The Collective isn’t an organisation. It connects people. It does this through networks. Different kinds of networks. One type of network links up people doing similar things.

Every Saturday & Thursday, Humdum serves hot food and provides fresh food parcels to those in need, whether homeless, struggling individuals or families in Barking and Dagenham.

Food was a focus of the response to the Covid-19 pandemic. It spurred Nighat Bhola, the Director of Humdum UK CIC, to establish the BD Food Network, bringing together organisations serving food to B&D residents. They share food, other resources, process and procedures. They share notes and learn from one another. It means more food at the right time for the hungry.

Nighat said something interesting. Well, many interesting things. But one that particularly caught our attention. She said ‘I think of it like a business network, one that brings together businesses doing similar things. Business people in the same trade.’

Those of us on the outside of the business world often think of it as cut throat and competitive, which of course it is to some extent, competitive that is, not necessarily cut throat. But business people like to share ideas, and find out what each other are up to. It is not about stealing ideas, although some of that happens. It is about growing the market in which they work, becoming more efficient at meeting the customers needs.

This works because business is a positive sum game. If one business does well, so will the others around it. Business is not a zero sum game where the market is fixed and one person’s gain means another’s loss. Five businesses doing well will create a bigger market, and a bigger market share for all five, than one business acting as a monopoly.

The French philosopher Montesquieu explained this phenomenon in his theory of gentle commerce. It helped him to explain why the expansion of business in the 17th Century was marked with a boom in co-operation and good manners. Enterprise, he finds, depends on trust. The buyer trusts the seller to deliver the goods. The seller trusts the buyer to pay. The seller trusts other sellers to share resources, ideas, supply chains. They don’t trust each other because it is the right thing to do. It isn’t written in the scriptures. They do it because it leads to more sales and happier customers.

Nighat’s food network is building trust between civil society organisations. They are becoming more efficient at managing food supplies and meeting variations in demand for food across the Borough. They are getting to know the people who use food hubs better and and beginning to understand their other needs. Debt consolidation for example. Together the organisations in the network are adapting to meet this need. The whole is becoming more than the sum of the parts.

Gentle commerce is a concept for business. But it also embodies the principles of the BD_Collective. Sharing power. Deeper and closer connections. Making trust the core currency.