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#CECOP40: A Smart engineering to connect and protect freelancers

3 April 2019

Smart started in Belgium in 1998 as a small non-profit organization aimed at providing artists with services adapted to the labour market evolutions. Today, it serves as much as 120,000 users in 9 European countries, 85,000 of which are based in Belgium.

At the beginning, Smart chose to develop its services for a very specific group of workers: artists, whose activity strongly expose them to vulnerability in terms of job stability and social protection. Over the years, it was able to develop a model that allows freelancers in general to carry out their activity while accessing the social protection they need. In fact, freelancers often waltz between paid and unpaid work making their overall income irregular and livelihoods unstable.

HOW DOES IT WORK?

Smart’s model is based on two complementary advantages: the legal status of employee (giving access to social security) and the possibility to benefit from a wide range of mutualised services that, otherwise, would be hardly available and expensive, such as information, trainings, legal advice, insurance, accounting, co-working spaces, and online invoicing tools.

Being member of Smart substantially help freelancers minimise entrepreneurship risks and administrative burdens: while the cooperative deals with all aspects related to business management, freelancers can focus exclusively on their activity, with the guarantee of being paid at the end of their work. Indeed, it is the cooperative to guarantee the salary, even in case of delayed payment from clients.

A NEW COOPERATIVE DYNAMISM

Smart turned into a cooperative in 2017. Through this business model, freelances are allowed to cover three different roles simultaneously: they are co-owners (they participate in the capital share and take decisions democratically); they are entrepreneurs (they find their own clients and develop their business autonomously); and finally, they are legally framed and protected as employees.

Members are the main actors and protagonists of their change in Smart, as they take part in a permanent reflection on its growth and evolution. Recently, it has been decided to provide freelancer members with the possibility to access open-ended contracts, and now there is an open debate on how to attain more sophisticate services through higher investments. Another reflection regards the development of value-chains allowing freelancers to be stronger in the market. By means of democracy and shared responsibility, the cooperative is constantly developing and improving its services.

THE FUTURE OF WORK IS OCCURRING RIGHT NOW

“Over time, Smart has been supporting freelancers from increasingly different sectors of activities, and even unforeseen job profiles such as digital platforms workers”, said Sarah de Heusch, Project officer for the Development & Strategy at Smart. “The variety of employment situations and working needs, which do not comply with the conventional model of full-time open-ended employees’ contracts, represents an increasing reality in the European labour market. Among these new employment forms, freelancers seem to be one of the fastest growing categories, making them the prototype workers of the future”.

Smart’s model is showing its strength: in 2018, it counted a turnover of 200 million euros, only in Belgium. It is also replicable, as the model is also being implemented across Europe (Austria, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands), and new areas of partnerships are being explored in Canada and North Africa.

SMART joined CECOP in 2017. As commented by CECOP’s President Giuseppe Guerini at the occasion of their affiliation “it brings to our network a good example of how cooperatives can respond to the changes in the world of work”


This article is part of our #CECOP40 series, read more about it: