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Guilds 2.0 - A 21st Century Economic Organization for Collective Innovation and Entrepreneurship

The idea of re-introducing historical craft guilds as the foundation for a 21st Century economic (and social) organizational structure for youth is proposed. As youth struggle to find individual pathways to gainful employment, the idea of establishing collective organizational structures could lead to more resilient and viable approaches to skills development, entrepreneurial opportunities and economic development.

Photo of Luc Lalande
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My interest in historical craft guilds as a mode of economic organization for young people emerged from the growth of the global maker movement and the democratization of the tools of digital fabrication (e.g., 3D printers) and rapid prototyping. I became fascinated with the potential of this movement as a force of new economic activity and innovation.  While the early adherents of the maker movement were tinkerers, hobbyists and the like, I began to consider the possibilities for a new wave of innovative entrepreneurs unleashed by virtue of having direct access to tools previously only affordable to larger corporations.

I became further intrigued by the notion that the democratization of such tools could gradually “shift” economic power back to the owners of creative skills in localized production from the owners of capital used for mass production in centralized factories.  This thought path eventually led me to discover a book that re-examined the role of guilds in the early modern pre-industrial European economy.  It was a fascinating read. The book offered new insights on how historical craft guilds fostered learning-by-doing, innovation, technological change and entrepreneurship.

The third and final source of inspiration for considering guilds as a potential organizational structure for young people was a 2005 publication by the Kauffman Foundation entitled “Understanding Entrepreneurship”. In the report, Professor Scott Stern (winner of the first Kauffman Prize Medal for Distinguished Research in Entrepreneurship) wrote:

“An organizational experiment is the development and implementation of a novel value-creation and value-capture system. Organizational experimentation links individuals and organizations in the pursuit of exploiting the interaction between market and technical opportunities. In sharp contrast to the canonical image of a lone inventor single-mindedly pursuing a technical vision, entrepreneurs pursuing organizational experiments must assemble and appropriate incentives and a coordination for a larger team.”

The intent of this initiative is to establish a novel organizational structure modelled after historical craft guilds to create both economic and learning opportunities for youth.  A makerspace (located on a university campus) with the requisite digital fabrication tools will serve as host infrastructure.  The proposed organization will be branded as the STEAMakers Guild combining the relevance of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Mathematics) education and the Maker Movement.

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Photo of David

Luc, bringing back the guilds is an awesome idea! To what extent do you think today's unions see themselves as guilds? And to what degree do you think they've been successful? How would you imagine modern guilds operating in relation to unions?

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