Vesna Manojlovic

RIPE Community Resilience: Economy of Care

Vesna Manojlovic

The need for community actualisation is equivalent to the financial Layer 8. The COVID-19 pandemic offers a path to alternatives to capitalism: ecofeminism, degrowth, unions, and the circular economy. Caring and maintenance are resistant to paradigms of unlimited growth and disruptive innovation.

Networking layers as an allegory for universal needs

The extended versions of the OSI networking model and Maslow’s pyramid have additional layers. When discussing RIPE Community resilience, I consider Layer 8 to be:

While “the Internet” started as an academic, not-for-profit project (the story about its military origins is a topic for another time), it has quickly become commercial, and now it is an integral part of the globalised, neo-liberal economy. Technical workers are still workers, and their labour was both celebrated and exploited during the pandemic; classical and alternative economies have "the Internet" as fertile soil for experimentation; and caring for our health, each other, for communities, and for the planet is priceless - as in, it cannot be accounted for by financial instruments only.

That's why I see Layer 8 as a need for contributing, sharing, and practising participatory altruism.

"Pyramid of Internet Capitalism"

Technical Is Financial

People in technical communities — engineers, programmers, designers, hackers — are passionate about tech: we use it to be educated or distracted, to help us with physical disabilities, to make friends. But on some level, we also work in tech because we are getting paid: to “earn a living”, to make money (sometimes literally, with digital coins), and to “get a job”.

Here is some financial and career advice from fellow techies:

  • "Fantastic People and Where to Find Them: Making Layers 8 & 9 Work for You", by Julia Freeman at NLNOG 2019 (video, PDF)
  • "The Economics of Open Source", by C J Silverio | JSConf EU 2019 (transcript & video)
  • "Career Development & Money", by Bert Hubert at NLNOG 2020 (video)

And here’s an alternative view on the digital economy by academics, artists, and philosophers: "MoneyLab Reader: An Intervention in Digital Economy" (2015), Institute of Network Cultures.

"Addressing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in Telecommuting" and Covido Ergo Zoom

Remote Workers of the World, Unite: During the Pandemic!

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, many techies were already “telecommuting”/“working remotely”. However, in February 2020, the Internet became an “essential service”, with everyone’s economic and health activities dependent on “being online”. Most technical workers had both the duty to keep the internet up and the privilege to “work from home”. For some, "lockdown" was helpful in balancing home care and employment expectations; for others, it brought a sharper focus on existing inequalities.

At the start of the crisis, several voices pointed out the opportunities to make lasting changes:

Remote Workers, Unite During the Pandemic!

A year and a half into the pandemic, analyses of the labour relationships of remote work and of the impact locally on our health as well as globally on the economy have been plentiful. Here are just a few conclusions:

It's the planet, not the economy

“It’s the Economy, Stupid!”

Since the “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace”, techno-utopians have believed that the Internet could help “digital citizens” escape the destiny predicted by “historical materialism”: that is, becoming part of the dominant economic and socio-political system.

"The internet’s distinct architecture arose from a distinct constraint and a distinct freedom: First, its academically minded designers didn’t have or expect to raise massive amounts of capital to build the network; and second, they didn’t want or expect to make money from their invention. -- Jonathan Zittrain, June 2021

However, a quarter of a century later, we can conclude that capitalism has won: "the Internet” has adjusted itself to the major paradigm of our time, rather than changing the world. This paradigm "concentrates power in the hands of a minority capitalist class that exists through the exploitation of the majority working class and their labor; prioritizes profit over social good, natural resources and the environment; is an engine of inequality, corruption and economic instabilities; and...many are not able to access its purported benefits and freedoms.” (Wikipedia)

Researchers and academics have been pointing out the dangers of monopoly consolidation, the digital divide, and labour exploitation for a long time:

And, of course, the interplay of economic crisis and pandemic brings the underlying issues in sharper focus:

I do believe that utopia is possible! As a counterbalance to the the financialisation of the Internet, let’s look at possible alternatives:

“Feminist Economics: A form of economics that has no relation to money, but that organizes home on the planet around the production of health and life. “
Feminist approaches to alternative economies

(Do Not) Follow the Money

In the early days of the the RIPE Community (and other technical communities), we realised that the principles of free-markets, profits, and competition are not sufficient for governing the resources that form the underlying infrastructure of the Internet. We have used consensus building for making decisions and used the rules for stewardship of the commons as policies for the distribution of IP resources, even if those policies have not explicitly referred to “commons”.

One of my heroines, Elinor Ostrom, described these practices in her 1990 book “Governing the Commons”, and in 2009, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences (lecture) for that work.

To address the many issues plaguing mainstream capitalism, plenty of alternative economic theories have sprung up. My favourites are those by feminist economists. Here is a quotation from the recent APC Feminist Internet research report that makes a point about the intersectionalities between the economy and the role of the Internet as they are “focusing on the dynamics of power and structural inequalities… in relation to four identified areas – access, online gender-based violence, datafication/artificial intelligence, and labour and the economy – recognising that often these are not separate areas of research but are interconnected.”

My Top 10 21st-Century Alternative Economic Theory Books:

What all of these have in common is criticism of neoliberal capitalism and a focus on sustainability, care, equity, and co-empowerment.

There is much more material about alternative economies that I have collected; you can find it in the “Further Resources” section.

Multitasking as a superpower

Caring is Labour

When looking at personal needs, the classical "Financial Layer" is about the financial reward for “paid work” (either wage work or gig work).

However, the COVID-19 crisis has made us all realise the value of other kinds of work, such as care work:

(Plus ten books about caring (June 2021) and more links)

Care work is labour that meets the needs not covered by classical financial models. It also contributes to healing the ecosystems. At the same time, care work has historically been highly gendered and exploited along all the axes of power inequalities. That is why intersectional feminism and systems ecology are good instruments for finding solutions that empower care workers so that care work can be appropriately rewarded.

Care work also contributes to community actualisation.

Networking communities

Sustainable Communities

Maslow's theory was influenced by First Nations philosophy. According to the First Nations,beyond the 7th layer lies the need for community actualisation. This was described in the 2014 book by Dr. Sidney Stone Brown, “Transformation Beyond Greed: Native Self-Actualization”.

There are plenty of instances where the ethics of those who are building "the Internet" resonate with the preservation and advancement of community values:

  • A book: "Telecommunications Reclaimed: A Hands-on Guide to Networking Communities" (2018-2020)
    • "practical knowledge illustrated by several hands-on experiences – a set of 32 real-life stories – as well as legal, technical, governance, economic and policy material extracted from netCommons, a three-year-long research project supported by the European Commission. Its goal is to guide the reader through a set of actions aimed at setting up and fostering the growth of a community network, but also, for policy makers, local administrations and the general public, to create the right conditions to let community networks bloom and flourish." (APC announcement)
  • The story in IETF Journal about RFC 7962: “Alternative Network Deployments” (2016)
    • “RFC 7962 presents the socioeconomic aspects of networking, thereby obtaining the attention of communities seeking to create and manage computer networks for the people by the people.”
  • "Communities Renewable Energy Projects", by Centre for Alternative Technology, May 2021 (webinar recording)
  • And the oldest (2005!) well-documented project I know of: "Wireless Networking in the Developing World", a free book about building low-cost wireless network infrastructure, with a website full of resources!

Beyond technical solutions, there are projects where community values are practised for their own benefit:

  • Open Collective - Make your community sustainable. Collect and spend money transparently:
  • SPIRAL: Societal Progress Indicators for the Responsibility of All
    • TOGETHER is an associative network of territories, collective actors and citizens acting in their place of life (territories, companies, etc.) to promote co-responsibility for the well-being of all now and for future generations.
  • A platform for change makers: Communities for Future
    • “The world now faces another unprecedented challenge – the COVID-19 pandemic. Economies are grinding to a halt. Millions of people’s lives have been shattered seemingly overnight. Global capitalism is exposed like never before."
    • "Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next." – Arundhati Roy
    • "For decades ecovillagers, permaculture practitioners, and those in the Transition Network, have been imagining the world anew. More importantly, they have been experimenting with and demonstrating sustainable and regenerative ways of living.”
  • European Day of Sustainable Communities takes place on 18 September 2021; it is a time to celebrate local communities taking action for a healthier, fairer, regenerative Europe
The Hologram

The Hologram

“Health is not an individual possession but a community responsibility.”

At the intersection of health, the capitalist economy, and community care, we find a feminist art project called “The Hologram”. Artist and activist Cassie Thornton worked collectively with psychologists, artists, organisers, and healers to come up with a practice “to give people an experience of social trust and interdependence”.

Visually, I see it as a tetrahedron - a triangular pyramid with four vertex corners.

Practically, “The Hologram” is a person who receives care from three helpers who are committed to one of the three aspects of her health: medical, emotional, and social. That way, “we can attend to and track the health of people around us through regular conversations (in person and virtual), close observation, and good documentation.”

Theoretically, it developed from the question, “where does the economy end, and where do I begin?”. "The Hologram" was presented at many exhibitions and conferences, such as:

Its further development depends on YOU and whether or not you choose to implement it within your community!

"Sierpinski Tetrahedron abstract shoot" by Vironevaeh is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Upcoming Events

14 July, 10:00 (UTC): Open House: RIPE Community Resilience & WellBeing

10 July, 08:00 (UTC): SPIRAL, second quarterly online meeting

29 July: The Economics of Queerness

Further Resources on Alternatives to Capitalism




  • Gendered Economics, Kate Manne (in “Entitled”, 2020)
  • Surveillance Capitalism, Shoshana Zouboff
  • “'[P]atriarchalism' highlights the Marxist tradition’s problematic view of industrial production and the State in the struggle for human liberation."
    • Patriarchy of the Wage: Notes on Marx, Gender, and Feminism”, an upcoming book by Silvia Federici (November 2021)
  • Stephanie McMillan: “Capitalism Must Die! A Basic Introduction to Capitalism: What It Is, Why It Sucks, and How to Crush It” (PDF)
  • "IT industry is a dictatorship", Heather Marsh's blog post (2013)
  • Rebecca McKinnon, "Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle for Internet Freedom"
  • "Why I Am Not a Maker" by Debbie Chachra
    • "When tech culture only celebrates creation, it risks ignoring those who teach, criticize, and take care of others."
  • Algorithmic Governmenality by Antoinette Rouvroy


Economics in Bricks

Bonus Links

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About the author

Vesna Manojlovic is Community Builder at RIPE NCC. Vesna joined the RIPE NCC as a Trainer in 1999. In 2003, she took responsibility for developing and delivering advanced courses, such as RPSL, Routing Registry, DNSSEC and IPv6. In 2008, she lead efforts to establish IPv6 RIPEness as a measure of IPv6 deployment among LIRs. In 2011, she joined the Science Division as Manager of the Measurements Community Building team; in 2015 she moved to Communications Department as Senior Community Builder, with a focus on organising hackathons. Vesna gives presentations at many technical conferences and workshops, and enjoys visiting hackerspaces. Vesna received a Batchelor of Sciences Degree in Computer Science and Informatics from the School of Electrical Engineering, University of Belgrade. She has three children.

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