The Robin Hood co-operative is working the financial markets to help raise funds for projects working for the public good

The Occupy movement of 2011/12 may have failed in its attempt to reconfigure the world’s financial markets, but a collective of activists, artists and intellectuals has devised a way of beating bankers at their own game and making money for worthwhile community projects.

The Helsinki-based Robin Hood Co-op is a hedge fund with a difference. It is owned collectively by 800 members who are based in more than 50 countries. Anyone can join for a one-off fee of €30 (£22.60) and each member can propose and vote on projects to receive funding.

The group is volunteer-run aside from one paid employee, the computer programmer who has developed the technology lying at the heart of the initiative. This is a data mining algorithm the group has dubbed Parasite that tracks trading on Wall Street and recommends investments based on the information it discovers.

It is one thing to read about the financialisation of the world and quite another to see it for yourself

Since it was created in 2012, Parasite appears to have done its job well. According to the group’s chairman, Akseli Virtanen, the Robin Hood Co-op was among the world’s top three best performing hedge funds during its first year and at the end of the 2014/15 financial year was €150,000 (£113,000) in profit.

In spring 2015, the fund announced its first major giveaway, distributing to Greek community media projects Radio Schizonalaytique and the Steki, and Casa Nuvem, a Rio de Janeiro-based project that fights for the basic rights of citizens.

The co-op’s general manager Tere Vadén explained that projects must have a community purpose in order to receive support. “We don’t give away to charities or projects that already have alternative funding streams. It has to be something that generates assets, value, possibility and knowledge for a whole community.”

Getting the co-op off the ground has not been easy. “The legislative requirements are very strict,” said Vadén. “The banks really have fenced an area for themselves that is very hard to get into.”

For Vadén and the collective it continues to be an eye-opening journey into the heart of Wall Street. “It is one thing to read about the financialisation of the world and quite another to see it for yourself.”


Jargon buster

Hedge funds enable people or institutions to pool their money and invest collectively, from bailing out a football club to betting on a currency becoming stronger or weaker. Traditionally, they follow high risk strategies in order to generate higher returns, are often unregulated, and only available to high net worth individuals. The Robin Hood Co-op attempts to adapt hedge fund mechanisms for community benefit.

Photo: Robin Hood Co-op