Rogue Reporting: What is the Meesteren Foundation Really?

Rogue Reporting: What is the Meesteren Foundation Really?

I’ve just finished reading an article published by the Dutch international newspaper NRC about the Meesteren Foundation (Stichting Meesteren) and one of its key driving forces, Anthony Jacobi (see https://www.nrc.nl/nieuws/2016/12/08/een-spoor-van-onbetaalde-rekeningen-5707474-a1535696). As a tenant, co-creator and volunteer of the Foundation, it was bizarre to get the end of the article and feel like I had spent the last year participating in an episode of the gangster drama The Sopranos, starring Anthony as an underhand property mobster. It is astonishing that we are still living in a world where national media institutions are allowed to get away with irresponsible and cynical reporting, scandalising worthy social causes with no accountability. The writer of the article didn’t hold back in brandishing Meesteren a ‘rogue’ organisation pointing fingers at its financial history, but who is the real rogue when a reporter can jeopardise years of social good-will based on sharing misleading and distorted information?

I am not even going to attempt to deny that there may well have been truths shared in the article about Meesteren’s financial activities. The issue is not the facts themselves, but the evident failure to present all of the facts. There is a famous Indian parable about some ‘blind men and an elephant’ where each blind man feels a different part of the elephant and therefore gets a completely different impression of what the whole animal is or looks like. If we are only given part information, what looks or feels to be a tree trunk can actually be the leg of an animal. During my days training with the British Broadcast Corporation in England, it was our duty to seek out all sides of the story in order to present a full picture to the public so they could decide for themselves what the deeper truth of a matter is. This certainly does not appear to be the policy of NRC.

Here is a picture of Anthony Jacobi (featured right) taken in the spring this year when I was working with him on my own project Noomap.   I took it after hearing Anthony’s inspired vision to help build communities that can awaken the world at large to more compassionate, loving ways of interacting and sharing. Anthony and the Meesteren Foundation have hosted the Noomap project several times without any request for funds or support because they align with our similar vision to create a more giving and sustainable world. We are one of many ‘volunteer’ groups who have shown up in this capacity from all over the world (including the young European foodsharing movement ‘Yunity’) who spend time with Meesteren to develop our shared goals while simultaneously volunteering our time at their buildings to keep their operation running. This is not volunteers being abused and taken advantage of as the NRC article would have people believe, but people coming forward through their own volition (in the true spirit of volunteering) to support a joint strategic interest.

Here is another picture of Anthony (featured right) in the free shop at one of Meesteren’s buildings, Antonius IJsselmonde (the one mentioned in the article owned by Laurens) where Meesteren provide a gathering point for resources people don’t want so they can be given to the poor, homeless and individuals practising ‘resource sharing’. This is another aspect of Meesteren’s work that the article neglects to mention; it appears it would rather have the reader believe that they are commercially abusing people’s good will for their own selfish, commercial gain.  There is no mention of Meesteren’s sharing ethos, and how this is employed generally.

The homeless people mentioned in the article paying the rent that Meesteren apparently hoard is also misleading.  Meesteren intend to make their operation sustainable by receiving payments from social agencies to take care of homeless groups, but up to this point some of these agencies have not even paid. Out of the goodness of their hearts, Meesteren have supported the homeless anyway including making space available for stranded families at a moment’s notice.

Finally, I want to mention the huge image featured at the top the article (featured right). Looking at this I could see readers imagining Meesteren are housing homeless people in a boarded up house and keeping all the money for themselves. The article doesn’t state that the building featured in the picture isn’t even a Meesteren property! It’s a house opposite one of Meesteren’s old sites. Here are some real images below of Meesteren buidings and the activities inside of them.

The article does ask at one stage ‘so what kind of foundation is the Meesteren Foundation actually? Is it a property management agency? Is it a volunteers organization?’. It’s a shame the writer didn’t take the time to get beyond their own preconceptions of commercial corruption and explore this question with some level of conscious investigation. Amanda Jansen, the Netherlands representative for the groundbreaking European organisation ‘Ouishare’ who was present at one of the meetings when the journalist interviewed Anthony, recently shared in her blog:

“For the last five months I spoke frequently to the Meesteren Foundation and was present during the interview with the journalist when all evidence and more was presented as well as the lawyer, the treasurer and the Head of Operations were there to answer questions. And it seems not everything has been completely placed in context. No wonder, since only finance seemed to be a topic during the interview. Not the question what kind of organization Meesteren is”

Meesteren cannot really be strictly classed as a property management agency or a volunteers organisation, it is a platform where many projects are coming together to explore new ways of organising and living.  It defies typical classification. As Meesteren’s website states and the article quoted it is based on the moving away from the concept of ‘every man for himself’ towards models that recognise that if we are to sustain our planet and our health we need to learn to cooperate more effectively and evolve beyond self-serving economic systems. Like Noomap’s operating system, Meesteren’s way of doing business and handling money is not conventional by any stretch of the imagination but this is a deliberate strategy to ensure we create spaces where sharing and equality can thrive. This does not mean we do not pay our way or the bills. It does not mean that we wish people’s contributions to go unpaid or that finance will not be generated. It means that we have to find novel approaches to financial generation to prevent small groups of investors and shareholders being rewarded more substantially than the rest of the community. This require moving beyond the traditional start-up model and relying more on volunteering and unconventional strategic exchanges. This philosophy and vision is at the far extreme end of the intent being portrayed in NRC’s article; if Meesteren are rogues of any kind, it is rogues of compassion fighting for a world where all are abundant, not just a ‘chosen few’.

I could share a lot more on the bigger picture of what is happening at the Meesteren Foundation but my intent in this post was to simply illuminate the unfair and untrustworthy nature of the article that was published about them. It is simply tragic if pioneers like Meesteren who I have seen bring global leaders in social reform to tears through their bravery and generosity were to be defamed by a biased media trial. The City of Rotterdam with its aspiration to become a ‘city of compassion’ would be wise to cherish the beautiful intentions of Meesteren and show humanity the way in moving beyond financial reductionism and cynicism. I would also challenge them to call into question the authority and role of the media in our public affairs when our social evolution is at stake.

Note:

Just recently another newspaper, RTV Rijnmond, also published a similar story — the same reflections apply:

http://www.rijnmond.nl/nieuws/150176/Leefbaar-Stichting-Meesteren-is-pooier-van-armoe

I imagine most people would read these stories and think there is ‘no smoke without fire’. I want to suggest to you that this is not always the case, and that there ARE people interested in ‘smearing’ the Meesteren Foundation’s work. Note no residents or tenants are quoted directly in these articles. I have no interest in focusing on who the people are behind these claims or even denying some of the points that have been made. The fact remains that these pieces of journalism are very one sided and unsubstantiated in many areas, not to mention defamatory in their attack on Anthony Jacobi.