen» association formed six years ago following the rejection of a public initiative. Three years ago, the association and Dezentrum, a think tank for digitalisation and society, established the Ting project.Ting is testing the concept of a basic income on a small scale. Its members fill the association's account with their monthly contributions for individual development efforts. Fr. 10 makes members a patron, Fr. 50 or more enables members to apply for a basic income for two months, Fr. 100 or more allows them to apply for six months. In addition, members must have contributed for at least three months before applying. Members must also present their own project that has a positive effect on their lives and does something for society as well.«Ting» is made possible by the Migros Pioneer Fund. The voluntary fund, which is sponsored by Migros Group companies, supports innovative ideas for social development.
Photo/stage: Mali Lazell